Acupuncture for Anxiety & Stress

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a term used to describe a group of mental health conditions that all have similar characteristics. It includes general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, specific phobias (eg. agoraphobia), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), panic disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and post-natal anxiety. Anxiety and depression often co-exist.

This group of anxiety disorders have some similar features – you have thoughts or feelings that are chronic and long lasting (as opposed to only lasting brief periods), the thoughts and feelings are distressing, and they interfere with your normal life. Anxiety is more than just a feeling of being stressed or worried. Stress is a normal reaction to a situation where we feel under pressure, and the feelings will usually pass when the pressure is taken away. Anxiety on the other hand, is when the feelings persist after the stressful situation has finished, or they come on for no apparent reason.

Anxiety symptoms can be varied, and include:

  • Physicalpanic attacks, hot and cold flushes, palpitations (feeling your heart beating in your chest), chest tightness, shortness of breath, butterflies, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up or on edge.
  • Psychological – obsessive thinking, excessive fear or worry, catastrophising, disturbed sleep, racing thoughts, feeling disconnected
  • Behavioural – avoiding situations that might make you anxious, such as social events, study or work, avoiding going to bed.

This leads to you not really feeling yourself, and you’re not able to do the things you normally enjoy. When you have racing thoughts, restlessness, and are worrying all the time, your quality of life is adversely affected. It can feel difficult to go to work, to see friends socially, or to spend time with your family.

But if you are feeling this way you’re not alone. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, with an estimated 2 million Australians experiencing symptoms of anxiety every year. 

Can anxiety be treated with acupuncture?

Yes, acupuncture can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety and stress. Recent research has shown that acupuncture treatment can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and provide stress relief. Ear acupuncture has also been found to help provide stress reduction. Besides traditional acupuncture and ear acupuncture, I may also use cupping and heat therapy, as well as traditional Chinese medicine to help enhance your treatment. 

Benefits of acupuncture treatment for stress and anxiety

Using acupuncture to treat anxiety disorders has many benefits:
  • Safe and effective
  • Fewer side effects
  • Increased resilience
  • Less stress and anxiety
  • Better sleep

What is an acupuncture treatment for anxiety like?

An acupuncture session will last about 60 minutes. In an initial consultation, I’ll ask about how all aspects of anxiety affect you, including physically, mentally and emotionally. I will also ask about other aspects of your health and lifestyle, and then have a feel of your pulse to help me get a better picture of your overall picture of health. This allows me to better gauge how to treat you effectively to reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
I’ll then treat you while you’re lying comfortably on a massage table. Once the needles have been painlessly inserted, I’ll leave you to rest for 25-30 minutes, and let the needles do their work.

Will I feel less anxious after acupuncture?

Most people come out of an acupuncture session feeling quite relaxed. The benefits of acupuncture for anxiety and stress will last for 24-48 hours after a treatment, so at the start this is when you will feel the strongest effects. But as you get more treatments, the benefits will start lasting longer, meaning you won’t have to come in as often. Initially I recommend weekly appointments until your symptoms are reduced, and then we start to spread the treatments out less frequently.

Is acupuncture a safe treatment for anxiety?

Acupuncture needles are very fine, about the thickness of a human hair, and as such are essentially pain free. You may feel a slight pinch as the needle is inserted, and then you may feel the area getting warm, or feel a heaviness in the area. Or you may feel nothing. Research has shown that acupuncture can be a safe and effective treatment for anxiety and stress.

Lachlan McDonald
Lachlan McDonald
Related Articles


Acupuncture for anxiety and stress: research and resources

Amorim, D., Amado, J., Brito, I., Fiuza, S.M., Amorim, N., Costeira, C. & Machado, J. (2018). Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 31, 31-37. 

Bae, H., Bae, H., Min, B-I. & Cho, S. (2014). Efficacy of acupuncture in reducing preoperative anxiety: A meta-analysis. Evidence- Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Vol. 2014

Bazzan, A.J., Zabrecky, G., Monti, D.A. & Newberg A.B. (2014). Current evidence regarding the management of mood and anxiety disorders using complementary and alternative medicine. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 14 (4), 411-423.

Better Health Channel –

Beyond Blue –

Buchanan, T., Reilly, P., Vafides, C. & Dykes, P. (2018). Reducing anxiety and improving engagement in health care providers through an auricular acupuncture intervention. Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, 37 (2), 87-96.

Mayo Clinic –

McDonald, J. & Janz, S. (2017). The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A comparative literature review (Revised Edition). Brisbane: Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd.

Quinlan-Woodward, J., Gode, A., Dusek, J.A., Reinstein, A.S., Johnson, J.R. & Sendelbach, S. (2016). Assessing the impact of acupuncture on pain, nausea, anxiety, and coping in women undergoing a mastectomy. Oncology Nursing Forum, 43 (6), 725-732.

Wiles, M.D., Mamdani,J., Pullman, M. & Andrezjowski, J.C. (2017). A randomised controlled trial examining the effect of acupuncture at the EX-HN3 (Yintang) point on pre-operative anxiety levels in neurosurgical patients. Anaesthesia, 72 (3), 335-342.