acupuncture for chronic stress

Acupuncture Relieves Chronic Stress

The term chronic stress has been getting a lot of attention lately. Everyone has experienced stress at some point in their life. So, how is chronic stress different? Have you been wondering what all the fuss is about? Or wondering how to find some relief? We’re here to help.

What is Stress?

At it’s simplest stress is simply a stimulus acting on the body. Stimuli prompt the body to react. This can be very beneficial. When you hold your breath the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood prompt you to breathe. When you touch a hot object the body reacts by pulling your hand away to prevent further damage. It is only when the stimuli are perceived as negative that they begin to create negative effects in the body that we call “stress”.

What does Stress Look Like?

Stress can manifest in the body with both physical and mental/emotional symptoms. Everyone reacts differently, so it is impossible to paint a completely accurate picture of what stress looks like. Some of the common signs and symptoms of stress include: mood swings, being quick to anger, stomach problems (nausea, indigestion, appetite changes), sleep problems (can’t fall asleep or wake easily), plagued by the common cold, increase in allergies, and more.

Not sure if you’re “stressed out”? Try this QUIZ and find out.

Chronic Stress and the Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands are two tiny glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They are part of the overall endocrine system that produces hormones that regulate the body. The adrenal glands produce three very important hormones, adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone. Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, prepares the body to spring into action during stressful or life-threatening situations. Cortisol helps regulate metabolism and assists the body in responding to stress. And aldosterone helps control blood pressure. People who experience chronic stress are constantly stimulating the adrenal glands to produce hormones. When the adrenal glands are overused and not functioning properly diseases can develop.

When Stress Becomes Chronic

Chronic stress can have serious health implications. Stress causes the adrenal glands to produce excess cortisol and adrenaline, which puts the body in a constant state of “fight or flight.” Cortisol normally helps the body convert food into energy, while keeping the mind alert and reducing inflammation.

Prolonged stress has been found to alter the effectiveness of cortisol at regulating the inflammatory response. The constant high levels of the hormones decreases tissue sensitivity to them. Specifically, immune cells become insensitive to cortisol’s regulatory effect. When this happens inflammation increases in the body and promotes the development and progression of many diseases. (Cohen, 2012)

Acupuncture to the Rescue

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) provides some of the best tools available to battle chronic stress and adrenal fatigue. Acupuncture is one of the tools in the toolbox of the TCM practitioner. Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles to stimulate acupressure points on the body. Studies have shown acupuncture treatments actually turn on or stimulate the relaxation areas of the nervous system, also known as the parasympathetic nervous system.

When the parasympathetic nervous system is switched on, it helps to regulate the heart rate, improve digestion and balance sleep cycles. Many people who get regular acupuncture treatments actually fall asleep once the needles have been inserted.


In a recent paper published by the National Institute of Health, researchers studied the effects of acupuncture on two adrenal gland peptides involved in the stress response. They took thirty-two healthy rats, split them into three groups and then proceeded to surprise two of the groups with unpredictable chronic emotional stress to establish the model of anxiety. What the researchers found was that the rats who were treated with acupuncture showed lower levels of both peptides and corticosterone (cortisol) when subjected to surpises. In other words, a decrease in their stress levels.

Another study, performed and published by Georgetown University Medical Center, also found that acupuncture decreased the levels of stress hormones in rats. The study used electroacupuncture on a specific acupuncture point, Stomach 36, which is known to reduce stress levels. It found that electroacupuncture actually blocks chronic, stress-induced elevations of hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal hormones. This series of studies provides evidence acupuncture can be very beneficial to nearly everybody through the use of just one acupressure point.

While these studies were done using rats, anecdotal evidence supports the theory that the same changes occur in humans as well. Using rats allows researchers to rule out the idea of the “placebo effect” where a subject’s belief in the treatment creates the desired response. So far as we know, rats have no preconceived ideas about whether acupuncture is effective or not.

But I Hate Needles

Needle-phobia is pretty common. Most people think of the massive hypodermic needles that doctors wield when they think of needles. Acupuncture needles are incredibly tiny. Many people don’t feel them at all. The most common reaction I’ve encountered is a slight sensation during insertion (like a mild mosquito bite) and a temporary dull ache or heavy sensation once the needle is in. Generally people stop noticing the needles almost right away, and many doze off during treatment.

If you really want the treatment, but can’t handle the idea of needles there are other options. Acupressure on the same points will produce a milder but similar response in the body. There are also points on the ear that can be effectively stimulated with the application of a small seed.

If you have been suffering the effects of Chronic Stress, or are beginning to notice stressors in your life and want to prevent stress from getting the upper hand, connect with us for more information.  We periodically run free information sessions that anyone can attend. Check out our blog post: How Does Acupuncture Work for more general information.

Learn more about stress management here: Stress Management