Are positivity mantras not doing it for your panic attacks anymore? Perhaps you can try Jin Shin Jyutsu, a Japanese form of acupressure performed by holding your own digits to help relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Recently, I experienced debilitating panic attacks that popped up sporadically over a period of three months. I’m talking dry heaving, heart racing, uncontrollable crying, and shaking—with no apparent trigger. For someone who meditates, eats a boatload of organic vegetables and adaptogenic dusts, and generally has an optimistic outlook on life, I shocked even myself when out of sheer desperation, I resorted to medication: 75mg of extended-release Effexor, an antidepressant meant to restore the balance of hormones serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.
But I'm certainly not the only one. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., impacting 40 million adults every year. I was told I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which means I experience a combination of feeling restless, edgy, fatigued, irritable, or excessively worried while having trouble concentrating or falling asleep for a prolonged period of time, usually more than six months. This overarching feeling can be punctuated with panic attacks, as it did for me. The cause? I still can't say. Everyone (my doctor, naturopath, hypnotherapist, and psychiatrist) has something different to say, from genetics and brain chemistry to past trauma and "I don't know."
I'm still figuring that out, but I was momentarily relieved when the medication stopped the panic attacks instantaneously. I still felt off, though. The trembling was gone, but I wasn’t myself. I felt dissatisfaction knowing that I had simply swept the dust under the rug. That nagging feeling you get when you mask the symptoms but know the real problem still lurks beneath? It breeds its own type of psychosis.
Ancient Acupressure Brings Relief
I relied on the medication until one day, I stumbled upon this article written by Jan Henderson, PhD, a certified Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner who describes Jin Shin Jyutsu as "a disarmingly simple style of acupressure."
Acupressure is an ancient Asian form of healing believed to reactivate the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms. Practitioners believe that a healthy, balanced person has vital energy that moves freely through meridians, or channels that flow throughout the body. When something is off balance, these pathways become blocked. Acupressure is one method that enables us to clear these blocked meridians. This same concept is what drives acupuncture (yes, the one with the needles).
If you’ve ever stepped foot in your local Chinatown, chances are high you’ve seen one of those posters with illustrations of feet, hands, or the entire body overlaid with colorful lines and dots that look like the world’s most dizzying subway system map.
Each point is labeled with the name of the meridian it represents, indicating the pressure point that can help unblock a particular meridian that correlates with a certain issue—and there are a bevy of issues identified, from migraines and colds to muscle pain, PTSD, and memory.
Jin Shin Jyutsu works with the same concept, the main difference being there are fewer points (26 as opposed to over 300 in traditional Chinese acupressure and acupuncture). The extreme simplicity of the practice is what intrigued me at first--it doesn't require any tools or even another person. Just your own fingers.
I was surprised to learn Jin Shin Jyutsu existed even before Buddha and Moses, according the Kojiki ("The Record of Ancient Matters"), the oldest known written account of Japanese history. The acupressure technique was first spread through word of mouth, then eventually forgotten until the 20th century when a Japanese healer Jiro Murai re-popularized it. It's hard to say how Chinese acupressure influenced this Japanese practice since its origins weren't documented, but there is definitely a link.
How to Perform Jin Shin Jyutsu
Jin Shin Jyutsu focuses on finger “gestures” called mudras that require you to hold certain fingers on one hand with the fingers of your other hand.
Here’s a sampling of the mudras and what they can help alleviate:
- Thumb, Index and Middle: to help with fatigue, insecurity, anxiety, excessive worrying.
- Middle: to help with anger, frustration and tiredness.
- Ring and Pinky: to help with sadness, depression and anxiety.
Performing a mudra is strategic, but not difficult. Here’s one example: To perform Jin Shin Jyutsu on your middle finger, start by making sure your left hand is palm side up. Place your right thumb on the base of your left middle finger (the part closest to your palm). Then, wrap all your right fingers around.
Watch this video by Mea Hutchinson to see it in action.
Sound like supernatural BS? Published research demonstrates otherwise. In one study, nurses practiced a method very similar to Jin Shin Jyutsu every day for a month. At the end of the month, researchers reported the nurses experienced “significant decreases in anger, resentfulness, depression, stress symptoms, time pressure, and morale issues.” The nurses even claimed they saw improvement in muscle aches, headaches, and sleep problems. Another study found that acupressure considerably reduced “depression, anxiety, stress, and general psychological distress in patients with hemodialysis,” a kidney condition.
I noticed a new calm straightaway while I performed the ring and pinky mudra, which is now my favorite. As days passed, it not only became a force of habit during times of stress (e.g. traffic causing me to be late to an appointment), but an automatic “stance” during moments of mindlessness or stillness (e.g. watching TV). At the very least, I'd always commit five minutes.
I felt my blood flow again (wait, maybe it was the vital energy!). It was when my least filtered friend observed she felt like I lacked my usual “frantic energy” I knew I was onto something.
With this much confidence in Jin Shin Jyutsu, I stopped taking my medication. I hadn’t discontinued it because I was afraid to stop and, let’s be real, I didn’t really think Japanese acupressure would work.
But guess what? It's been a month and I still haven’t taken the meds--and I feel great.
Many people (I mean dozens) have graciously reminded me of the placebo effect, but whether or not that’s the case doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it’s working, and has taken the place of medication. That’s good enough for me.
[Editor's note: This article is not medical advice. Never discontinue any medication without first consulting with your primary care physician.]
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