Anxiety Disorders: Eastern Medicine’s Treatment Approach

In this article I discuss how Eastern medicine practitioners approach the treatment of mental health disorders, specifically Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Anxiety disorders are the most common class of psychiatric disorders diagnosed in America today, affecting 40 million adults in the US aged 18 or older.

Before getting into Eastern medicine theory and approach to treatment, I’ll review which current Western treatments are offered to patients suffering from GAD. Mental health physicians use subjective measurement scales to assess the frequency and severity of anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT’s) and prescription medications are the two treatments prescribed by most doctors. CBT’s can include verbal therapy sessions, progressive muscle relaxation, exposure and response prevention, deep breathing exercises, visualization and others.

Benzodiazepines are the most common class of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for anxiety disorders, as well as serotonin-selective re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) and tricyclic anti-depressants (TCA’s). Some common names for these meds that you may recognize are Klonopin, Valium and Xanax.

Chronic benzodiazepine use, however, can result in dependence and all related medical and psychological complications including tolerance, and withdrawal following rapid cessation. Combining these medications with alcohol and other illicit substances can have fatal results. For these reasons, and others, some patients seek out other ways to manage their anxiety disorders.

To treat anxiety disorders in Eastern medicine, the first step is to determine the etiology of disease for each individual. In other words, practitioners want to understand what the root problem is that is causing the symptoms. It is believed that the imbalances which cause anxiety can develop from an individual’s specific constitution, emotional patterns, past medical history, as well as an improper diet.

Once the etiology is determined, a thorough intake is completed about one’s medical and social history. From there, a treatment plan is developed for the patient ranging in duration, generally anywhere from one month to one year. In Eastern medicine, treatment involves helping patients “release” their feelings held in emotions, as opposed to “oppressing” them with medications.

It is important for patients to understand that emotions are going to be slowly released from the body throughout this process. A supervisor of mine described it as if we are “slowly letting air flow out of a balloon.” If an emotional burst, such as suddenly crying , occurs during treatment or during this process, this can be considered a good thing, instead of a side effect.

Treatment generally involves weekly or bi-weekly Acupuncture treatments in combination with a personalized herbal formula. Acupuncture treatments will usually involve anywhere from 10 to 22 needles inserted into the body and retained for 15-30 minutes. Herbal formulas are usually customized to each patient, and can be changed an modified throughout the healing process. In addition to these therapies, lifestyle modifications may be suggested including dietary changes, daily breath work exercises or light exercise.

Yin Tang is an acupuncture point that is located at the center of the forehead, between the eyebrows, and is often associated with the “third eye.” It is commonly used to calm the mind and relieve anxiety.

If a patient is currently on prescription medications for an anxiety disorder an would like to wean off of pharmaceuticals, it is important to have clear communication with the physician who prescribed these. The patient and their Western medical doctor need to create a plan on a safe way to lower dosages in a way that everyone is comfortable with. When it comes to prescription drug detoxification we do not want to “rush the process” especially someone has been taking medications for a long time.

Mental health disorders are extremely common in the United States, affecting many individuals and those who love and care about them daily. It is important for anyone suffering from an issue like an anxiety disorder to understand that there are many ways for them to seek treatment and heal. For anyone with further questions on this topic, feel free to leave a comment on this post or email me at cdominach@pacificcollege.edu.

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