How Acupuncture Can Treat Depression by Restoring Bodily Energy

Those suffering from depression often have difficulty envisioning a future for themselves, which creates a sense of isolation and hopelessness that saps away any motivation and enjoyment from their life. Acupuncture is one alternative option to treat depression by balancing energy and bodily imbalances. This healing for the body has a positive effect on the mind. Using medication-based treatment in a residential treatment center in combination with holistic treatments like acupuncture can help clients bring joy back into their life and remember what it’s like to experience the world.

“I feel like I have no idea who I am anymore,” Sarah told me. “It’s like knowing that the world is ripe with colors but only being able to see gray.” The stark contrast between the Sarah that I grew up with and the woman sitting across from me at the coffee shop was jarring. Once a fun-loving extrovert who took so much joy in the world around her, she now seemed to have difficulty finding any sort of enjoyment in even having a conversation with me.

After watching her fade into a shell of the person that I knew her as, I urged Sarah to seek treatment that would properly address her situation. Once diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), I watched her become more and more like herself through a treatment plan that involved both medication and an ancient practice that has recently garnered attention for its ability to help pull individuals out of the haze of depression: acupuncture.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese technique that involves the insertion of needles into the skin at certain points on the body in order to control the flow of energy within it. Referred to as qi, this energy is believed to travel across twelve channels called meridians, each of which represents a major organ or function of the body. Along these meridians are acupoints, which are the focus of acupuncture treatments and can be used to influence the flow of the qi across the twelve main channels and thus restore balance to the body’s energy levels.

Although Western medicine does not acknowledge the idea of qi, research suggests that the needles used during acupuncture activate various regions and receptors of the brain, including its natural opioid receptors. Furthermore, numerous peer-reviewed studies are beginning to acknowledge the benefits that acupuncture can have on various bodily processes including sleep, anxiety, and mood.

How Bodily Energy Is Linked to Depression

Traditional Chinese medicine treats depression as a disorder that stems from imbalances of energy. This technique aims to restore the balance using the acupoints located on each individual’s body. When using acupuncture to treat depression, therapists diagnose each client based on their unique acupoints, and, in combination with other forms of therapy, create an individualized treatment plan. The changing nature of acupoints makes individualized treatment an essential part of using acupuncture to treat depression. As of now, practitioners rely on currently available data to determine individual acupoints in order to create plans that restore energy balance and bring harmony into the minds of those whose lives have been swallowed by depression.

Research on the effects of acupuncture on depression is still in its infancy, but the results thus far are promising. A recent study found that using the mental and emotional connections to individual acupuncture points based on the unique symptoms of each client can effectively treat depression in most cases. A review of studies that examined the effects of acupuncture on pregnant women suggests that it is an effective means of treating major depressive disorder in individuals within this population.

In terms of the brain activity that correlates with acupuncture, research is also limited, but one study found that it increases activity in the insula, a region of the brain located deep within the cerebral cortex that is involved in regulating the body’s homeostasis and has been linked to perception, self-awareness, and interpersonal experience. Interestingly, another study found a connection between changes in insula activity and MDD, highlighting the possibility that acupuncture could treat this disorder through its action on this brain region.

The Mind-Body Connection

There is no question that the mind and body are tightly linked. Those suffering from depression and anxiety produce higher levels of stress hormones, causing blood vessels to constrict and increasing the chances of heart disease. By taking care of our minds, we can, in turn, create positive effects on our bodies, and the same is true the other way around.

While medications, such as antidepressants, treat depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain—making them direct lines of contact with the mind—acupuncture influences the body, which can then have positive effects on the mind. The stimulation of specific acupoints in each client can restore their body’s energy balance, ultimately having beneficial effects on mood.

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Healing the Mind and Body Simultaneously

Given the unique way that acupuncture heals the mind through its actions on the body, it is a great treatment to combine with other more standard therapies such as relational therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Integrating these therapies—which focus on resolving the conflicts that stem from the mind—with the positive bodily effects of acupuncture can encompass a comprehensive treatment plan that allows individuals to connect with the root causes of depression and empower them to resolve these original wounds.

If you struggle with depression, the feelings of emptiness and apathy that dominate your experience can make it difficult to see any hope or benefit in the things around you—even treatment. Despite the darkness that seems to surround you now, just know that with the right treatment, you can restore the balance in both your mind and body and begin to find joy in the world again.

Bridges to Recovery offers acupuncture in combination with other comprehensive forms of treatment for those suffering from major depressive disorder, as well as other co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse, and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our comprehensive and customized treatment programs that can help you or your loved one restore balance in the body and the mind.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Kalen Emsley