Acupuncturists Pick: Best DIY Acupuncture Points for Lowering Stress, Part I
By Sara Calabro
Everyone has a go-to stress response. Some people escape to sunny beaches. Others reach for wine. Many buy things they don’t need. Many more ignore it.
All stress responses, assuming no one gets hurt or goes bankrupt, have their merits. Whatever works! However, many common coping mechanisms for stress are unrealistic, inconvenient, or unsustainable. After all, how many of us can jet off to the Caribbean every time life gets stressful?
Acupuncture treatments, as well as the theoretical tenets of acupuncture, have much to offer in the way of long-term stress reduction. But what about in-the-moment stress relief? You’re about to give a big presentation. You’re waiting to hear about test results. The turbulence on your flight won’t let up. Several acupuncture points can help calm you down.
We asked acupuncturists, what is your all-time favorite acupuncture point for stress reduction?
A key criteria was that the point had to be accessible for performing self-acupressure, so neither acupuncture needles nor an acupuncturist are required to benefit from these points. They can be pressed anywhere, any time for immediate stress reduction.
21 Best Acupuncture Points for Stress
Here are 21 acupuncture points, recommended by acupuncturists who use them on a regular basis, that can help you calm down in stressful situations. Press ’em at work, on a plane, in an elevator, wherever.
“There is one point on the bottom of the foot that’s great for reducing stress,” says acupuncturist Leona Marrs, of Los Angeles, CA. “Kidney 1 is the first point on the Kidney channel and is known for bringing down excess energy. This can be very helpful for someone who is in their head too much, always over thinking. The point reconnects you to the earth and grounds you, allowing you to move forward with greater clarity. Doing acupressure on Kidney 1 before bed also helps with stress-related insomnia.”
Catherine Lumenello, an acupuncturist from Tucson, AZ, adds, “Because this point is on the Kidney meridian, it helps to nourish reserve energy for the whole body, which tends to get depleted in stressful times. As the lowest point on the body, Kidney 1 reminds you that no matter how stressful things get, you have a solid foundation for facing it. This point is incredibly easy to massage—and even better if you have a partner do it for you!”
Learn more about Kidney 1 and see its location here.
“My favorite point for reducing stress is Spleen 4 (pictured at right),” says Cayly Christensen, an acupuncturist in Portland, OR. “The Spleen is associated with the digestion of food as well as the processing and digestion of thoughts and experiences. Treating the Spleen to reduce excessive rumination and quiet an overly analytical mind can be very useful in easing stress.
“I have found Spleen 4 to be the most effective point on the Spleen channel for this purpose. I believe the location of the point, on the inside of the foot, contributes to its stress-lowering quality. It tends to be a sensitive point, which helps bring people out of their heads and into their bodies.”
“Often, my patients who come in for stress will report tenderness at Stomach 40,” says Manhattan, KS-based acupuncturist Caite Ryba. “Usually by the end of the first treatment, the muscles around the point have relaxed and the patient reports feeling calm and at peace. This feeling can last for many days.
“From a Western perspective, Stomach 40 affects blood circulation to the digestive system and increases gastric secretion, thereby inducing the parasympathetic response. Also, the point falls over the deep fibular nerve and the anterior tibial artery, the main blood supply for the lower leg. People who are stressed tend to hold extra tension in the upper body, causing neck tightness, headaches, and shallow breathing. It’s possible that the increased blood circulation to the lower leg caused by Stomach 40 helps pull that extra tension away from the upper body, creating a more calm, relaxed state.”
Nancy Byrne, an acupuncturist in New York City, offers a different explanation. “Stomach 40, one of my favorite points for stress and anxiety, is famously known for its ability to clear phlegm. However, it also calms the spirit and benefits the chest, where the heart resides. It has all of these functions because Stomach 40 is the point along the main Stomach meridian where a secondary channel arises and goes to the Spleen, the chest, and finally to the throat.
“When people are really stressed, sometimes they say ‘my heart is in my throat,’ or ‘I feel like I have a lump in my throat.’ When I hear this, I instantly reach for Stomach 40 because the point has a direct route to the heart and throat, making it an excellent option for stress that manifests in these ways. It’s such an easy point for performing self-acupressure. It may feel tight or tender when you press it.”
Learn more about Stomach 40 and see its location here.
“Spleen 9 (pictured at right) is great for alleviating stress, especially in people who hold tension in the upper trapezius area,” says acupuncturist Edward Young, of Jupiter, FL.
“Spleen 9 reduces tightness and tension in these muscles, which not only brings down stress but also reduces occipital headaches as well as tightness across the pectoralis muscles and anterior neck muscles,” says Young. “The point is often tender on people who are dealing with a lot of stress, particularly women.”
Gall Bladder 34
“I have seen and felt remarkable things by needling Gall Bladder 34,” says acupuncturist Jeremy Rothenberg, of San Francisco. “We learn in school about GB34 being the master point of the sinews, so it’s used for all sorts of muscular pain, especially when the pain is somewhere along the Gall Bladder channel. But I’ve also noticed that Gall Bladder 34 seems to ‘pop the bubble’ of stress that people hold around them.
“Upon needling this point, I’ve seen people’s eyes close, and their ability to fully respond to my questioning starts to fade as they deeply relax. I think the magic of this point has to do with the autonomic nervous system. When people are in fight-or-flight, or sympathetic, mode—too often, this is most of the time—their musculature tightens and creates a suit of armor. When the sinews are released with Gall Bladder 34, the muscles relax and people let go. The stress bubble pops and they can finally relax.”
Learn more about Gall Bladder 34 and see its location here.
“Pericardium 8 (pictured at right) is easily accessible for self-acupressure,” says Keith Garofalo, an acupuncturist in Racine, WI. “You can immediately feel tension being released when you press it.
“In the system of meridian-style acupuncture, the Pericardium channel is paired with the Liver channel, so pressing this point will balance the Liver channel and the Liver organ itself. This is important because most stress patterns, from an acupuncture perspective, involve the Liver. Also, Pericardium is a key go-to for me for headaches, stomach pains and other digestive complaints, and sleep issues—all symptoms that can be caused or exacerbated by stress.”
“Heart 3 (pictured at right), as the he sea point of the Heart channel, is used in classical acupuncture for counterflow qi,” says Adam Cantor, an acupuncturist with offices in Glen Head, NY and New York City.
“Stress, anxiety, and habitually running ourselves in mental circles can all create this kind of counterflow,” says Cantor. “Heart 3 gets things flowing in the right direction, helping you become more centered and less stressed.”
“The point I use most often for stressed patients is Stomach 20 (pictured at right),” says acupuncturist Darren Maynard, of Rutherford, NJ. “It opens the diaphragm and creates a moving sensation throughout the chest and abdomen.
“Patients who receive this point are able to immediately take very deep breaths,” says Maynard. “They almost always report feeling as though a weight has been lifted off their chests.”
Conception Vessel 17
Kari-Ann Hubbard, an acupuncturist in Tempe, AZ, chooses another point for stress that manifests as tightness in the chest. “I love how Conception Vessel 17 (pictured at right) opens the chest and increases awareness of breathing,” says Hubbard. “When we’re stressed, we often hold our breath. I recommend using three fingers to rub this point, located in the center of the chest. Or you can tap it while taking deep breaths whenever you experience acute stress or anxiety. You may notice tenderness when you find the exact point.”
Acupuncturist Alison Colberg, of Asheville, NC, adds a twist to Conception Vessel 17. “For people who are experiencing a lot of stress, I suggest placing one hand over Conception Vessel 17 and the other hand over Yin Tang, a point between the eyebrows,” says Colberg. “The connection between the two points helps calm the nervous system while opening the heart to new possibilities and allowing more room for deeper breathing. Try it!”
“I’ve found that Kidney 27, located on the lower edge of the collar bone (pictured at right), encourages deeper breathing and a more open chest posture,” says New York City acupuncturist Margie Navarro. “Both of those things help alleviate the physical symptoms that contribute to and stem from stress.
“I occasionally rub a grounding or calming essential oil, such as sandalwood or lavender, on this point as well. That’s something people can easily do on their own when they’re feeling stressed.”
Those are the first 10 stress-lowering points. Read part two of this article to discover the other 11—all located on the head!
Photos by Mary Marsiglio and Sara Calabro
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