Judy Bowen-Jones

Acupuncture for Anxiety, Stress & PTSD

Stress is how you feel when you are under pressure.

Stress in itself is not an illness, it’s a normal physiological response which helps us cope with demands of everyday life. It increases our awareness, gives us motivation and the energy we need to get out of a difficult situation, for example to avoid getting run over when crossing the road. Stress only becomes a problem when the demands or pressure placed upon us are prolonged or exceed our ability to cope with them.

There are many causes of stress, including money or work issues, relationship problems, moving home, bereavement or trauma. Research indicates that one in six of us suffers from stress related symptoms. We all respond differently to stress. Many health problems are stress related.


Symptoms of stress may be emotional, psychological or physical. Common emotional and psychological symptoms include irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, tearfulness, changes in behaviour, appetite changes, concentration issues, insomnia and tiredness. Physical symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, chest pain, breathlessness, feeling restless, sweating, constipation or diarrhoea, IBS, muscle aches and pains, loss of sex drive.

The long term effects of stress can be serious including anxiety and depression, chronic insomnia, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, stomach ulcers, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and stroke.

When we are stressed our sympathetic nervous system (our ‘fight and flight’ response) is stimulated and stress hormones are released. Our body’s energy is diverted away from everyday maintenance functions, digesting food etc, and diverted to our nerves and muscles so we are ready ‘to flee or fight’. Good health requires a smooth flow of energy around the body. When we are stressed this natural flow of energy around the body is impaired and our energy tends to rise up, leading to headaches, irritability and muscle and shoulder tension. Our blood vessels become constricted leading to an increase in blood pressure (hypertension) and reduction in the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the tissues. Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels usually return to normal. But, if you are under constant stress, these hormones will stay in your body, and you will continue to experience stress symptoms.


Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of stress. Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder (social phobia). Emotional symptoms include worry, insomnia, irritability and poor concentration. Physical symptoms may include sweating, nausea, diarrhoea, dry mouth, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold hands, muscle tension and aches, trembling and twitching.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very frightening or distressing events such as serious accidents, violent personal assault, abuse, military combat or environmental disasters. PTSD can develop immediately after the stressful event or up to years later. It is estimated that PTSD affects about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience. Sufferers may experience vivid memories of the event and flashbacks in addition to other anxiety symptoms.

Conventional treatments for stress and anxiety disorders include medication, cognitive behavioural therapy and relaxation techniques, including mindfulness. Regular exercise is also recommended.

Acupuncture for Stress, Anxiety & PTSD

Acupuncture is a holistic medicine. It can be effective for treating stress and stress related conditions because it treats the mind as well as the body, and helps treat the root cause of the problem as well as the symptoms. Acupuncture also influences the production of the body’s communication substances, hormones and neurotransmitters, activating our self-regulating mechanisms, stimulating natural healing and promoting physical and emotional wellbeing.

Acupuncture research for anxiety disorders is limited. But there is some evidence for the benefits of acupuncture for chronic anxiety associated with PTSD, substance misuse, eating disorders, hyperventilation, asthma, insomnia, post-stroke and musculo-skeletal pain.

Research suggests that acupuncture may specifically benefit anxiety sufferers by:

  • Acting on areas of the brain which reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, promoting relaxation and deactivating our ‘analytical brain’ which is responsible for anxiety and worry
  • Regulating levels of neurotransmitters which alter the brain’s mood chemistry to help combat negative feelings
  • Activating the parasympathetic nervous system which opposes the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight and flight’ stress response) and initiates the body’s relaxation response
  • Reversing stress induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry

Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress.

See also:

Treating Stress & Anxiety

“All my acupuncture treatments for stress related conditions include massage of your body or face to aid relaxation and help calm the body’s stress response. Many patients who first have acupuncture for a non-stress related condition, such as an ankle sprain, are amazed at how much acupuncture reduces their stress levels and increases their feelings of calm, control and wellbeing.”


Backer, M & Hammes, M (2010). Acupuncture in the Treatment of Pain, An Integrative Approach. Elsevier

Maciocia, G. 2005. The Practice of Chinese Medicine. Painful Obstruction Syndrome. 561-604. Churchill Livingstone


Research Fact Sheets

For more information see the British Acupuncture Council Research Fact Sheet below.