needle-free

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

Put a Seed on It: Earseeds and Needle-Free Acupuncture

Many people think acupuncture and immediately think needles, but there are a wide variety of tools at our disposal, many of which stem from Eastern medicine’s herbal traditions. Earseeds, for example, are a popular form of herbal treatment which gently press on acupuncture points versus needle insertion.

Vaccaria seeds (Latin name: Semen Vaccariae; Chinese name: wang bu liu xing) can be prescribed for internal use to reduce breast and testicular swelling and move blood to promote lactation or menstruation. They are also handy little round seeds that can gently stimulate acupuncture points on the ear or body to provide treatment that lasts several hours to days. This treatment is safe for all patients and, like most acupuncture treatment, has only a low risk of minor side effects.

Vaccaria seeds are commonly referred to as “earseeds” since we often use the microcosm of the ear to treat conditions throughout the body. The seeds, gently pressed against the skin by a very small bandage adhesive, stay particularly well on the ear, but earseeds can be applied to any acupuncture point. Magnets or other metals are sometimes used instead of the seed. This makes them a versatile and minimally visible way of extending treatment beyond a visit to your acupuncturist. I prefer to use the gentlest possible form of effective treatment, a hallmark of Japanese medicine, and to make sure my patients are empowered to treat themselves with the knowledge they glean from our sessions. I love giving out earseeds so symptoms like insomnia, nausea, headaches, jetlag, neck and shoulder pain, and anxiety are continually improving or being prevented between sessions. That way we don’t lose ground, patients have a new appreciation for what their body is capable of doing with little assistance, and they have more freedom to travel.

Free Earseed Treatments Sunday July 16

I will be giving free earseed treatments at the Herbal Medicine (and then some!) Fair on July 16, sharing a booth with my San Francisco officemates Back to Life Physical Therapy. There are many other ways to treat without needle insertion in an acupuncture session as well, including moxibustion, contact needles, and a variety of diagnostic massage techniques including cupping. Come feel how earseeds can treat a wide variety of symptoms and conditions and ask any questions in person!

5th Annual Herbal Medicine (and Then Some!) Fair
Sunday July 16, 2017 10am – 5pm
Temescal Alley (486 49th St in Oakland)

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.

This write-up was originally written for Homestead Apothecary's July 2017 newsletter.

Treating Jetlag: Modern Acupuncture

To understand acupuncture as a developing form of medicine, let's examine how we handle a fundamentally modern ailment: jetlag. There is no ancient equivalent for having traveled so far so fast as to feel out of time. Yet jetlag responds well to acupuncture treatment. How?

We find success in treatment when our understanding of theory and diagnosis is strong. Thus, a good practitioner does not rely on specific protocols, but on our grasp of medical theory and diagnostic principles to create the best treatment for an individual patient, no matter the ailment(s).

Photo credit:    Unsplash

Photo credit: Unsplash

Common jetlag symptoms include insomnia, irritability, inability to focus, and disorientation. Therefore it makes the most sense to assess and balance the channels that pertain to the body's internal and external sense of itself (yin wei and yang wei) and bring the mind and body back to a grounded present by choosing a point along the center line (preferably one that calms shen, the concept of mind or spirit). Sometimes additional grounding by using the points of the yin qiao and yang qiao channels is also helpful. These channels control gait and balance for the inner and outer aspects of the legs (in addition to a myriad of other symptoms and functions).

This is an elegant approach and one that suits most patients. However, there is always room for adaptation and individualization. Perhaps the patient also needs immune support or pain management after their travels. Adding points or using different channels will still work if the practitioner is paying clear attention to the patient's presentation and needs.

In addition to treating jetlag for patients after travel, I have successfully used this method on myself to prevent jetlag by applying vaccaria seeds (wang bu liu xing) to acupuncture points before boarding and continuing to wear them through air travel. I found this worked better than only using an ear acupuncture protocol (including ear shenmen, point zero, insomnia points, and the pineal and endocrine gland points), but I have not yet tried to combine them.

Vaccaria seeds are herbal medicine applied to acupuncture points to gently stimulate the point and extend treatment over a few hours to days. Magnets or other metals are sometimes used instead of the seed, but the key is gentle pressure on the acupoint. Your practitioner will show you how to gently press the seed to stimulate the point intentionally and direct you how often intentional pressure is advised. Seeds may fall off on their own or need to be removed after 3-5 days depending on advice from your practitioner. Side effects are rare, but if the point itches or feels too sensitive with the seed on, simply remove the seed and contact your acupuncturist.

As you can see, it's just a seed on sticky tape like a small bandaid.

As you can see, it's just a seed on sticky tape like a small bandaid.

Vaccaria seeds can be applied to any point on the body, but because they are commonly applied to one of the hundreds of points on the ear, they are often referred to as earseeds.

Vaccaria seeds can be applied to any point on the body, but because they are commonly applied to one of the hundreds of points on the ear, they are often referred to as earseeds.

Consider acupuncture to decrease or prevent jetlag either before you depart or upon your return. Happy travels!

Many thanks to my teacher Mike Morgan for shaping my initial thoughts on treating jetlag.

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 credit: UnsplashUnsplash, earseed photos by Shawna

Contact Needle Treatment for Cancer Pain

The week before Thanksgiving I attended a lecture and demonstration on using contact needles for cancer treatment related pain by Dr. Keiko Ogawa of Kanazawa, Japan. Dr. Ogawa published a study in 2013 on using contact needles to treat chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). I was excited to see research on contact needles available in English and to learn this was the first time she was teaching in the US. There is a wealth of research on contact needle therapy in Japanese, but most of it has not been translated for a Western audience.

My silver contact needle tools (similar in size to golf pencils)

I often use a specialized silver contact needle tool in my treatments. Dr. Ogawa performed her study using disposable silver needles more similar to the stainless steel needles we use for insertion needling. Regardless of the tool, the method is to settle the needle on the relevant acupuncture point rather than inserting the needle into the skin. This is a painless form of treatment that has the added benefit of reducing infection risk, a key feature in treating cancer patients who may have weakened immune systems due to their cancer and/or their Western treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, etc).

From ancient times, it has been said that the larger the needle is and the deeper the needle is inserted, the stronger the stimulation will be. If the stimulation is too strong, the patients’ condition becomes worse, especially when their constitution is weak. CNT is known as a method of weak stimulation. In this aspect, CNT is effective and appropriate for treating cancer patients.
— Efficacy of Contact Needle Therapy for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy, 2013

CIPN often prevents patients from continuing valuable anti-cancer treatment and can make daily activity difficult or impossible. As the hands and feet are often the most affected, this can mean inability or difficulty walking or doing daily self maintenance and household activity, much less working or caring for others.

Dr. Ogawa explained and demonstrated a number of specific techniques for us that subtly address the causes of pain and weakness for a variety of patient types. I can now use these methods in a manner specific to an individual patient. Treatments consist of 15-20 minutes for the front and 15-20 minutes for the back. Based on patient strength, we may either combine front and back treatments or do only one side per week. There is a set of points and treatment methods we'll use in every treatment and another set I'll choose among based on how you are doing during that particular visit.

I love that this approach highlights the key approach of Japanese acupuncture: to do as little to the body as possible to assist it in bringing itself back to balance. Your body is always trying to regulate itself and my methods are meant to help that process, not to do all the work and tire you out or make you reliant on treatment to feel well.

Though this study has a very small number of patients, it has promising results to be explored with a larger sample size, making it a successful pilot study. Both improved movement ability and a decrease in breakthrough pain (in other words the sudden sharp sensation of pain or shock) can improve quality of life to a strong enough degree that contact needle therapy using these methods is something I am happy to offer to my patients.

Read the full study "Efficacy of Contact Needle Therapy for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy" by Keiko Ogawa et al. in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2013, Article ID 928129

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.

Needle Free if Need Be: Gentle Japanese Acupuncture Alternatives to Needles

Cupping has had a news moment lately with Michael Phelps and it has been fun to hear from many friends and patients wanting me to see that what they already know is great is being shared more widely. I wanted to take the opportunity to share back that cupping is just one of the many ways that Japanese Medicine can help that has nothing to do with needles!

When I tell people I am an acupuncturist, I often hear some variety of statement about how they've heard good things about acupuncture, but..."I'm scared of needles."

I myself was terrified of needles* when I first started going to acupuncture and there was no way I was going to drink bitter herbs!** Luckily, I was met with a first acupuncture practitioner who was open and wanted to help me based on my comfort level. She didn't mind my many questions about why she wanted me to do something or how that was going to help. Given how successful that was for me (I ended up training as an acupuncturist, after all!) I believe in working just that same way. I will meet you where you are and use the wide variety of tools at my disposal to treat you. And believe it or not, that means we can do entire treatments with absolutely no sharp objects! Perhaps that means we have an eventual goal of using needles (maybe just one?) or maybe you don't even want to put that on the table. Either is absolutely fine.

What can we use instead of inserted needles?