Why I Use Acupuncture for Anxiety

Acupuncture is a welcome addition to my self-care routine

I chose a picture without needles for those who get grossed out easily. :)

The first time I tried acupuncture I was around 21.

I was living in Calgary, and doing a really good job of overdoing it: I was partying hard, working tons, doing a course at the local college, having a love affair with my 32-year-old dance teacher (lol), and dancing at Alberta Ballet up to 4 times a week.

At the time I was feeling a little lost about what I was going to do with my life. I knew I was a good dancer: it’s something that has always come very naturally to me. While I had dropped out of a performing arts program on the island during my high school years, in my early 20s in Calgary I got obsessed with it again.

I was good enough to get asked to be in a new dance company, and ended up filming a Bollywood music video in Vegas at one point with my boyfriend/dance teacher (21 and in Vegas? Fun times!) Outside of all that, I would dance at Alberta ballet as much as I could, and take classes at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks as well. My goal? To get some more notoriety for my skills by way of being accepted into the dance program at the University of Calgary.

I think at the time I was feeling an intense need to be validated for something. To be straight up with you, I am 100% positive that if I had gotten accepted into that program, I would have dropped out at some point. I was not ready to commit to anything. But I was craving approval, and this would have been a big, “Hey Andrea, you’re really great at something” kind of approval.

Long story short, I didn’t get accepted. And I was devastated at the time, as I’d put a lot of stock into it. But today, I completely understand why I received a rejection letter.

As gifted as I was, I lacked joy when I did it. My body moved in all the right ways, but my face said otherwise. I was afraid to let my guard down long enough to show I was happy when I danced. Looking hard was a protective shield I put up as a pre-teen, and I didn’t actually feel safe enough to let go of it until about 5 years ago (Side note: there are still days when the veil of protection creeps back up. My self-preservation and protection skills are fierce.)

But I took dance seriously. I trained hard, went to class steadily, and was always practicing at home and at work (jete’s through the dining room before the restaurant I worked at opened for the day was pretty normal for me.) And I wasn’t giving my body a break either, which is why I ended up with some seriously messed up calves.

Those calves of mine were in bad shape — there were knots all through them. I tried massage and active release therapy (that was extremely painful) and neither techniques made a difference, save for leaving bruises all over my legs.

Then I tried acupuncture, and while it didn’t get rid of the problem completely, it provided some relaxation and relief, and introduced me to the world of eastern medicine.

I found the whole process fascinating. I didn’t understand the principles behind it at the time (which in part involves getting stagnant energy moving through the body so it can function better as a whole) but I did enjoy the treatments and felt they made a difference. So I did as many sessions as my $5.90 an hour minimum wage plus tips job allowed for (yikes right?) and then left it at that. In the end, the pain subsided when I stopped overdoing the dance classes, which was a byproduct of starting university and not having the time to take classes anymore.

Fast forward to present day, as in a few weeks ago. Emotional melt down? Check. Terrible digestive issues? Check. Anxiety off the charts? Check. Insomnia? Check. 400 bucks in my health care benefits account that could be used for acupuncture? Check.

So I went for my first acupuncture appointment in a very long time, and it make a huge difference.

I fell asleep on the table 3 times, which is wild because sleep is an elusive beast to me. And my body was so relaxed — it was amazing. I felt like I got hit by a bus, but not in a bad way — I was just so relaxed that I was wondering how the hell I was going to get home by the end of it.

Long story short I made it home safe and sound, and when I did I called the clinic and made another appointment.

Here are a few things I learned about acupuncture through my experience:

  1. One off appointments are fine, but if you’re looking to get energy flowing through your body and release stagnation that can result in physical pain, you need to go regularly say, a month. Twice a week is best but once a week works too.
  2. You might get emotional because you’re releasing blocked energy and emotions in your body during the process. I had a pretty solid crying session during my last appointment but that’s nothing new for me as of late (read about that here.) And I’m not going to shame myself for it, even though it was uncomfortable at first, being that vulnerable in front of a stranger.
  3. You might get an area in your body that feels full once the needles are put in — for me, it was my shoulder on the first appointment, and my elbow the second. This is normal and nothing to be freaked out about (I say that after getting freaked out about it and then calming down after the acupuncturist told me it’s totally normal.)
  4. You may experience a needle that doesn’t feel so great. If it hurts, you don’t have to sit there and suffer through it (I’m talking to my fellow people pleasers out there.) If you are uncomfortable, say so and the acupuncturist can take it out or adjust it.
  5. More needles do not always make it a better experience. My first appointment I was loaded with them, but my second I felt more comfortable with half the amount. Both appointments were equally beneficial. So if you’re prone to thinking more is better, like I often do, release that belief for the appointment. (Probably best to release that belief on a global scale but let’s both go easy on ourselves and commit to working on that in the future, OK? :))

What struck me as another therapeutic aspect of acupuncture during my last appointment was the process of learning to trust. I am inherently untrusting, a learned belief of mine being that we cannot trust ourselves or other people (I’m working on it.) Because of that, getting the most out of alternative therapies and treatments has been difficult, because I feel vulnerable, which is one of my most feared feelings to feel. So much so that I committed most of my life up until recently working really hard at avoiding it.

This whole process, of submitting to and accepting these appointments with a complete stranger, and handing over unearned trust in order to heal full circle has been challenging, and a form of therapy in and of itself. I’ve really had to let go and breathe through my fears — with every needle — and trust that my body and mind are safe.

To be honest, every appointment has its challenges when it comes to trust. I think in many ways my body and mind know how fear feels to such an extent that neither wants to be without it — to be without it is to accept the unknown, which is far scarier than the pain it has found familiar comfort in over the years. So though challenging, acupuncture is also teaching me the gift of acceptance — accepting the present and that the purpose of it will come to light in due time, if I am willing to submit to it, wholly and fully.

So long story short, acupuncture is amazing.

I used to be so freaked out to spend money on stuff like this — I wouldn’t even use the benefits I had because I’d have to pay upfront, because it seemed too opulent. But I’m at this point where I don’t care how it looks anymore — I deserve to feel better. And I have to deal with the anxiety I feel or it may cause me some serious health issues down the road. I’m not willing to accept that being anxious and depressed is OK anymore, and I’m not going to bully myself and shame myself for what I’m going through either.

For me, taking pills doesn’t work. Believe me, there have been many days as of late where I’ve thought about heading to the doctor’s office and starting up a prescription for citalopram again. But 20 years of that route proved it doesn’t work for me. How am I going to deal with the stuff that is troubling me if I numb it all?

So now, I’m all about acupuncture for body pain, anxiety, sleep issues, and even digestive issues.

If you’re feeling stuck right now, or ever for that matter, consider trying acupuncture. And if you have any questions about my experience, please feel free to reach out via email or in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. :)

Cheers to healing, in whatever form that comes.

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