Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine for Grief
Part One of our Series: Acupuncture for Grief
The death of a loved one can be extremely difficult to deal with. But there are other kinds of grief that don’t get talked about as much that can be equally painful. For example, grieving the end of a relationship, like a divorce or a breakup, or the death of a beloved pet, or more recently, grieving the death of your old way of living before the pandemic?
What exactly is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical technique that’s used to restore the flow of energy or life force, which is known as chi or qi (chee) and flows through pathways in your body by inserting tiny needles into the skin. Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in the East and yet has also been approved by the American Medical Association for modern day use.
Grief Management and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have been used for centuries as tools for the five stages of grief management. In this three-part blog series, we will discuss three ways acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help manage the grieving process with acupuncture points, movement, lifestyle modifications, and food/nutrition.
How does Chinese Medicine and acupuncture help to relieve grief?
At my acupuncture clinic in Kauai, I use the following tactics for combating grief using Chinese Medicine lifestyle changes, acupuncture, movement, and nutrition. For this article which is Part 1 of our series, we’ll start with the points for emotional pain.
Acupuncture points for grief
Acupuncture points for grief are based on the points that help to manage and treat the emotions associated with grief. These are broken down and classified into one of the five elements. In this case, the grief is handled by the metal element.
These acupuncture points (usually found on the lung meridian) can be used in conjunction with acupressure, which is a form of massage where you use your fingers instead of needles to apply pressure at different acupuncture points throughout the body.
When these points are used during an acupuncture treatment they have been proven to treat a slew of physical conditions from infertility to pain management. Acupuncture works by stimulating the nerve endings under the skin triggering chemicals inside the body to send signals for the brain and body to calm down.
These acupuncture points can also be used as tools for managing grief treating the emotions associated with it such as frustration, sadness, anger, and more as well as getting at unresolved grief.
In order to use acupuncture points effectively during your grieving process, you’ll need someone who is trained as a licensed acupuncturist and/or Chinese medicine practitioner. Or an acupuncturist like me who can tell you where to rub, press, or tap.
- Acupuncture can help treat any physical ailments that arise during the grieving process (like migraines, digestive issues, neck and shoulder pain)
- Acupuncture points for grief is a practice of using acupuncture to treat emotions like sadness and anger related to grief within the metal and wood elements.
- Acupuncture works by balancing out your brain chemicals responsible for regulating moods in order to feel happy again.
- Some acupuncture points are also used with acupressure massage techniques which act as tools for managing stress/anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc associated with intense emotional experiences like loss, or trauma.
What are the pros of using ancient Chinese points?
- The points act as tools to treat physical pain and other issues that arise due to the grieving process (like migraines, digestive problems, neck/shoulder pain)
- This can help manage emotions like sadness, anger which are associated with intense emotional experiences like loss or trauma.
- This treatment is a non-invasive form of treatment without many risks involved when done by an experienced acupuncturist.
When should you NOT use acupuncture for grief?
Acupuncture is a form of treatment that stimulates the nervous system and can affect overall health but especially stress hormones. Please use licensed medical professionals. It is not advised to use acupuncture in the following situations:
- When you’re experiencing a fever, infection, or contagious disease
- During pregnancy (some acupuncture points are contraindicated)
- If you are suffering from an acute injury/wound that hasn’t healed yet. If it’s healing fine with no signs of infection then acupuncture can be used safely.
I’ve also treated many folks for post-traumatic stress disorder and they do fantastic with acupuncture, but sometimes those patients like the added comfort of me staying in the room with them (if time permits).
Point me to the points!
Most people that experience grief can use the following simple points to alleviate grief, fear, anxiety, and the feeling of being stuck.
Yin Tang (translation: Hall of Impression)
This acupuncture point is located at the third eye or between the eyebrows and is known to have a mentally stabilizing effect. It works so well my patients call it the ‘Chardonnay Point’- they describe it as the relaxing feeling of a couple of glasses of wine.
Lung 1 (translation: Middle Palace)
This acupuncture point is the entry point of the lung channel and is a window of the sky point. It is located just below your clavicle in that little divot between ribs 1 and 2 on both sides- sometimes it’s tender to the touch. Just rubbing or tapping these points restores calm breathing, nourishes the lungs. It’s been known to restore a sense of self-worth by reviving your connection to self/spirit, allowing you to be open to receive praise and respect, and allowing tears to fall.
Heart 7 (translation: Shen Men / Spirit Gate)
Heart 7 is a source acupuncture point for the heart channel and is located on the wrist crease just to the outside of a small bone that is in line with the little finger.
Pericardium 6 (translation: Inner Frontier Gate)
Finding this point is easy, on the inner wrist between the 2 tendons just about 3 finger width down from your wrist crease. You’ve probably seen those bracelets that have a pressure point that hits this used for nausea, balance, or relief of seasickness. This point unbinds and opens the chest, calming heart palpitations and relieving anxiety.
ST 36 (translation: Leg 3 Miles)
This point is located on the outside of the leg, 4 fingers down from the “knee eyes” the squishy part under the kneecaps. Just to the outside of the bone, you’ll feel a tender spot.
ST-36 acupuncture points help manage fatigue that often comes along with intense emotional experiences like a loss so you don’t feel worn out all day long. These points are great at getting your energy back up in order to face the world again without feeling exhausted every time something brings
GB 20 (translation: Wind Pond)
This wood element point is commonly used in treatments for headaches and symptoms of tension in the neck and shoulders. Its location is found by interlocking the fingers of both hands behind your neck, palms facing inward. Both your thumbs should cradle the occiput on the back of the skull. This point is especially helpful for grief and the emotions of the loss of a loved one.
EFT Tapping of acupuncture points
When you aren’t able to access an acupuncture clinic in person, an even simpler way to use points to get at the emotion is EFT.
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a fast method of coping to assist us to remove emotions from our nervous system. EFT uses “tapping” acupressure points on the fingertips, just next to the nail but not on the fatty bit of skin near the thumb. Tapping these areas may help to relieve stress and anxiety linked with each finger. This isn’t a magic bullet, but it’s an approach we can use on ourselves.
Summary of Part One:
Acupuncture is a powerful therapy for the shock and numbness that many people suffer following a traumatic incident like the death of a loved one. Acupuncture is also helpful for sleeplessness, decreased appetite, boosting the immune system, and stress, all common symptoms of grief.
The acupuncture and acupressure techniques mentioned are great tools to help you cope with grief, but should be used in conjunction with healthy diet and lifestyle choices (e.g., acupuncture can’t replace a balanced diet). That’s why I’ll be sharing all about acupuncture food therapy and movement in the next blog article in this series: Part 2: Movement, Yoga & Qi Gong for Grief.