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As today’s society becomes more “productive” and the pace of life quickens, the opportunity to kick back and take time for ourselves is slowly diminishing. We are in a culture that values busy-ness, and we are constantly rewarded and acknowledged for this characteristic through the media, peer groups, social media and in the business marketplace. Along with this busy-ness comes a price tag: our health, specifically our mental health. It is ironic that in this day and age, when medical research is so sophisticated and access to information is at its peak, anxiety and depression are leading illnesses worldwide. Acupuncture offers insight into why this may be, and solutions for treatment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is an ancient theory and a proven system that has been used and documented for over 3000 years. The practice of acupuncture is a therapy which falls under the umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The main principle is that acupuncture points throughout the body are stimulated to move and guide the vital energy (Qi) of the body to create homeostasis or correct the imbalances in the flow of energy.
To give a very brief overview of the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, the Chinese observed life processes and the relationship between humans and their environment for thousands of years. Through this investigation, they discovered a variety of subtle patterns that helped develop their understanding of how disease arises within the body. This enabled them to relate diseases back to the patterns of occurrences in our natural environment.
In order to identify the pattern of disharmony within your body, an acupuncturist uses a variety of tools to determine the associated symptoms and diagnose the root cause of your concerns. An in depth intake form, along with a thorough medical assessment and history, are the starting point to uncover what is going on with a patient. Additionally, acupuncturists will commonly take the pulse, observe the tongue, and palpate along the acupuncture meridians as a way to further confirm their diagnosis. The emphasis with this type of examination is strongly on prevention and every treatment is catered directly to the individual needs of the patient and their unique set of conditions.
The unique part of receiving acupuncture is the practitioner can treat the symptoms whilst still being able to treat the root cause of the problem. For example, a person with chronic congestion may have a weakness in their digestive functions that hinders their ability to efficiently process the water coming into their system, which in turn produces excess mucous. With acupuncture, we not only are able to treat the symptoms of the chronic congestion, like a stuffy nose and heavy feeling in the head, but also treat the root cause by building up the health of the digestive system to reduce the production of mucous.
Anxiety and depression are both characterized as mental illness. In Canada alone, one in five people will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. Anxiety is the most common illness in Canada, and the percentage of physician visits due to stress related ailments ranges between 75-90%. Anxiety can present itself in a variety of ways, which include but are not limited to:
- Heart palpitations or irregular heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular sweating
- Tightness and constricted feeling in the chest
- Restlessness or uncharacteristic aggression
- Increased feelings of fear
From the perspective of TCM, the functions of organs are not limited to their physical form. For example, the heart houses the spirit and is represented by Fire in the elements and joy in the emotions. As fire becomes stronger, more heat is produced and heat rises within the body up to the head, in turn contributing to the symptoms listed above. The kidneys are represented by water in the elements and as the fire (heart) within the body becomes stronger, the water (kidneys) will fail to contain the fire causing the imbalance between the heart and kidney. Anxiety is therefore an imbalance in the heart and the kidneys.
Depression, on the other hand, is the fourth leading cause of disability and premature death in the world. It has been estimated that 8% of Canadians will experience major depression in their lifetime. It can range from short term periods to chronic or long term occurrence, in which case it is considered Clinical Depression. Some of the symptoms include:
- Irritability, agitation and exhaustion
- Changes in sleeping patterns (too much or too little)
- Hopelessness (feeling trapped or suicidal)
- Loss of positive associations and sense of achievement
- Increased sense of worrying (particularly about the future)
- Lack of interests
In TCM, depression is rooted in the stagnation of the vital energy. The liver has a major role to play in circulating the vital energy (Qi), ensuring it’s relaxed and effortless flow, while the Heart and Spleen have supporting roles. But when a liver is worked too hard in its other roles, the capacity to circulate smooth flowing Qi decreases, and the symptoms associated with depression increase.
Acupuncture offers a break from the pressures of modern life, allowing patients to claim the time and space they need for healing and regeneration. It is intuitive medicine that takes a holistic approach to healing, and can be used in conjunction with other therapies without harmful side effects. It works with the body to build health and vitality, rather than focussing on the symptoms alone. In a world where busy is better, acupuncture gives us permission to slow down, and take the time we need in order to maintain good health.