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Treatment of Anxiety, Depression and Insomnia

Anxiety, depression and insomnia are common afflictions that are becoming ever more prevalent in our culture. They are treated routinely with medication of varying effectiveness. Many patients have come to my office seeking another avenue of treatment because they are dissatisfied with medication results or side effects or because they want to treat the core problem and not live on medications that address symptoms only.

According to Chinese medical theory, these three disorders are related because they are disharmonies of the "shen" or spirit. The "shen" is said to reside in the heart. If the heart energy is imbalanced such as too hot, cold, weak or stressed, then the spirit will not rest there comfortably but will become" restless" and begin to "wander". Sleep will then be difficult or restless, dreams will become turbulent and the spiritual aspect disturbed. Our daily spirit will be unfocused and troubled with doubt, fear and worry. Anxiety attacks, depression and phobias are borne of this.

Years of Anxiety and Depression

Linda is a 46-year-old mother of two teenagers. She works full time in a job she finds unsatisfying and is studying part time for a career in the mental health field. Linda's mother was alcoholic who died at an early age. Young Linda and her 3 siblings were left in the charge of various caregivers, the longest lasting being an abusive alcoholic. Linda was raised primarily in an emotionally bereft and volatile environment. She has worked diligently at healing the damage done to her during childhood and describes her present family life as happy. She is successful in her job as marketing analyst for a leading firm. Despite these successes, Linda is still plagued with feelings of doom and gloom. She is "always expecting the worse" and "waiting for the axe to fall". She understands these feelings are no longer realistic but is unable to control them. Linda experiences heart palpitations and hot flashes. Her sleep is restless and disturbed by vivid and upsetting dreams. She awakens every morning to dread and hopelessness. She is thin, pale, fatigued and easily moved to tears. Linda is feeling desperate and terrified that she is losing control. She is experiencing difficulty in functioning at work and in her role as wife and mother. Everything worries her. Life has become overwhelming. Linda also complains of jaw and back pain.

Linda's medical diagnosis is anxiety and depression. She has been seeing a psychotherapist for some time, which has helped a great deal, and has been taking Prozac for several years. The Prozac helps, but she is far from comfortable.

Upon examination, Linda's tongue is pale, thin and dry with overlying redness and a red tip. Her pulses are weak and rapid.

In terms of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Linda suffers from heart blood insufficiency accompanied by kidney yin insufficiency. The blood is too weak to properly nourish the organs and in this case, the heart especially suffers. (Pale, dry tongue, red tip.) This is manifested in palpitations, anxiety, tearfulness, insomnia and restless, disturbed sleep. The kidney yin insufficiency further contributes and intensifies all symptoms by creating an environment too hot and dry. This manifests as hot flashes, night sweats and back pain. (Dry, thin tongue, redness, fast pulse.)

Treatment principle for Linda was aimed at strengthening heart blood and nourishing kidney/heart yin. This was done with specialized herbs and acupuncture treatment.

After 8 acupuncture treatments, Linda was "feeling much better and sleeping much better". "I now awaken with a fear of depression but it's not there".

After 10 visits, Linda is beaming and reports "feeling terrific". The back and jaw pain is much better and the depression is gone. She says she is "hopeful and energized" after having felt "burned out for years".

Linda continues her healing and understands that resolving the layers of trauma that brought her to intolerable levels of emotional pain are deeply rooted and require patience and tenacity. However, she now has the physical resources and resilience to sustain her through this journey.

Panic Attacks Alleviated

Jim is a 32 year- old shipyard worker that has been suffering from debilitating panic attacks since his teenage years. He has been on medication for 20+ years and wants to get off them because of uncomfortable side effects. Jim is an attractive man with a wiry, muscular build who is skilled in Karate. He is married and has a young son. The medication controls his panic attacks except that he still cannot sit in a restaurant to eat a meal. Jim also complains of an underlying sense of apprehension that has been with him as long as he can remember. His wife says that he is often irritable. Other symptoms include frequent belching, a stifling chest sensation, palpitations, thirst, insomnia and recurrent mouth ulcers.

Jim's tongue is dry and red with a yellow coating. His pulses are wiry, full and fast.

His diagnosis according to TCM is "heart fire" (red, dry tongue, yellow coat, fast pulse) with liver constraint. (Wiry pulse)

Treatment principle is to clear fire, release the liver and calm the mind. Acupuncture and prescribed herbs were given.

After 8 treatments, Jim was able to enjoy a restaurant meal with his wife for the first time in their relationship. After 12 treatments, Jim was able to gradually discontinue his medication and reports that he now experiences a sense of ease that is new to him. He sleeps well, is no longer troubled with indigestion or palpitations and hasn't had an outbreak of mouth sores in two months. His wife comments that he's become a consistently sweet man.

Traumatic Insomnia

When Dharma was seven years old, she learned that her beloved grandmother had unexpectedly "died in her sleep". Until then, Dharma had always been a very good sleeper. As a matter of fact, her parents would awaken her as a baby to play with her because she slept so much. Suddenly, Dharma no longer wanted to fall asleep and was convinced that she too would die if she slept. This began a lifelong struggle with insomnia that continued until she began acupuncture treatments at age 45.

Dharma, a practicing registered nurse, writes:

"Acupuncture for insomnia? Why not leeches and voodoo too? I tried it on a dare, totally unconvinced that it would work. Nothing else had including medication, special diets, exercise, meditation, hypnosis, magnets, hormones, you name it! A "good night's sleep" had eluded me since I was seven years old. My dad and his mom had problems with sleep and anxiety too. Thinking that acupuncture was totally ridiculous, I giggled and complained while Netta did her thing with needles and pins. Driving home later that day, I felt strangely elated and energetic. Could this be the acupuncture? That night, I slept for seven hours straight! My alarm clock awakened me. Strange. Is this what normal people do? I felt great - a little sleepy but not the usual headache and nausea. I slept again the second night and again the third night but by the fourth night, I was awakening again in the night - but for a shorter time than historically. Netta explained that I would likely need several treatments before I had taken on this new habit completely. Whatever. It's working! I'm convinced!"

Upon examination, Dharma had a significantly pale and puffy tongue with lots of red dots at the tip. Her pulses were primarily weak and deep.

This presentation is a classic case of heart blood deficiency affecting the spirit. Treatment principle involved strengthening heart blood and calming the spirit. Again herbs and acupuncture were used as well as a dietary adjustment. (Elimination of caffeine).

After nine visits, Dharma is able to sleep well despite unusual stress and occasional sleeping away from home. She is doing very well.

Acupuncture works well with issues that have long been considered "psychological" in origin because acupuncture affects us not only on the physical plane but also on all levels of our being. We function as a tapestry of mind, body and spirit - each strand affecting and supporting the rest. Chronic health problems do not reside in our physical bodies alone. They account for how we feel, think, behave and are received in this world.

Acupuncture points actually exist. They've been photographed by Kirlean photography and appear as small pools of light. We all have an innate healing system that until recently, has been unknown to us.


Netta M. Hart, Licensed Acupuncturist, 18 Coastal Way, Greenland, NH 03840