Must-Do or Taboo? Acupuncture for Stress Relief


Generally speaking, I think I have a high tolerance for pain. That being said, I do my best to avoid it, save for necessary evils like Novocain for a cavity and all forms of hair removal.

Call me crazy, but the idea of paying a stranger to stick needles in my face has never really appealed to me — go figure! But I’ve been extra stressed lately finishing up freelance projects before I depart for England and Portugal for 12 days (I know, I know, the pain part will come soon enough…), so I figured if there was ever a time to try acupuncture in the name of stress relief, it was now.

I booked an appointment at a seemingly legit place in my neighborhood with a high customer rating. I have to admit, I had butterflies in my stomach on the walk over and a million doomsday scenarios were playing in my head: What if they hit a major nerve and I’m paralyzed for life? What if I sneeze and the needles dangle from my fragile skin like blood-sucking leeches?

I filled out a questionnaire upon arrival, including a line requesting insurance info. My insurance will pay for this?! I asked myself excitedly, only to be deflated mere moments later when the receptionist saw my Freelancers Union insurance card and erupted with laughter. Guess not, I thought, as I returned to my seat.

The doctor called my name; a kind, clean-looking man. I entered a room and laid down in a white bed while he asked me several questions about why I was there: “No medical problems or trouble sleeping?” he confirmed, seeming disappointed. “You’re here because you’re a bit stressed?”

“Well, yes,” I answered sheepishly. “And it’s my first time having acupuncture.” With a crack of his knuckles and a gleam in his eye, the doctor got to work, using antibacterial wipes on my face, removing needles from sealed packaging and bam! One popped into the center of my forehead without warning. And it honestly hurt! This was followed by six more needles, plus one in each ear, wrist, knee and ankle. And they all hurt, too, like a searing bee sting that wouldn’t go away.

He told me to relax as he shut off the lights and left the room. I quickly grabbed my phone to snap a pic in the name of research, then lay back down to try to breathe deeply, but I couldn’t. The doctor returned 20 minutes later to my delight (End the pain! my inner monologue screamed), but he twisted the needles instead and left. This happened once more before, a total of 50 minutes later, he removed all the needles from my aching skin.


“How do you feel?” he asked, removing his gloves.

“Well, I stopped thinking about being stressed about work,” I said (just being stressed by your needles in this torture chamber). He looked pleased as he left, and as for me? I left with a $70 bill and a promise from the jokester receptionist: “The relaxation comes later.” I doubt it.

Now I know some acupuncture fans might be reading this and think I went to the wrong place, didn’t mentally prepare myself or just simply have a low tolerance for pain (and I admit all those things may be true), but for this stressed-out New Yorker, acupuncture will stay in the taboo category. 

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