Relieving Stress with Alternative Therapies

By Craig Amrine

Safe and Effective Alternatives to Drugs

There are several ways to lower the effects of stress that are both safe and inexpensive. Probably the two most simple are through diet and exercise.  Regulating the amount of simple carbohydrates (sugar), eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting back on the caffeine and alcohol, and eating several small meals rather than feasting on a few huge ones can help reduce high blood sugar levels…the primary effect of excess cortisol.

Exercise is also a wonderful means to also help lower both cortisol and blood sugar
levels.  Meditation, interacting with pets, yoga, and even listening to music can all help to lower stress.

When simple solutions are not enough, however, acupuncture is an incredibly powerful tool to regulate the stress response.

Stress, Anxiety, and Traditional Chinese Medicine

A strong link exists between the emotions and the internal organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  Emotions such as fear, joy, anger, and worry all have a specific organs they are associated with.  For example, extended bouts of anger, irritation, resentment, or bitterness can lead to problems with the liver.  While these organ-emotion connections may at first seem odd, it is clear that TCM has always known that emotional health is strongly connected to physical health.

In TCM, acute stress would be seen as fear and would directly affect the kidneys.  It is interesting to note that the adrenal glands lie directly on top of the kidneys.  In TCM, fear exhibits symptoms including palpitations, insomnia, and dry-mouth.  These symptoms look very much like our recognized symptoms of excessive adrenaline release.

Chronic stress, and the release of excess cortisol, would be associated with both worry and pensiveness in TCM.  This would also include over-thinking, brooding, obsession and excessive nostalgic thoughts.  We see these emotions as directly affecting the spleen and possibly the lungs and heart.  Symptoms include tiredness, poor appetite, stomach pain, possible heart palpitations, and weight gain.

Aside from these primary symptoms, the patient will simply feel “stressed”, “burned-out”, have panic-attacks, or canʼt sleep.

Acupuncture for Stress Reduction

I repeatedly tell new patients who come to me for stress relief that I cannot remove
stress in their life.  I can, however, change how their bodies react to stress.  To put it simply, we work on convincing the patient that these stressors arenʼt really that much of a threat.  In other words, we can convince the body to simply ”Donʼt worry and be happy.”

Acupuncture is a incredibly effective tool to reduce stress.  Patients will often fall asleep on my table during a treatment….and leave the clinic feeling deeply relaxed.  How is this possible?  It is well documented that acupuncture can stimulate the release of endorphins; hormones that are responsible for relieving pain.  It also has been clinically proven to lower stress-related cortisol levels.  The theory behind this is that it modifies the autonomic nervous system to lower the release of cortisol levels during prolonged stress.  The general sense of well-being may also be attributed to increased levels of mood altering neuropeptides including melatonin, serotonin, and dopamine.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, we do two things:  Calm the mind and treat the underlying organ system that may be affected.

This results in both an immediate feeling of relaxation or calm as well as increasing the patients resilience to future episodes. Interestingly, studies show that acupuncture can also raise cortisol levels!  How can it do both?  The current research suggests that this largely depends on the acupuncture points used as well as the underlying condition of the patient.  Overall, it appears that acupuncture has a “self-regulatory” effect that can blunt excess cortisol levels during high stress, but also boost cortisol and nor-epinephrine levels during times of exhaustion.

Letʼs face it, we live in a stressful time.  We can “endure” and hope that the stock market will recover, we get our jobs back, global warming will end, our kids will avoid drugs, our relationships will improve……and in doing so, struggle with all the potential health risks associated with chronic stress.  Or, we can find ways to rise above the chaos.  Acupuncture is a great way to begin this process.

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Craig Amrine is a licensed acupuncturist in the state of Arizona (L.Ac.) and has received his Masters of Science degree in acupuncture from the accredited Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture (PIHMA) in Phoenix, Arizona. He is also a nationally board certified Diplomate in Acupuncture with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), and operates a successful clinic in Tempe, Arizona.  His clinic, Hidden Rhythm Acupuncture, uses a combination of both traditional methods including the use of acupuncture, cupping, moxabustion, tui-na (body-work) as well as modern techniques using electrical stimulation and cold-laser therapy to treat a host of afflictions ranging from physical pain to respiratory, digestive, sleep, or neurological disorders.  For questions or comments, he can be reached through his website at