Acupuncture for Depression
Depression is a disorder involving persistent unhappiness, despondency, and loss of interest in activities that causes significant impairment in daily life. Other symptoms include difficulties with sleep, appetite, energy levels, concentration, and self-esteem. Depression can also be associated with thoughts of suicide. If you have thoughts of suicide and need someone to talk to, the National Suicide Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
Depression in Five Element Acupuncture
Five Element acupuncturists understand depression as an umbrella term for a variety of different patterns of imbalance. Through diagnosing the particular imbalances in each person, they create individualized treatment plans to help shift the body and mind towards better health and well being. Let's take a quick look at how depression shows up in each of the elements.
The Fire element has to do with the heart. Specifically, the functions of this element have to do with protecting the heart, as well as sorting out who or what is worthy of entering the heart and connecting with the deepest part of a person. The emotion of the Fire element is joy, and it's also correlated with relationships, connection, love, and sexuality. When depression includes an imbalance in the Fire element, it generally has something to do with relationships gone wrong. This is a deep injury, and can be difficult to bounce back from. Symptoms include lack of joy, sadness, not wanting to be around people, and not being willing to allow new people to get too close. Other symptoms can include feeling cold all the time, sweating inappropriately, or having heart palpitations.
The Earth element has to do with the balance between giving and receiving, as well as with the ability to nourish ourselves and savor both food and life. When depression involves an Earth imbalance, it can show up in a number of different ways. There can be a sense of either always giving and never receiving, or always needing more than the people around you are willing to give. There can also be an eating disorder involved, where eating has become linked with emotions instead of need. Out of balance Earth can also manifest as the inability to savor the good things in life. Similarly, there can also be a sense that there is no harvest in life, that all one's efforts have turned out nothing. Other symptoms include fatigue, bruising easily, and worrying a lot.
The Metal element has to do with self esteem, and the ability to find value in life. It also has to do with grief, loss, and the ability to let go when the time comes. When depression involves a Metal imbalance, there can be a sense that nothing has value, that there's no point to anything in life. Extreme self judgment and judgment of others can also manifest. A person might sink into a funk, not finding worth in doing anything. Conversely, a person might begin to seek adrenaline rushes, stemming from an assertion that if life has no value anyway they might as well live dangerously. Additionally, Metal is associated with grief. This can be related to a particular loss of a loved one, or it can show up as 'grieving the way life is'. Other symptoms include skin rashes, difficulty breathing, and constipation.
The Water element in health involves being at peace in the present moment, as well as being reflective and having courage in the presence of fear. When depression involves a Water element imbalance, it generally manifests as fear and anxiety. This is the opposite of being at peace in the present moment. This imbalance can involve frequent thoughts of what could go wrong, and a sense of being not in control. The fear can be paralyzing, and cause a person to not want to leave the house or do anything at all. A useful picture is to imagine sitting on a boat in the middle of the ocean. This can be an incredibly peaceful scene, relaxing and just being. On the other hand, it could be incredibly anxiety producing if one starts to think about the miles of water beneath the boat, what might be lurking down there, and all the things that could go wrong. For those with a serious imbalance in the Water element, life can be a scary endeavor with innumerable potential pitfalls that prevent them from being at peace in the present. Other symptoms include knee or low back pain and panic attacks.
The Wood element has to do with planning and vision. Most of the time the plans that we make don't turn out perfectly the way we envisioned. In health, the Wood element allows us to be flexible, to come up with a different way of achieving the end goal we had in mind. Out of balance, frustration and anger show up, and a lack of the ability to be flexible in the face of obstacles. In depression, this frustration and anger builds, and there may seem to be no way to move forward. There may also be a loss of the bigger picture, where one loses sight of the end goals and can only see the obstacles. When a Wood imbalance is involved in depression there can be a buildup of disappointment, frustration and anger, which may lead to angry outbursts at times. Other symptoms include joint pain, insomnia, and red, irritated eyes.
Depression is different for each person. There are a huge range of combinations of imbalances that all fall under diagnosis of depression. By taking a deeper look at which elements are involved, practitioners of Five Element Acupuncture are able to tailor personalized treatments for each individual. This has been proven to be a very effective way of treating depression, especially when used in conjunction with therapy or other conventional treatments.
Acupuncture is proven to be effective
Numerous empirical studies over the past decade have proven acupuncture to be effective for treating depression. In one meta-analysis of published research, 26 randomized controlled trials and four systematic reviews on acupuncture for the treatment of depression were analyzed. The researchers concluded that acupuncture does have a statistically significant effect in reducing the severity of depression.
In another meta-analysis published in the National Institute for Health Research Journals Library, 29 high quality clinical trials were reviewed that compared acupuncture with standard medical care for depression. It was concluded that acupuncture boosts the effectiveness of standard medical care, lessening the severity of chronic pain and depression. This study also concluded that acupuncture is cost effective, using a scale from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Links to these studies and more can be found in our Resources and Related Links section at the bottom of this article.
The biological basis of acupuncture
Recent research points to the idea that depression is related to changes in the neural networks of the brain. Physiologically, acupuncture has been found to shift the release of biochemicals in the nervous system, including altering the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Based on this, it is theorized that one way acupuncture assists in the treatment of depression is through altering the pattern of release of neurotransmitters, yielding a more healthy pattern in the neural networks. Research to find the specific mechanisms of this in the treatment of depression is ongoing.
To learn more about acupuncture and depression, see the resources and related links below. If you're interested in learning more about acupuncture, take a look at About Acupuncture or How Acupuncture Works. You can also read about the difference between Western and Eastern Medicine or dig deeper into Five Element Theory. To learn more about Wisdom Traditions Acupuncture, read About Us or Our Philosophy. If you have any additional questions, feel free to Contact Us or Schedule an Appointment Online.
Resources & Related Links
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Marni Adhikari, M.Ac, L.Ac, Dipl.Ac, is the founder and acupuncturist at Wisdom Traditions Acupuncture of Essex Junction, VT