I Tried Acupuncture For Stress Relief, And Here’s What Happened

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“You’re probably going to drift off to sleep”

I’ve always considered myself a pretty anxious person, stressing myself out over pretty much everything and always sweating the small stuff—even as a second-grader. However, it wasn’t until I reached young adulthood that I realized just how much this affects my everyday life.

It really doesn’t take much for me to get completely overwhelmed and end up in meltdown mode. Balancing work, play, friendships, relationships, and everything else can be pretty tough at times for everyone I think. While I’m sure I could be prescribed something to combat my stress and anxiety, it’s just not something I want to do—nothing against a medical approach, of course, it’s just not the thing for me. Rather, I’m constantly searching out natural or holistic ways to relax, unclutter, and get better sleep. 

After dealing with multiple stress-induced migraines, sleepless nights, and even a few anxiety attacks over the course of a month, I really needed to figure out how to achieve a sense of calm. The tipping point came when I was offered a free hot stone massage and found it to be more stressful than relaxing (I know, I know… ); it had to be time for a better solution.

I’d long wondered about acupuncture, but I didn’t know much about it. I’ve had friends rave about it solving everything from their back pain to their digestive problems, and I was intrigued. A quick Google search proved that acupuncture has been successful in easing stress, and that was all I needed to see to be convinced to try it. 

After doing a bit of research on acupuncturists in NYC, I found a lovely little place only a few blocks away from my Bushwick, New York apartment, Tigerlily Holistic. Located right next to a yoga studio, the atmosphere on the entire floor was calm and serene—definitely not what I’m used to on a Thursday morning.

Ariel Deva De Leon, the clinic director, owner, and the acupuncturist who would be performing my treatment, began our session by asking me a series of questions to get a better idea of my stress levels: how I sleep, how my digestion has been, to see my tongue (!). “You probably just really need to sleep,” she told me. Sigh. I know.

I climbed onto the bed and got comfortable before we began, snuggling into the heated mattress with my knees propped up. Though I was ridiculously comfortable, I started to feel a little panicked. However many tattoos I may have, I’m actually pretty terrified of needles. I tend to faint when getting blood drawn or getting a piercing. Was this going to hurt? Was I going to pass out? 

However, as soon as the first needle was inserted into my foot, I relaxed almost instantly. Despite a slight, pretty painless pinch, I felt a sense of calm energy flow up through my leg and into my other limbs. It was incredible. Then, she began to add more.

De Leon uses three different styles of acupuncture: Kiiko Matsumoto or KM, named after Japanese acupuncturist and teacher; TCM, which is a type of systematized Traditional Chinese Medicine; and APM, Acupuncture Physical Medicine. She draws from all three styles in order to design the right treatment for patients. “Formulation of a treatment plan is kind of like cooking, we can improvise or use our own favorite ‘ingredients’ to achieve our goals for our patients,” she says. 

Placing needles everywhere from my legs to my wrists, even my chest, she would check the tenderness of my abdomen, using it as a reflex point. While it was tender at first (something I would never have noticed), once all of the needles were in, it wasn’t—it was like magic! “Whether or not a spot is tender determines our treatment, and if those reflex points respond to the corresponding treatment is how we gauge the efficiency,” she says. 

However, everyone’s style is different—especially based on how they were trained. “Not all acupuncturists will start with palpating the abdomen, some will rely more on taking the pulse and tongue, while some listen to the sound of your voice and look for colors around the eyes,” she says.

After she was finished placing each needle, she told me I was most likely going to drift to sleep for the remainder of my time, and asked me if I had somewhere to be so that she could wake me when needed, rather than let me sleep. I had to get to work, but I still had the hour to relax, needles in place.

I lay there in what was likely the most relaxed state I’ve ever been in. While I didn’t drift away to sleep, I allowed myself to use this hour of “quiet time” as a meditative moment to process some of the things that have been running through my mind. I allowed myself to stop and take a minute to breathe—something I feel like I hadn’t done in a long time—and put some things into perspective.

I returned to the office in a calm and serene state and remained that way for the rest of the day. I also managed to sleep like a rock for the next week or so. While this may be something that needs upkeep, as it’s not a one-time cure-all, I will definitely be scheduling monthly sessions to combat the stresses and anxieties of everyday life in a natural, affordable way.

Photo by Jennifer Clasen/HBO

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