Acupuncture can be a little intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Real talk: Asking a stranger to insert needles into your skin doesn’t come naturally to everyone (even though science says there’s something to it). Acupressure—where you apply pressure with your fingers in the spots where an acupuncturist would use a needle—is a great way to try out traditional Chinese medicine with training wheels on.
And if you’re having a day where depression sets in—or a headache, or PMS (AKA the issues that will keep you from leaving the house to go see a doctor, an acupuncturist, whoever)—then an at-home (or at-desk) treatment is a super-useful technique to try to get back to normal.
“Acupressure, which originated in China more than 5,000 years ago, can help stimulate particular points along the meridians to relieve stagnation and blockages, thereby speeding up your body’s own healing response,” says Marisa Anaya, an acupuncturist at Shellie Goldstein Associates, a cosmetic acupuncture and wellness center in New York City. “To alleviate symptoms, identify the right pressure point and massage in a circular fashion for 10 seconds.”
Here, Anaya shares an acupressure how-to, focusing on headaches, PMS, depression, anxiety, and stress. Pro tip: Apply gentle but firm pressure to the points—this is not a “hurts so good” situation; extra pressure doesn’t result in extra progress.
Read on for an illustrated guide to your at-home acupressure session.
The first question to ask yourself is: Where is your headache? In traditional Chinese medicine, each major organ has a corresponding meridian that runs up and down your body, like a system of roads—and so different locations on your head correspond to different meridians. “The location of your headache indicates which meridians of your body may be out of balance,” Anaya says.
If your forehead hurts
Hold your hand straight up with your fingers and thumb together and press the soft spot at the bottom of the crease, between the thumb and index finger.
If you’re having a heavy, wrap-around headache
You can find this point by measuring out roughly four finger-widths above the top of the ankle bone.
If it’s a migraine
Focus on this lower-leg point, which is said to draw excess energy down away from a throbbing head. Apply pressure at the web—between the little toe and the fourth toe.
Before your period
Anaya recommends starting this acupressure regimen a week before your cycle, when the irritable-tired-bloated train rolls in. Slide your finger between your big toe and second toe on the top of your foot. This pressure point will help calm stress you may feel building.
During your period
If your mood is all over the place, zeroing in on this pressure point will help you feel more balanced—it levels the spleen meridian. Located four finger-widths above the top of the ankle bone, is also used in the headache protocol above.
“Massaging certain acupressure points for the stomach, liver, and large intestine [meridians] help kick-start a mood-boosting effect to your system,” Anaya says. For the stomach meridian, focus on this point on the outside of the leg, just below the knee, about four finger-widths below the fibula.
This is a good one to do before before a big presentation at work, or a dinner you’re not exactly looking forward to. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the liver meridian governs the “seven emotions” related to organ function (joy, anger, anxiety, pensiveness, sadness, fear, and fright). Applying pressure to this point along the liver meridian, between your big toe and second toe on the top of your foot, can ease imbalance of emotions, Anaya says.
Feeling overwhelmed? Take a deep breath and focus on this pressure point. Located on the large intestine meridian (which is also used in the PMS and headache treatments—multitasker!), it helps to reduce stress and depression-related symptoms. How handy is it that you can do it at your desk, right after a particularly anxiety-inducing email lands in your inbox?