education

Treating Stress, Anxiety, and Depression with Acupuncture

Forest of Feelings (Figure out what what you’re feeling)

Positive Vibes Only? Definitely not. Negative emotions are natural and can signal a need to change our relationships, environment, or behavior. It’s when negative emotions become chronic and feel like they arise without cause, that you turn to guiding practitioners like therapists and acupuncturists who can help you figure out what forest of feelings you've wandered into and how you can find your way back out again.

Whether your depression, anxiety, and stress are chronic or not, tamping down negative feelings or denying them in favor of only positive feelings is neither realistic nor helpful. What is helpful and what acupuncture helps facilitate is giving all your feelings a space and distance from yourself to be acknowledged, fully felt, and then allowed to pass. That can be an extended grieving period and or as short as a few minutes to recognize that you're getting frustrated and need to breathe deeper and take a walk.

Understanding what you're feeling, giving that feeling space, and then letting it go is essential in our modern world. With these skills, you can begin to move past the thicket of a bad stretch. And when you have one bad day, you'll realize that's part of being human, not a sign that you're broken.

Negative emotions are natural and can signal a need to change our relationships, environment, or behavior.

A First Step

Simply being aware of what it is that you're feeling is a good first step. Rather than putting a label on it (I have depression, I'm an angry person, that's just who I am), try, "What is this that I'm feeling? Am I angry right now? Is it sadness and frustration at the same time?" Then you can take a step back and say, "that sadness and frustration are not who I am. I am not a sad and frustrated person. I just feel those things right now and there's got to be a reason for it."

Next, ideally with the help of a guide, you can put on your detective hat and figure out why those feelings are coming up so the signal doesn't keep coming regularly while you don't understand what it's trying to tell you (a real recipe for frustration).

Acupuncture and Therapy Work Well Together

I am not a therapist. What I am is an acupuncturist and Japanese medicine practitioner.

I recommend that my patients who find themselves in these patterns for longer periods of time or with frequency see a good therapist. Many of you often are in therapy already when you seek my care. Acupuncture works really well in combination with therapy, especially talk (cognitive behavior therapy and other methods) and somatic therapies. The way I tend to explain it is that acupuncture helps you become more centered and clear – more aware of what it is that you're feeling so you can express it in therapy and to yourself.

What acupuncture helps facilitate is giving all your feelings a space and distance from yourself to be acknowledged, fully felt, and then allowed to pass.

Acupuncture also helps protect against those feelings settling in and becoming something more (pain, stiffness, adrenal fatigue, cardiopulmonary symptoms, etc). Plus, we can treat the already existing symptomatic expression of your anxiety, depression, and/or stress, whether physical (like headaches, insomnia, and palpitations) or mental/emotional (like a racing or foggy mental state).

Japanese and Chinese medicine look at our emotions as expressions of imbalance in the relationships of our different systems (sometimes called channels, meridians, or organs). So the questions above are the same sorts of diagnostic questions I ask in the office to figure out what channels are out of harmony. That information allows us to help them back into their proper relationship so you feel more centered, grounded, balanced, and clear. And this also gives you the opportunity to make small or large changes that might put you in a healthier space and thus treat that signal/feeling at the root of its expression.
 

What kind of treatments do you offer?

Acupuncture: Gentle correction of the relationships of your physical and energetic body. Using the traditional functions of the points and channels plus modern understandings of physiology, acupuncture helps to regulate the nervous system so that the parasympathetic (rest, digest, heal) outweighs the sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze). Patients report feeling more at ease, rested, calm, and grounded after treatment. Many patients fall asleep on the table during in-office treatment and often sleep better at home as well.

Acupressure: Earseeds and self-massage as coping mechanisms between treatments and as regular care for treatment and prevention of symptoms. These methods are often subtle enough to be performed in the workplace or social gatherings without attracting attention.

Qigong: Breathing exercises and gentle movements. Ranging from short and sweet visualizations and meditative practices to healing sounds and simple movements that target the organ systems and channels that are out of balance. Most of the movements can be done while seated or standing and we can adapt them for your body's range of motion.

Herbal Medicine: Personalized prescriptions for herbal formulas and supplements for symptomatic and deep cause treatment. Protect your system against physical effects of emotions on the body (adrenal fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations) and amplify the benefits of treatment. Taking a herbal formula regularly can decrease the frequency of recommended in-office visits.

Moxa/ Moxibustion: Depending on the causes and symptoms of your emotional patterns, this herbal heat therapy can be very helpful to increase motivation, combat fatigue, and reawaken interest in activities. Patients have described it as feeling like painful or tight spots are melting or unwinding, that they can breathe deeper, and that they feel more awake. If applicable, I instruct my patients on how to do moxibustion safely at home as well as perform moxibustion in the clinic with you.

Essential Oils: Recommendations for home care to combine with acupressure points. Especially helpful for travel and nighttime symptoms.

How long does treatment take? When will I be better?

My treatment plans are personalized for each patient. I see people at various stages of their emotional journeys. Some people come in soon after a crisis (important to note that I am not a substitute for emergency services such as hotlines or the ER - please see information below if you are in crisis). But the short and honest answer is it depends on you - where you are in your relationship to your emotional health and how much farther you have to go to come to terms with what balance is going to look like for you.

Acupuncture is not here to "fix" you. It's medicine, not magic. I often tell patients when they praise my touch that I'm just getting stuff out of the way so your body can do the work it is already trying to do. Our bodies want to get back to homeostasis. Balance.

You are doing the work and the work can take some time. But it's a lot easier when you surround yourself with experts who can guide and support you, and that's where I see myself on your team.

If you are in crisis

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

If your depression is leading to suicidal thoughts, please call the National Hopeline to connect with a treatment center in your area. Includes live chat feature for anyone who doesn't want to or is unable to call. This hotline can dispatch emergency services to you if needed.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Another resource for anyone dealing with suicidal or other harmful thoughts is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They also offer a chat service1-800-799-4889.

Acupuncture is not an emergency service. When you need the tools I can provide and a new member of your cheering squad, please be in touch. You are worthwhile and cared for.

Additional resources

About Shawna

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Photo: Death to the Stock Photo

Understanding Acupuncture Through Children's Books

Whether you're shopping for a child or looking for a good way into the world of acupuncture yourself, these children's books are worth checking out. Here are my takes on each of the children's books on acupuncture I've encountered so far:

For more info, visit www.acupuncturekidsbook.com

For more info, visit www.acupuncturekidsbook.com

Maya and Friends Visit the Acupuncturist

By Samara White, L.Ac. and illustrated by Troy White

Children's books have to streamline concepts and so are often unexpectedly helpful in explaining complicated ideas simply and clearly. This book has been a big hit in my waiting rooms and at health fairs. In it, a little girl named Maya wakes up with sniffles and sneezes, then listens to the advice of her friends, Ellie the Elephant and Bobby Bear, and goes with them to visit Dr. Meow. I love elephants so Ellie totally won me over (so cute when she gets cupping!). Dr. Meow also sends a very important message for children (and adults!) when she makes it very clear that nothing happens to your body without your consent. And how can you resist a teddy bear marveling at meridians?

This book offers simple explanations for qi, yin, yang, and herbs and moxa in addition to expectations for the patient experience. And it rhymes so you might find yourself recalling lines here and there.

Pro: The best overall explanation of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, fun to read out loud

Con: Some of the illustrations are a little uncanny

Verdict: If you only get one book, this one's my favorite overall.

My Visit to the Acupuncturist

By Stacey V. Leung and illustrated by Daniel Griffo

This bold and colorful book is so sweet! It focuses on how acupuncture can help kids (and, by extension, any patient) get back to their favorite activities and how sessions work so you don't have to be scared. A little boy injures his ankle playing soccer and just wants to get back to playing ball. He finds that acupuncture isn't scary and it helps him heal over a series of sessions.

"My Visit" is a nice complement to "Maya and Friends" that focuses on the patient experience and in general has nicer illustrations. A big bonus is seeing acupuncture in an integrative context: the doctor who examines the boy's X-ray is the one to tell him Jane (the acupuncturist) will help with "the swelling and pain" and her office is right next door to physical therapy (just like mine!).

Pro: Uncomplicated, a simple introduction to the patient experience of acupuncture, illustrates integrative care

Con: Doesn't talk about how acupuncture works

Verdict: If you (or your little one) are nervous about going to acupuncture, this one is probably the best for allaying fears. Also great focus on sports medicine. 

The Five: A Journey to Find a Home

By Dr. Coleen Smith and illustrated by Alaina Schreiner 

This colored pencil style volume is billed as a children's book, but instead I would recommend it for anyone beginning acupuncture school. I never got into Zoo Cards (a set of flashcards for learning Chinese herbs), but this feels like a similar tool. The book illustrates the five elements and their characteristics in a way that feels less like a story and more like an elaborate mnemonic device.

For example the story has Livgall the green-eyed monkey, Luli the white bird, Kibla the blue fish, Splesto the yellow lion, and Hearsi the red dragon search for the perfect environment to call home. Character names are not smoothed into something a character might be called but just direct combinations of the channel pairs (Livgall is Liver and Gall Bladder, Luli is Lung and Large Intestine, etc). The adjectives that describe the characters and their chosen environments align with the five element sounds, smells, cardinal directions, etc.

I could imagine finding this book useful in the beginning of school when there is so much information to take in and anything sweet and colorful is a helpful respite! Maybe even as a little treat when studying for California Licensing and National Board exams.

Pro: Detailed five element overview equals good study tool (there's even a chart in the back)

Con: More educational than enjoyable

Verdict: Great for first year acupuncture students or for board exam study! Probably not a kid favorite.

Have I missed any acupuncture children's books that you know and love? I love book recommendations so send me your suggestions!

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Header image: illustration by Troy White from "Maya and Friends Visit the Acupuncturist"

Spring Gleaning: Education Update

One of my favorite aspects of the acupuncture profession is its requirement that you be a lifelong student. And because I get excited when I start looking at potential classes, I've somehow found myself anticipating the remainder of my required classes (continuing education units) for the year all in the next month! Of course that doesn't mean I won't take more just for fun...

Last week I attended a lecture on Working With the Heavy Cannabis User with medical herbalist Paul Bergner as there is so much to learn about the effects and side effects of cannabis whether used for medical or recreational use. We set politics and legality aside and just dealt with the cases. I now have a much better understanding of the effects of cannabis on body systems, side effects to watch for and make patients aware of before they consider using it for a given condition, and how to approach weaning off of medical use if side effects become unmanageable. As an acupuncturist I can't prescribe cannabis, but I did feel it was essential that I expand my understanding of the way its use as a medication or recreational substance might affect my patients so we can do our best work together.

Next up this weekend at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in Portland is a hands on course with renowned sports medicine practitioner Matt Callison, L.Ac. I'll be learning and practicing new techniques for Assessment and Treatment of Lower Leg Injuries: knee, foot, and ankle. This is perfect for my athlete patients and for anyone with chronic pain or past injuries. I think it's only fitting that we're starting with the roots of our upright bodies. I plan on continuing this orthopedic-focused training and look forward to future learning to expand my treatment toolbox for the spine, hips, neck, and shoulders. I'm especially excited to seek out classes like this one that integrate the best of Western and Eastern medicine with orthopedic tests, anatomy reviews, and herbal and acupuncture treatment.

And lastly, in late March I'm taking a practical course on The Ancient Art of Cupping with Susan Johnson, L.Ac. here in Oakland. Cupping is such a wonderful modality to both diagnose and address pain and stiffness. It feels like a massage, but works by giving your tense muscles more room to be flushed with fluids rather than compressing them. I can't wait to share new insights and techniques from this class with you!

If there are topics you'd like to see me explore either on the blog or in a continuing education class, I'm always open to suggestions. And if you hear of a great class or webinar coming up, do let me know! I also post community focused classes and webinars in addition to articles about acupuncture and healthcare on Twitter. Please join me there!

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Image credit: Death to the Stock Photo