Stress is real. Stress can be painful. When people find out I turned to acupuncture to help manage my stress levels they have a lot of questions. Why acupuncture? Does it hurt? Were you scared? How long does it take? Would you recommend it? Today I thought it might be interesting to share my first acupuncture session experience.
A few years ago I was having horrible migraines, and my face and jaw hurt all the time. I thought for sure it was a sinus infection so I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. After looking up my nose and saying ahhhhh, I was told, “Nope, you’re fine. Maybe it’s stress.” Ya, ya, life gets kinda crazy with 2 kids, a husband, house, full time job, and a blog, but it’s no crazier than anyone else’s life.
The headaches and pain didn’t go away, and I convinced myself stress could not cause this level of pain. Maybe I had cracked a tooth. After x-rays and examining my teeth, my dentist said, “Nope, you’re fine. Maybe it’s stress.” SRSLY??? Can stress really cause this much physical pain? In my case, apparently yes.
I went back to my GP and asked what to do. I’ve gone to therapy…years of therapy actually. I’m one of those weird introverts that’s anxious…anxious about everything. After my sister died, the anxiety worsened. I worried dying every time I got in a car or plane. Twisted metal. Fiery crash. I worried about my job, deadlines, getting fired for no reason what so ever. I worried about laundry, about how I dressed. Finally, I went on anti-depressants…that is until we got pregnant.
Therapy only made me realize I have anxiety. It showed me my tells for the onslaught of a panic attack. Ok, I knew what was wrong with me. So now what? It’s not like I could just cure it and make it go away. How do I make myself chill? Hypnosis? Weekly spa sessions? BTDubs, I’d be totally down for that.
My doctor told me to give acupuncture a whirl. Yeesh! Needles gave me the heebee jeebees. But at this point the pain had worsened. Now I was chewing on my tongue to the point of being raw on one side, and popping Advil like it was going outta style.
After googling and researching, I landed on Angie Ng. She could see me over lunch my lunch hour and had good Yelp reviews. Hopefully, I’d find some relief. I made an appointment.
Needles scare me so much that I pitted out by the time I got to her office. See, I told you I was anxious. Sitting in the waiting room, I could only wish I had a stick of deodorant in my bag, my leg bouncing nervously up and down. She called my name, and we walked back to a little room with a massage table. Spa music playing in the background.
After taking a seat, she asked me about my weight, took my pulse. She asked about my diet. Did I drink caffeine? Did I eat dairy? Finally, she asked to see my tongue. I momentarily hesitated. “Ummm, it looks really gross. Just warning you.” In my head I was like, how did she know to look at my tongue? I hadn’t said a word about it.
Unbeknownst to me, when your diet contains dairy, Eastern medicine believes your body becomes damp. Dairy can aggravate the sinuses, lungs and cause swelling. She blamed the grooves in my tongue, not from chewing, but from the tongue being swollen and pushing against my teeth.
Before leaving the room, she gave me a pair of shorts to wear and asked me to lay down on the table face up. When she returned she asked, “Are you comfortable?” Inside I screamed, “you’re going to stick needles in me lady. No, I’m not comfortable with that at all.” but instead I replied, “Yes.”
She took rubbing alcohol to about 20 spots all symmetrically on my body and pulled out a box of very fine, thin needles. The first two went in the top of my hands. Each between my fore finger and thumb. I felt the tiniest of pricks, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Hmmmm, so that wasn’t so bad.
She made her way to my shins. She kinda felt around the middle side of my shin and her fingers felt uncomfortable on my skin. I squirmed. In fact, even when I think about that specific spot now, it makes my body feel weird and nauseous. “This is a point where the stress releases itself from the body. Since your stress levels are so high, you feel anxious when I touch your shin.” Ok mind blown.
I’ve had massages before, but no one has every really pin pointed pressure spots on me. After my shins came my feet. One needle on the top of each foot…pretty much the same spot as the needles in my hands…top of the foot on the inside of the big toe. That spot hurt. Stingers she called them. The higher the stress in a release point, the more of the possibility for a stinger. Again, mind blown. She told me if the sting didn’t resolve itself in a minute or two, she would adjust the needle.
Last place for needles were my shoulders and face. I thought I’d feel a release immediately when she hit my shoulders, but nothing. I took a deep breath when she put her fingers on my jaw. She found a knot pretty much immediately. “Is it tight here?” Umm hell ya it is lady! Stick me with that needle already! (Obviously I was feeling way more comfortable with the situation.) Last two to go; one between my eyes and another at the top of my forehead.
She again asked if I was comfortable. “Yes. I mean for someone that has needles sticking out of them…about as comfortable as I could be.” She then gave each needle a shimmy and left me laying there in the room alone.
Hmmmm. Okay. Try to relax. Spa music playing in the background. Frogs croaking. Crickets chirping. Water trickling. I have this deadline that I need to get done…nope, no work. Back to the frogs. I tried channeling my yoga instructor. Go back to your breath. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Relax your shoulders. They are not earrings. Relax your jaw. I should really cook the kids something healthier than chicken nuggets tonight. Kids. Shit. Soccer practice is tonight. Nope. Frogs Kyla. Channel the croaking frogs. This scenario went on for the next 15 minutes.
Soon there was a knock on the door and Angie came in for another needle twirl. BTDubs, this needling technique doesn’t hurt, but sometimes I feel a dull ache or tingling sensation. She again asks if I’m comfortable. “Yeppers. Just the thoughts racing through my brain are driving me bonkers. Can you turn those off?” “Just try to relax,” she said. Easy for you to say.
After she left the second time, I tried again to focus on my breath. Equal breathing. 7 seconds in, 7 seconds out. After a couple minutes, my arms started to feel heavy, and there was this pleasant sense of calmness. The next thing I knew, there was a knock on the door in what seemed like seconds later, but in fact, was another 15 minutes or so. The magic needles just managed to turn off my brain. Like I was awake and aware of my surroundings, but I wasn’t awake…OMG, did I just reach some level of nirvana like Buddah?
She removed the needles (which that doesn’t hurt either in case you were wondering), and said, “okay let’s work out the stress in your neck and back…are you up for some gua sha.” At this point, I felt super chill and said, “sure, why not”. Not knowing what I was in for, I enthusiastically flipped over, face down on the massage table. She pulled out this plastic scraping tool. After rubbing blue poppy oil on my neck and upper back, she dug in. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. Up and down my neck and into my shoulder blades. It felt amazing yet weird. Before I got dressed, I looked at my back in the mirror. It pretty much looked like I had been beaten. Bruise-like paths ran down my neck shoulders. But it wasn’t painful.
I asked her what gua sha actually does. She described it as congestion and said the muscles are full of old blood. The scraping pulls the old blood to the surface and new blood fills the muscles. Much like the after-effects of a massage, she told me to drink a lot of water after the gua sha treatment. Flush that bad blood out.
I see Angie twice a month to balanced the level of stress in my life. I still suffer from stress but no longer wear my shoulders as earrings and the headaches have subsided. If I push my visits longer than a month, I notice immediately — the pain returns. I also see her for other ailments. If I have a cold, needles go in my sinus area and she performs cupping on my chest and shoulders. I’m not saying that acupuncture works for everyone, but it worked for me. Have more questions? Write a comment below and I’ll try to answer as best I can.