How to Find Your Body’s Acupressure Points—and Why You Should Start Pressing Them
When the pressure builds, it's time to press back.
The anytime, anywhere stress solution
Sometimes, your brain just won’t shut up, and a simple “Let it go” isn’t going to help. Research has shown that acupuncture can help with stress, but that won’t do you much good when you’re, say, facing a 3 p.m. deadline at work. That’s where acupressure comes in: It targets the same acupuncture release points—called acupoints—but it substitutes your fingertips for needles and utilizes deep, rhythmic breathing.
According to Justin Newman, Director of Holistic Medicine at the Banyan Holistic in Miami, acupressure reduces anxiety a few ways. “First and foremost, acupressure triggers the brain to release endorphins, so the patient feels calmer, clearer, and more centered after therapy,” he explains. It also slows stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and stress response, while supporting your parasympathetic nervous system, which manages the relaxation responses of the body. “There are a few points on the body that can help calm the mind and alleviate anxiety,” says Newman. “They can be used solo or in combination. There might be a point that is more sensitive than the rest. This sensitivity indicates how important that point is for you, at that particular time.”
Learn more about acupuncture and how it changes your body.
Set the stage
If you’re sitting between stops on a subway train or at your desk waiting for a stressful meeting to start, begin with some deep breathing. This helps set the stage for acupressure. Sit up straight, and inhale through your nose for a count of five. Hold for a moment, then exhale through your mouth for a count of five. Repeat four or five times, and don’t worry—no one will notice. Really. Light meditation or yoga before acupressure can also help increase your relaxation response. Check out these stretching exercises for stress relief.
Find the Gate of Heaven
The acupoint shen men—which means the gate of heaven—is one of the classic anxiety-releasing spots, says Joseph Feuerstein, MD, Director of Integrative Medicine at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut. It’s located near the top of your ear, just inside the rim. Press or massage shen men firmly on one ear for a minute as you breathe deeply. Do each ear. Between pressings, tilt the head from side to side to release the neck.
Know your forearm
There are several acupoints situated along the forearm, which can have powerful, positive effects on anxiety and your emotions. The first is daling, which is located on the wrist: With your palm facing up, find it on the wrist crease above your pinky finger. Next up is nei guan, which is located three fingers up your arm from daling. After that is jianshi, about another two inches higher up. And finally, there’s ximen, at about the midway point between your wrist and elbow. To activate these acupoints, apply firm pressure with your thumb and massage each for one to two minutes in sequence, on both arms.
Use Union Valley to ease tension
When you’re feeling anxious, you tend to hold your body and your face in stressful poses without even realizing it. Fret-filled frowns can be dissipated, along with the headaches they cause, by activating the Union Valley acupressure point. To find it, stretch your hand wide. At the bottom of the crease between the thumb and the palm, you’ll find the acupoint: Gently place the thumb and index finger of the free hand on the point of the other hand. Apply moderate pressure for 30 seconds to a minute while breathing deeply. Do each hand two to three times. Don’t miss these additional techniques for banishing headaches.
See with the Third Eye
Feeling overwhelmed? Activate the acupressure point known as the Third Eye for relief. Located right above the bridge of the nose between the eyebrows, this point can ease frustration, confusion, headache, and anxiety. Use your middle and index fingers to gently apply pressure for a minute or two; close your eyes, breathe deeply, and release the shoulders and the head. For further relaxation, try these 11 tricks to help stop overthinking.
Tap the Shoulder Well
The shoulders hold a great deal of the body’s anxiety, often scrunching up in defense. Alleviate this emotional clog by activating the Shoulder Well acupressure point. You can find this point on the back of your shoulder, midway between the base of the neck and the tip of the shoulder. Use the fingers of the opposite hand, in a hooked position, to gently massage the point for one to two minutes. Breathe deeply, and repeat two or three times.
Sow some seeds
Want to tap the acupressure benefits while your hands remain free? Acupressure seeds can be applied to anxiety-related acupoints. They generate pressure just like your fingertips, says Dr. Feurstein. “I recommend using seeds to keep calm during stressful days,” he says. “They are even better if used in conjunction with meditation techniques.” Don’t miss these science-backed benefits of meditation.
- Justin Newman, Director of Holistic Medicine at the Banyan Holistic in Miami
- Joseph Feuerstein, MD, Director of Integrative Medicine at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut
- Acupuncture.com: "Pericardium 7"
- Explore Integrative Medicine, by the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine: "Acupressure Point P6: Pericardium 6 or Nei Guan"
- Acupuncture.com: "Pericardium 5"
- Chiro.org: "Atlas Of Acupuncture Points: Point Locations"
- Sacred Lotus Chinese Medicine: "LI-04 (He Gu) Union Valley"
- Acupressure.com: "Depression, Pain Relief, Boosting the Immune System & Intuition with Acupressure Points"
- Acupressure Points Guide: "Acupressure Points for Neck Pain Relief"