In my early twenties, I had my first panic attack.
I was at a concert with some friends, and suddenly, I couldn’t hear anything. I felt light headed. It seemed that everyone in the crowd was staring directly at me. I had to consciously think about breathing, which was one of the scariest things I’d experienced. Afterwards, in a daze, I wondered what could have prompted my panic attack.
I tried various outlets to combat stress: Practicing yoga, talking to my therapist, being outside, writing.
But this anxiety felt different from my usual stress. So I decided to venture into the world of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM for short), and I saw my first acupuncturist.
It’s been five years, and I can’t imagine my life without acupuncture.
While TCM can treat a variety of ailments, more recently, I’ve been seeing an acupuncturist to solely address my anxiety.
I found that the post-2016 election chaos, coupled with a new job and a big move, recently prompted my anxiety and panic to shoot through the roof. No longer was it just impacting me mentally, it now seemed to be manifesting in physical ways. I’ve started creating more balance in my life, and pushing back against the anxiety to take better care of myself. These steps have been hugely beneficial, though they’ve still required effort. And through it all, acupuncture has been so key in helping me feel more level-headed, and truly more like myself.
I thought it would be helpful to talk to my acupuncturist and naturopathic doctor, Claudia Weitkemper, to learn just how TCM can aid in addressing anxiety.
HelloGiggles: How did you first become interested in practicing TCM?
Claudia Weitkemper: As a nurse in Germany, I was quite dissatisfied with just throwing blankets on people’s symptoms but they didn’t really get better. When I was 16, I went to evening school to study herbs and herbal medicine. When I was 17, I ordered my first [TCM] book Acupuncture for Dummies, and I practiced on myself. I got toothaches, so when anything didn’t feel good on me, I looked up the points and practiced on myself for hours. My grandmother also had a big herb garden, so I was completely into herbs and I loved planting them. After three years in nursing school, I worked in a big hospital in Munich. It was there I realized that you could do so much more with natural medicine [during] surgery recovery.
I became a naturopathic doctor in Germany, and chose to specialize in the acupuncture program. When I came to the United States, I went back to acupuncture school, and then opened my clinic here because I really knew what was in my heart — to heal with plants, to heal with my head, to heal with light and energy, and to heal with acupuncture.
HG: Does acupuncture hurt?
CW: There are different types. The Chinese modality sometimes uses really big needles which can be painful depending on the area in your body. I also studied some Japanese acupuncture — they use very fine, thinner needles which aren’t painful at all. There’s Master Tung acupuncture which can also be painful because the points are on your hands. The more skin a patient has and the finer the needles, the less pain there is. Chinese medicine is really dependent on the season and the temperature of the patient. Is it warm outside? Is it cold outside? Is the patient warm or cold? From there, you determine which needles to use.
HG: What should someone new to acupuncture look for when finding an acupuncturist?
CW: The main thing in acupuncture is that you feel that you can really trust the person you work with because it’s an old traditional medicine, and is delivered through the hands of the practitioner. It’s energy medicine. The main thing is that your energy fits with the energy of the healer. Ideally, you’d find somebody who has a knowledge of both herbs and acupuncture, because then you can be treated on a whole.
HG: How can acupuncture and herbs help treat anxiety?
CW: In Chinese medicine, there are five elements that correspond to different organs: Water (kidney), Wood (liver), Fire (heart), Earth (spleen and stomach), Metal (lung and large intestine). These five elements have to be balanced in your body. The most important element is kidney, which is often depleted in our fast-paced life. The five elements create each other, but they also control each other. So when energy or qi (pronounced ‘chi’) from the kidney depletes, there’s not enough water to cool down the heart, and then the heart starts blazing because there’s not enough cooling water. When this happens, anxiety happens… Then we put needles in to cool down the heart, to nourish the kidney, to smooth down the liver.
There are many different reasons for anxiety, but this is one of the key reasons. So we have to address everything — we have to nourish the kidney, we have to calm down the blazing heart fire, and we have to make sure all the other five elements are balanced — because when one element is off balance, the other ones are affected. It’s like the microcosm and the macrocosm. If your parents or your sibling is not well, you are not well.
HG: Following your philosophy regarding anxiety, how can we manage the craziness of being online all the time?
CW: The key is to have quiet time every day with an outlet like meditation or yoga. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything, it’s key to put your phone away and switch it off for at least one hour a day. Finding the balance in our lives is so hard for many of us because there’s a lot of pressure.
Be in nature because the energy of nature is neutralizing your body. Taking a bath or going for a swim can also help to calm and quiet the nervous system. Additionally, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and eating the appropriate foods can be helpful. Don’t forget the importance of bringing joy into your life by doing something that’s fun, like dancing.