May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day. So, I thought it would be appropriate during this time to discuss the role of Chinese Medicine in mental health. First, let’s look at a couple big mental health issues: anxiety and depression. Second, we will look at the effects of PTSD on mental health.
Anxiety is more than just concern or worry over a problem in life. It’s perfectly normal to be concerned over an upcoming test or evaluation, or other life events. That is stress. We typically feel stress over changes or hurdles in life. Even what we perceive as positive changes, such as getting married, a new job, or having children, can cause stress. In fact, stress can be a good thing. For example, if a person in high school isn’t concerned about the upcoming tests and papers, what motivates them to study or finish their homework? That kind of stress, which motivates us to take action on things, is very helpful. However, if a person begins to focus on the stressors, they take over, and become anxiety. (This is a simplistic explanation, we don’t have time to go a full discussion here. So check out this link for more on anxiety and anxiety disorders.)
Anxiety comes with a spectrum. There are several disorders categorized as anxiety disorders. Today many individuals have low level anxiety which follows them through the day. It can keep someone from sleeping, or even affect memory and concentration. Some forms of anxiety come with panic attacks, which can feel very similar to a heart attack. It can also lead to depression as the anxiety wears a person down until they feel overwhelmed or hopeless.
Depression has some similarities to anxiety. It is on a spectrum, and there are multiple depression disorders. Often people with depression feel exhausted, and lack motivation, or joy, in their lives. Many who struggle with depression have trouble getting dressed, doing their job, and don’t feel joy when doing things they love. They even lose the interests they had and quit pursuing their hobbies. To learn more about depressive disorders, click here
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is commonly associated with military personnel and veterans, but it is a condition which can affect anyone from any background and at any age. Just like anxiety and depression, PTSD has a spectrum of severity. A person who has PTSD has survived a traumatic experience, and now they have nightmares, flashbacks, and many other symptoms which cause them a lot of distress.
Many people with PTSD have mood fluctuations, struggle with keeping jobs, and will even struggle in day to day activities. Things which seem perfectly normal can become troubling to them as they may trigger a reliving of the trauma. For example, a person who is a war veteran may be unable to be around fireworks as the explosions remind them of a time in a war zone, or a person who was in a traffic accident may be unable to ride in cars. To learn more, click here.
This is where the “fight and flight” mode comes in. People with PTSD (anxiety too) are often hypervigilant. This means their brain is always looking for danger. This creates constant anxiety which the person may not even be aware of. It drains the person’s adrenals and, eventually, they will feel exhausted, and often will have depression. There are many other ways in which being in “fight or flight” affects the body including sleep, digestion, and even memory. Being in this hypervigilant state also allows the brain to be triggered even easier, which creates even more alertness, so it becomes like a feedback loop of sorts. In fact, all of these, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, create this loop, which reinforces the emotions and brain pathways. This doesn’t mean they’re trapped in this forever, but they may need outside help to get their brain to “reset” and move out of that circuit.
I’m going to stop here and say this: If you are experiencing one, or more, of these symptoms, don’t worry, panic, or feel bad. It is perfectly normal for us to have moments of anxiety or depression. Sometimes a series of life changes, or major life events, can cause us to have these emotions for a short time. However, if it has been longer, or you find your daily life becoming harder, remember, there are resources available. Just like we go to a doctor when we’re sick, coming to a professional when we’re having problems with our mental-emotional health. Even if you feel you “aren’t that bad”, but it’s always there, going in to see a therapist can make a world of difference. Think of it as a check up for your mind! There are no stigmas if we go to a doctor when we aren’t feeling well, or even if we go once a year for an annual check-up. Mental health is the same way! It can be life changing to have someone do a mental health check-up.
So, what does Chinese medicine have to offer for mental health? There is a lot of research being poured into this question and I will list some articles below. As the field of mental health develops, finding where acupuncture, herbs, massage, and other modalities fit in is essential to ensure people receive the best, and most inclusive, care. Let’s look at acupuncture first as it is probably the most well known.
Many come to my office for pain, but after a treatment or two it’s not uncommon for me to hear, “I’m feeling less anxious.” or “I’m feeling better and cope with things better.” Even with severe cases, people can see great results! So, what is happening in acupuncture that makes people feel better emotionally?
Acupuncture has been shown to lower cortisol and raise serotonin. Which means, it calms a person down while helping them feel happier. On top of that, certain acupuncture points have been shown to encourage the growth of the good bacteria and other things in our gut. Since our gut produces over 60% of our serotonin, this means, it makes our gut happy, so we are happy too! Many of the herbs and herbal formulas can have similar effects as well.
Again, acupuncture is great, and for some it may be all they need. However, sometimes your mental health may need more of a boost, and that’s ok! So, how do you find a professional counselor? This part can feel a little daunting. After all, often you’re discussing things in a session you aren’t always comfortable discussing. You need to feel comfortable with your counselor/therapist. Also, you want to feel heard. If the person you’re seeing acts like they aren’t listening, they don’t care, or like they’re judging or demeaning you, then you will want to find a new person. It’s not uncommon for someone to change therapists to find the right fit.
Mental health is a huge topic and can be difficult for so many reasons. Take your time and check out the links I provided through this article. I hope this gives you a good start, and encouragement, on your journey to better mental health. Below are a few links to local services and hotlines. If you wish to chat or have questions about any of this, feel free to ask using my email and phone number on my website. If you want to book an appointment, click here.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255; available 24/7
Washington State Suicide Prevention (also has other crisis links and aids): https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/InjuryandViolencePrevention/SuicidePrevention
Comprehensive Mental Health Services:
112 West Main StreetGoldendale, WA 98620509-773-5801
Note: This is not a complete list, but it will give you a start. There are other services in other cities which are available to you, but these are the closest to us here.
Acupuncture & PTSD
Acupuncture & Depression
Acupuncture & Anxiety