mental health social-justice stress-v-stressor

Anxiety and how I define it

Image from Flickr by JoanDragonfly; “Stress and Anxiety – A person is feeling anxious and stressed out.”

In light of current events (aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!), I thought I would share some thoughts about how I approach anxiety as a clinician and an acupuncturist.

When I am trying to diagnose or confirm a diagnosis of “anxiety” I want to first know how it shows up in people in their emotions and body and behaviors and interpersonal relationships, what triggers it and maintains it and settles it, and how it affects their day to day or season to season life.

One core question, when I query my patients, is whether their reaction to their environment is “proportional” or not and, separate from that, is whether the reaction is overwhelming or interfering whether it’s proportional or not.

Even five years ago when I was just starting my practice, there were some moments of acknowledging that there were bad circumstances but the reaction was disproportional and interfering with life.  For example, taking unpaid leave from work to install safety hardware into your house in case of foreign invasion because a powerful politician was ramping up tensions with a foreign nuclear power; this has interfered in your work and your reputation, and turned out to be disproportionate as we never went to war with that nation.

But now, I want to validate that shit’s fucked. In the US and everywhere, climate change is here and weather events and environmental reactions like wildfires can and do kill people and render them homeless, and there are supply chain and infrastructure limitations to adequate cooling and ventilation filtration and evacuation locations. In the US, we are on the verge of a civil war because one “side” (what even is a “side” in a Civil War? this isn’t a softball game) really wants a war, and are just looking for an excuse to be violent to people, and is proving it by systematically taking away rights and effective citizenship and due process of more than half the population and downplaying the violence that has already happened. And the pandemic isn’t over and people are still becoming sick and dying. And global powers are starting wars with other nations for funsies and delusion and personal aggrandizement, and the response to the conflict is highlighting global practices of racism/colorism and overall dismissal of Global South or formerly colonized nations and focus on empathy for nations where the populace has light skin. And And And…

It’s real. Things are very tense.  But are they tense inside your house right now? (I mean, maybe, depending on if you have net nourishing or net abusive relationships.)

But the thing is, when the greater environment was just gently steaming and you weren’t sure if the heat was even on under the pot, on the micro/interpersonal level it was still valid to ask if “anxiety” was in fact proportional. Because even then, microaggressions and interpersonal abuse, and the chaos of coping mechanisms of self or others like drug use or spending addition or whatever can in fact threaten safety and security. Humans are social species and things that threaten your connection and belonging in community are in fact existential threats.

Is it “anxiety” if you really are perceiving a threat and trying to plan around it or respond to it?

a picture of a hand reaching over water and touching the surface with fingertips with a reflection of the hand indicating that the body of water is fairly large
Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

Well, yes.

It’s just that the remedy for that anxiety isn’t to sedate and suppress a nervous system that is seeing a threat where one isn’t; the remedy is to SETTLE the body back into a state of resourcefulness so that you can address the threat.

It is entirely possible to be overwhelmed by the scope of what is before you, either because of the build up of past danger where you weren’t sufficiently helped or sufficiently safe, or because you are under-resourced and isolated now, or you’re not sure whether your resources should go to saving yourself or your community and so your actions are scattered and under-powered.  Anxiety or stress-arousal can cause tunnel vision and hyper-focus where you can’t think outside a few possible options for next steps, so you may shoot down offers of help or creative solutions or even potential re-prioritization, but being settled can help you accept help and think outside the box. (It’s OK to eat food now, and then go to the protest.) Anxiety can make you feel shut down and paralyzed, unable to initiate the things that might reduce the stress or create more safety, and feeling settled can facilitate those steps or even asking for help to get you going. (See again eating. Also sleep, bathing or cleaning your home, making phone calls, etc. etc.)

Anxiety in the body can also shift everything else into the same emotional valence of “threat” and so might trigger misinterpreting a coworker, friend or loved one’s bid for connection as criticism or hostility, or might cause you to treat a “Might Be” or “Close One” as a “About To Happen” or “Did Just Happen” (I remember when I was feeling very anxious and had to ride my bike, and a car to my right didn’t slow clearly enough, I literally screamed out loud because of the possibility of being hit, even though we were both actually safe and navigating space well…. and then the anxiety didn’t let me stop and communicate with the driver so that we were both able to settle down and go on our ways but instead drove me to keep riding like an automaton until I got to my destination).

In an ideal physical state, we can phase back and forth between proportionate arousal to face a threat, and back into community and calm when the threat is managed if not gone.  But that takes practice and reps and guidance and co-regulating with others.

I recommend the book The Quaking of America, where Resmaa Menakem is setting up exercises for this very purpose. But even discussing how this is important with your close circle of people is important.  Setting up that it might happen (your anxiety might misinterpret everything as equally threatening as the dissolution of our legal status, including some dirty dishes on the counter) so we have patience with each other and language to talk through the emotions at hand, and have a structure to make amends and re-connect.

And, coming to an acupuncture visit is a way to practice that phasing.  Because I will take seriously –I will hear and appreciate– the proportionate and disproportionate anxiety in response to the real world, but we can also confirm that my acupuncture space is safe and secure for a set time, and that if that changes, we will work together to navigate that situation.  Acupuncture is an embodied conversation between your mind-body-soul and me and my tools (acupuncture needles, essential oils, moxa, acupressure or massage), and your body can access some calm repose while being guarded, allowing your cells to heal and hormone and neurotransmitter levels to normalize or metabolize and memories to sort themselves out. It is a “rep” that helps your body practice that shift in arousal.  Acupuncture, unlike medications, is not truly sedating, and so if you need to go straight from the appointment into a protest march or a letter-writing campaign or back to your own healing profession shift, you will have that brain and body capability, but you will have had one layer of stress reactivity notched down, and a few more degrees of spaciousness and resourcefulness. (And if you’re not accessing that, it is diagnostic data that we can respond to.)

Additionally, because acupuncture is not just a handful of tools and a cookbook, but is an entire 2500-year-vetted way of conceptualizing your needs and patterns and how to leverage your strengths, you can build trust that my treatment for you will always shift in response to who you are and what you are going through and what is out in the world; the treatment I provide will be as responsive and as proportional as I can make it in the time/space allowed, and so that too is a “rep” in practicing phasing from state to state: the body-mind-soul learning that you can ask for help and receive a response, and then have a felt-memory of that experience, that’s a valuable thing.

Take care of yourself, and build that phasing resilience and response. If you’d like to get acupuncture from me, call text or email Amenda Clinic to make an appointment (see main page of this website)

mental health social-justice

Helping the helpers!

Hey there, fellow citizens!

tl;dr: pro bono acupuncture for anyone phone banking for Georgia!!!

So here I live, in Oregon, paying close attention to what is happening in Georgia and how it will affect the upcoming presidential term and the US Senate.  This is a consequential run-off election!

So I thought, I want to help! I’ll phone bank to help Get Out The Vote!  Oh, but my Social Anxiety said, Nope not today. Hard to keep a smile on your face while sobbing and shaking.

So what am I good at that doesn’t trigger my Social Anxiety? 


So here’s the deal:

If you show me (sending a screen print or forward via secure messaging) confirmation that you did shifts of phone banking to get out the vote in Georgia and your scheduled shifts coming up, I will provide you one session of stress-reduction acupuncture pro bono so that you can have the emotional resilience to do more shifts! (There will be some New Patient paperwork if you are not a current or past patient. And of course all COVID19 safety precautions will be maintained.)

I figure, if I can facilitate even one other person to be emotionally resilient enough to help Georgians Get Out The Vote, then my efforts shall not be in vain!

Tell your friends!

Dr Allenton having just calmed from a fight/flight moment while trying to do phone banking for GOTV for Georgia
Are you slightly less tearful than I when making phone calls for great causes like civic engagement? Let me help you do more of that!
mental health social-justice stress-v-stressor

Life is full of stressors. Come resolve some stress!

Wow, it’s autumn in 2020. Back in 2017, I was thinking about social determinants of health and mental health and I’m still thinking about them, endlessly.

While I focus my post- licensure self-guided education on learning about them and how we respond to them and mitigate the risks on a public and on a personal level, I know my acupuncture practice is about that personal level.

We are all under a lot of stress, even if sometimes it blends so seamlessly into ambiance that we no longer notice. (Ever think you’re feeling fine until someone touches your shoulders and exclaims, Whoa! You’re shoulders are as tight as boulders! and you realize that um maybe you are stressed after all.)

Lucky for us, treating the stress in our body is a separate process than treating the stressor that is triggering the stress. And if you can lower your body’s stress levels you can become more resourceful and responsive to your environment, participating more fully and seeing more broadly and engaging more with mutuality and care for your family, friends and community.

There’s lots of ways to complete a stress response cycle, and I think that getting a great acupuncture treatment with some aromatherapy is one of them.

Come and get a treatment!

blossoms in fall backlit by sun
photo credit Electra Allenton 2020
mental health

National Mental Health Awareness Month 2017

May is National Mental Health Awareness month.

For most of my life (2/3rds) I experienced undiagnosed social anxiety and general anxiety, which would often collapse into occasional depression when it was too overwhelming. I missed out on a lot –grades of school, trips, extracurricular classes, friendships, healthy romantic relationships, sometimes even food, and definitely developing social skills– until I realized what was going on and sought treatment. And even now I am still undergoing treatment and self-improvement and deeper understanding.
Many folks in my family have experiences and symptoms and challenges that can be categorized under mental health diagnoses. Many friends have them as well.

Some people don’t like labels and official diagnoses because those words are stigmatized, have very severe negative connotations. That is true; in this society, it’s very true. In other societies, it’s even more true. Having a mental health diagnosis can change the health care you receive, the jobs you can get or keep, the relationships you are invited into… It’s a sign of weakness, of imperfection and possibly moral failing.

On the other hand, having a schema (a word or phrase that is an anchor for a large amount of qualities/descriptions) that is a launching point, an explanation, a rationale, a self-description, and a thing that insurance or schools will deal with to help you get help, can be incredibly freeing. Having two words that encapsulate the sense that you don’t deserve to take up space because your needs would discommode others, that people despise and scorn and resent you as soon as you’re out of their presence, that making eye contact with strangers on the street or making phone calls is certain to result in you attacked or ostracized when you inevitably make the wrong facial expression or wrong stammered phrase, when you don’t go to your class or your dining hall because you’re taking up someone else’s deserved place in line or in the conversation by existing and so you eat nothing but oranges bought from the convenience store for a month… It is freeing to have two words to start to disentangle that bundle of sensation and experience from your self identity and daily behavior. It’s relieving to have words to describe the people you grew up with that shaped these responses.

And I’ve treated this social anxiety with CBT and internal family systems and Jungian dream work and homeopathic remedies and pharmaceuticals and acupuncture and vitamins and Western herbs East Asian herbs and targeted amino acids and elimination diets and they have all of them helped. All of them.

The experience of living with the amorphous dread of some unnamed wrongness for most of my life and then the upward climb of self-understanding and then understanding of my family and friends has been so enriching.

In July I’m officially starting a residency where I primarily treat mental health and it’s interlaced presentation with physical experience, by way of Naturopathic medicine and East Asian medicine, and I am so excited because this is the calling, this is what I want to do with my life. I want to help people who are going through the Wrongness to find understanding and progress and ease and relief, that I am still seeking myself.

mental health

Where’s the negativity coming from?

[google search] how do I block my lawn
Full credit to XKCD, the artist/author Randall Munroe
I was just doing a meditative/spiritual practice about connecting with whatever our version of The Everything (commonly called God, or in this leader’s Sufi practice, Allah). I was getting stuck, because as the exercise was about taking responsibility for what mistakes I have made about a situation that doesn’t sit right, I then pray for Forgiveness from The Everything.

I was stuck, because (1) I’m struggling with my connection to, opinion of, relationship with Divinity and therefore the corollary of (1a) does The Everything have the power to bestow forgiveness? and also stuck on (2) why do I deserve forgiveness?

When you don’t trust that there is love and forgiveness for you and that you deserve it, it can then seem as though everything out there sees the lack of worth that you feel.

Then I calmed myself down, went over to the internet for a little distraction, and saw that the author of XKCD is also feeling inundated with judgement.

Clearly from the alt-text, he’s aware of the desire to just shut down that perception, to avoid it and get even further away. No comment on whether that works or not.

I don’t have a solution to this. I think you can work with a strong sense of your own worth to mitigate that, for an internal locus of control, or belief and trust in a higher being that has the power and inclination to forgive, for an external locus of control.  Maybe starting with behavior modeled by parents and mentors loving and forgiving our mistakes and helping us to acknowledge them safely and empowering us to move forward.  Not that all of us receive that modeling…

think that, but it seems I don’t know that or feel in my core.  Like many of us (evidenced by webcomics), I struggle.

What does this have to do with acupuncture, or even the general practice of medicine?  How do I dare to reveal my struggles with self-worth here in the open?

Firstly, just as I was heartened to see that I’m not alone by reading a webcomic, I want to let you know that you’re not alone.  I don’t –and can’t– understand your full lived situation, but I understand what it is to struggle with guilt, remorse, being cut off from or cutting myself off from loving connection with others, and the actual physical heartache that comes from facing that lack.

But secondly, the lineage of acupuncture I was drawn to (Worsley 5 Element, if you’d like to look it up) isn’t just about relieving back pain or quelling nausea. (It does that too, of course. Acupuncture is powerful.)  This style of acupuncture is about finding how we are vulnerable, and gently and persistently removing blocks to that connection with The Everything, with our worth, with our deserved love.

And oh, my dears, we do deserve love. And we deserve forgiveness when we realize our mistakes.  And we deserve a space where the grass supports us under our feet, and doesn’t echo the blame and shame we feel about our various mistakes.

Though it is difficult to manufacture forgiveness for myself (unless I wronged me), I can be a part of transmitting your deserved forgiveness, and standing as a conduit for your connection to The Everything and with your own sense of peace and safety. We humans can do that for each other.