Acupuncture Benefits For Mental Health, Stress, and Depression


I never thought I would be telling people I have depression. It was hard enough to tell my closest family and friends when I decided to go on medication. Yet, here I am writing about my depression on the internet and it feels like a relief. 

I’m 25-years-old, live in Brooklyn with my boyfriend, and work in digital marketing and as a freelance beauty editor—basically, day in and day out. Hustle culture, pressure to succeed (both internal and external), and all of life’s other happenings eventually caught up with me: Balance hobbies, they say. Have wine with friends and conjure up the next big idea to pursue, they say. Maybe write a book? While you’re at it, make sure you’re working out thrice weekly, maintaining healthy relationships, cooking at home—the list goes on.

While I am eternally grateful for my life, I thought I was invincible, and everything caught up to me. Things began to shift when I turned 23. I suddenly felt like a stranger living in my own body. I could not understand why I felt empty while being perceived as successful by the people around me. I was crumbling inside.

I turned to medication when I was 24. At that point, I was in therapy for over a year, working on setting healthy boundaries with my work and personal life. I decided to dedicate time on the weekends to do one thing for myself, which started with a solo trip to Target or trying a new restaurant. My therapist recommended treatments like acupuncture to improve my mental health. My friends, colleagues, and even my sister spoke highly of acupuncture, which helped her with migraines. Despite being slightly afraid of needles, I was intrigued by the idea of trying acupuncture as part of my weekly “me” time. After a couple of Google searches diving into Chinese medicine, I booked an acupuncture appointment in hopes of better understanding my mind and body. 

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture involves teeny needles going through your skin in key body areas. According to Dr. Nicole Glathe, DAOM, LAc, DiplOM, Head of Product and Service Innovation at WTHN, acupuncture is used in traditional Chinese medicine to improve health. “In the US today, acupuncture is most commonly used to address pain, headaches, migraines, mental health, stress management, digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions, fertility, and more,” she explains. 

What to expect during acupuncture?

I set an internal goal for my first acupuncture session: to fully surrender to the experience by focusing on an emotional release. I spoke to my practitioner about my goals, and we pinpointed some areas we could focus on together. 

I was instructed to lie face down on a massage table and close my eyes. I didn’t know what to expect but, again, committed to trusting the process. My practitioner carefully placed the needles throughout my calves and back. I could feel the pricks, and they didn’t hurt at all, though I did anticipate the next prick right after the other. Once the needles were in, I felt nothing. I was aware they were there but experienced no pain, just the sensation of them hanging out of my skin. My provider covered me with a blanket to keep me warm and left me in a dimmed room with just my thoughts and needles. 

Alone on the table for a few minutes, I began to sob. All my stressors and intrusive thoughts met me there and left me with no choice but to release them at that moment. I had no idea I was holding onto so much negative energy and built-up tension, but my first round at acupuncture helped me to relax and forced me to surrender. In one session, I felt a massive relief over my entire body. It was like I had just taken the most enormous sigh ever. 

According to experts, acupuncture therapy is based on “restoring the equilibrium of the body’s energy state” by encouraging energy flow in different meridians and acupoints. In some cases, practitioners believe that the tiny needles can stimulate the nerves, which helps treat pain. In my case, the careful placement of the needles helped release tension, which, in turn, helped me mentally. I saw the same practitioner for each session for a while, and now I am comfortable seeing different people. Each time, my practitioner discusses any concerns with me to map out the best treatment plan for the session. 

Benefits of acupuncture for mental health

“Many studies have shown that acupuncture effectively relieves symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other emotional ailments—with fewer side effects than medication,” Dr. Glathe says. “Acupuncture stimulates the body’s natural feel-good hormones (endorphins) and reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol. This helps to shift the body into rest mode instead of fight or flight mode.”

This switch is exactly what I experienced during my first session and those after. For 45 minutes, my body is no longer in fight or flight mode, and I’m allowed to clear (or, at the very least, address) any mental, physical, or emotional blocks. As I continued to attend weekly acupuncture, I gained the capacity to reflect on my feelings and life in real time. I began journaling after each session, writing down thoughts and feelings, which ultimately became a different form of therapy for me, much different than talk therapy with my therapist, both of which have benefitted me.

“Acupuncture can be safely combined with pharmaceutical antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to achieve better regulation of symptoms and address side effects of medications that are otherwise helpful,” explains Dr. Glathe. Knowing that I was doing something for myself outside of therapy while taking medication to help alleviate my depression symptoms made me feel more in control of my health and body.

Final Takeaway

While I choose to go to therapy weekly and to take my medication every morning, those things rarely make me feel like I am in control of what is happening inside my body. However, with acupuncture, it’s just me in a quiet room addressing my energy or pain. I can block out the noise of everything around me and intentionally relax my body and mind as I sink into the table. 

Discovering acupuncture helped me understand my depression by giving me the space to reflect and have grace for myself on both good days and bad days. It’s so much more than meditation, and once I leave the appointment, I still feel a serene state of calm. It has become my favorite part of the weekend, and I finally feel most in control of my body, mind, and depression for the first time in a while. 


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