Anxiety is very common problem in our society today that affects literally millions of people. It is a reflection of our modern lifestyle, characterized by inordinate amounts of stress, working late, ever present noise and light pollution.

Anxiety is a condition that often dovetails with depression.  Depending on the individual, the symptoms can range from mild discomfort to almost uncontrollable panic with physical symptoms, and will, in many cases, alternate between the two.

While some medications, especially benzodiazepines, are known to ease anxiety, they can be highly addictive and have undesirable side effects, especially if they are overused or abused. That is to say, they can suppress the symptoms, but at the risk of having a chemically toxic effect on the people using them.

Treatment with Traditional Japanese Medicine

Traditional Japanese Medicine (TJM) takes a holistic approach to health and regards illness, including psychological conditions such as anxiety, as a sign that the body/mind is out of balance.

According to TJM, in the case of anxiety, the two organs most frequently in disharmony are the spleen and kidney, which are regarded as a kind of single system.

The spleen-kidney system is the key provider of strength and vitality throughout the body. Its principal energetic function is to transform and transport the essential Qi energy of the body. As the central unit of digestion, the spleen-kidney system is seen as being responsible for the transformation of food and drink into Qi, body fluids and blood. When, due to a deficiency of Qi-energy, this transformation function becomes impaired, symptoms of sluggish digestion ensue.

In just the same way it regulates the digestion of food, the spleen-kidney system is concerned with the absorption and analysis of ideas and information. If it isn’t functioning properly, concentration can become impaired and thinking dulled.  Weakness of the Spleen in particular can produce not only fullness and congestion on a bodily level, but also overthinking and mental churning on an intellectual one.

This results in feelings of emotional unease. Conversely, long-term emotional pressures that result in chronic anxiety can actually cause these energetic deficiencies, leading, in turn, to additional problems of a physiological nature.

The case of Madame K

A 43 year-old woman visited me for treatment, complaining of anxiety that had lasted more than six months. She reported that one month before her first visit, the associated symptoms of fatigue and poor breathing and tightness in her chest had also appeared. 

By palpating various energy nodes, I got a sense of stagnation at three specific acupoints in her neck, lower-back and foot. In my experience, tightness at these three acupoints often indicates disharmony in the spleen-kidney system when analyzed from the TJM point of view.

From a western biomedical viewpoint, harmonizing the spleen-kidney system through acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules.

[su_accordion class= ».su_spoiler title{font-size:20px} »][su_spoiler title= »For more scientific details, please look this section: » open= »no » style= »default » icon= »plus » anchor= » » class= » »]The British Acupuncture Council says:

[su_quote]Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:

  • Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).
  • Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain’s mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007).
  • Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
  • Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)
  • Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009).


For her treatment, I used a combination of Traditional Japanese Acupuncture (TJA) and Rolfing modalities. Her initial sessions were devoted to rebalancing her spleen-kidney system along with her overall Yin / Yang balance.  After two sessions, her symptoms were mostly in remission and she started feeling vitality in her life again. Since then, she has continued to have regular treatments with me once every two months and she has maintained a good physical and emotional condition.


Based on TJM philosophy, acupuncturists are trained to use subtle diagnostic techniques that have been developed and refined for centuries. The focus is on the individual, not their illness, and all the symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Each patient is unique; two people with the same western diagnosis may well receive different acupuncture treatments.  Also, the resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.


– References –

  1. Hui KK et al. Acupuncture, the limbic system, and the anticorrelated networks of the brain. Auton Neurosci. 2010 Oct 28;157(1-2):81-90.
  2. Lee B et al. Effects of acupuncture on chronic corticosterone-induced depression-like behavior and expression of neuropeptide Y in the rats. Neuroscience Letters 2009; 453: 151-6.
  3. Samuels N et al. Acupuncture for psychiatric illness: a literature review. Behav Med 2008; 34: 55-64.
  4. Zhou Q et al. The effect of electro-acupuncture on the imbalance between monoamine neurotransmitters and GABA in the CNS of rats with chronic emotional stress-induced anxiety. Int J Clin Acupunct 2008 ;17: 79-84
  5. Yuan Q. Li J.-N. Liu B. Wu Z.-F. Jin R. Effect of Jin-3-needling therapy on plasma corticosteroid, adrenocorticotropic hormone and platelet 5-HT levels in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine.2007; 13 (4): 264-268.
  6. Arranz L et al. Effect of acupuncture treatment on the immune function impairment found in anxious women. American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2007;35(1):35-51
  7. Kim H et al. The effects of acupuncture stimulation at PC6 (Neiguan) on chronic mild stress-induced biochemical and behavioral responses. Neuroscience Letters. 2009; 460 (1) (pp 56-60)

Credit; Chinese woodcut: Qigong exercise to treat heart pain : Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)