The Acupressure Advantage
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The Acupressure Advantage

Acupuncture, long a staple of Eastern medicine, has been gaining support in the U.S. and other Western cultures as a way to reduce stress and prevent stress-related disorders.

One recent study at Yale University looked at close to 100 mothers of children who needed to undergo surgery. About half of the mothers underwent acupuncture 30 minutes before the surgery was scheduled. Those moms were found to have significantly less anxiety about their child's surgery than the moms who didn't undergo acupuncture -- and with calmer moms, many of the kids were less anxious, too. In studies at the University of Maryland, doctors have found that acupuncture can decrease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (a stress-related illness) in animals; studies are ongoing to see if similar results can be found in people.

"Acupuncture helps to bring the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, into normal ranges in the blood and it increases the levels of certain neurotransmitters like endorphins that have a feel-good effect on the body," says Brian Berman, MD, Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland. "If you know you are about to embark on a stressful event, you could also have acupuncture done preventatively," Dr. Berman says. "Most people start having it done once a week for about 30 minutes, but as your body adjusts, once a month is usually enough to keep in balance."

No time for an acupuncture appointment, especially at the height of a crisis? Dr. Berman says you may get similar benefits on a smaller scale by performing self-acupressure. Instead of having needles inserted at key points in your body as in acupuncture, you press firmly on those same points and hold for about 30 seconds at a time. Here, five helpful acupressure points:

  1. To reduce stress, calm your stomach, lessen neck and shoulder tension: Locate the web of your hand, where thumb and index finger meet. Use the thumb and pointer finger of your other hand to pinch this area until just slightly tender. Repeat on other hand.
  2. To relieve overall tension, headaches (including migraines), stiff necks, eye strain, and irritability: Put your hand on the back of your head and let your thumb turn down until it falls into the hollow in your neck. Press and hold for 30 seconds.
  3. For overall relaxation and increased energy: Feel for the bony protuberance just below and to the outside of your kneecap. Move laterally just a little further out until you feel a slight indentation. Press firmly with your middle finger. Repeat on other leg.
  4. To relieve headaches: Run your finger along your eyebrow until, just beyond it, you feel an indentation. Just outside of that indentation toward your ear, press for 30 seconds. Repeat on other side.
  5. For overall stress relief: Roll your foot over a golf ball under your desk. Repeat with other foot. "There are so many acupressure points on the feet that this is a good way to reach all of them," says Dr. Berman. "It's like self-reflexology."


Originally published on, February 2008.