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Abstract Horizon

Stress Relief Acupuncture

smiling woman after receiving acupuncture for stress relief

Acupuncture and herbal medicine are extremely effective in providing stress relief. It is often said that stress relief is one of the best side effects of acupuncture! So how exactly does placing these tiny needles in various parts of the body reduce stress? Acupuncture works on the nervous system.


The nervous system is complicated, but here are some basics. There are two branches to the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The sympathetic nervous system is most closely related to the fight or flight response. It controls the body’s involuntary response to stressful or dangerous situations. When activated, the sympathetic nervous system triggers a release of hormones that flood the body to increase alertness, elevate the heart rate, and encourage blood flow into the muscles. This can also cause dilated pupils, increased sweating, and increased blood pressure. 


This is an obviously useful physiologic response for dealing with high stress and impending danger, but what happens when this side of our nervous system is chronically overactive or triggered by day to day modern stressors that we have not evolutionarily adapted for? Chronic stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system can cause anxiety, fatigue, issues with digestion, a constant state or feeling of being stressed, muscle discomfort or fatigue and the symptoms of sympathetic system activation listed above. 


Now, let’s talk about the parasympathetic nervous system. This is your body’s rest and digest mode. The functions of the parasympathetic system include restoring the body to a calmer state, digestion, urination, salivation, and regulating glandular activity. Being in a parasympathetic state promotes healing and repair in the body.  Acupuncture works to restore parasympathetic balance. In TCM terminology the sympathetic nervous system is yang in nature and the parasympathetic system is yin in nature.


Acupuncture works to balance the two into a more harmonious state. By encouraging the body to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, acupuncture helps to reduce stress, reduce anxiety and alleviate the symptoms associated with an elevated stress response. 


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