Updated: May 8
When approaching health through a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) lens we see that the human emotions are very strongly connected to our experience of optimal health – or as it may be disease.
The experience of emotion is a normal and healthy part of life. Without it we would not have light and shade in our experience of the world. It is when we experience intense or prolonged events of heightened emotion that cause overwhelm in turn impacting on our body and its health.
This sustained overwhelm from excessive emotion directly impairs the yin-yang balance of our organs Qi therefore affecting their function. This prolonged or extreme imbalance can morph into pathogenic factors which cause dis-ease. This is referred to as internal injury due to seven emotions.
TCM Five Element Theory explains to us that there is a relationship between all things. It is a comprehensive philosophy that links all natural phenomena into five groups, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each group includes many categories the main being an organ system, a corresponding emotion, season, flavor, colour, time and sense.
The 7 emotions and how can their imbalances manifest in our health.
It will not come as a surprise that in TCM theory the emotion of Joy is related to the Heart.
To experience of Joy is essential to optimal health. When a patient expresses an inability to experience Joy, we take this as a sign of imbalance of the Heart Qi. Related symptoms to a lack of Joy can include heart palpitations, inability to sleep, agitation and anxiety.
Because TCM theory recognises the Heart not only as a physical organ but also as an emotional center of our body we know it is intimately involved in our mental and emotional processes. The heart is the ruler of all organs and home to the Shen. Our Shen is our spirit, mind and intellect.
The physical mechanism of the Heart is to pump blood around the body, regulating blood flow. Good healthy Heart Qi means this action is strong and regular in rhythm and rate ensuring its role in the normal functioning of the various structures and vessels. Good Heart Qi presents as a patient with a rosy complexion and a good strong rhythmic pulse. An imbalance in Heart Qi may manifest in symptoms of a pale or dark purplish complexion and a thin or a knotty pulse.
As with deficiency leading to ill health so can excess. Excess joy may be interpreted as manic episodes, over excitement and disturbed Shen. This may be as simple / acute as a migraine or headache experienced after sudden over excitement / elation or as chronic as ongoing mental health issues and imbalances.
Feeling Liverish? This is probably an old school phrase you are familiar with. Anger in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is seen to go hand in hand with stagnant Liver Qi.
The Liver controls the healthy flow of our blood. Excess or a pattern of Liver fire rising can result in a person who is prone to anger. Rising heat from excess in the Liver may be expressed in a flushed face and symptoms of headaches, migraines, high blood pressure and dizziness.
Suppressed anger and frustration can cause Liver Qi to become stagnant and irritability is often a diagnostic clue for Liver Qi stagnation. Pain is a symptom that goes hand in hand with prolonged Liver Qi stagnation and is particularly common in relation to menstruation and associated menstrual disorders.
Another symptom of long-term Liver Qi stagnation can include depression. It’s not uncommon where Acupuncture and TCM is used to move Liver Qi that the patient may experience bouts of anger or emotion as the Qi is shifted. Once the Liver Qi balance is restored the condition clears.
Are you a bit of an over thinker? How’s your digestion?
Worry is probably one of the most common emotional extremes that we experience in our stress filled lifestyles. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we consider the processes of overthinking or worry to impact our Spleen. The Spleen looks after our digestive process and the healthy creation of Qi and blood. When our Spleen health is not in balance, we cannot efficiently turn our food into energy (Qi). A patient who worries excessively may present with digestive disturbances, a sluggish gut may, poor concentration and fatigue. Prolonged symptoms could progress into health issues such as chronic fatigue.
Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Moxa can be used to strengthen the Spleen energy aiding digestion. Restoring Spleen balance supports the patient to have energy and resources to move through life’s day to day worries rather than holding on to them.
Prolonged periods of anxiety impact terribly on the Qi (vital energy) causing it to become blocked and stagnant. Please check back to our post just last week for detailed insights into the understanding of Anxiety within Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Anxiety injures the Lung, depletes the Spleen and impacts the Large Intestine. Long term anxiety eventually affects the Heart. The Heart along with providing blood circulation to the body houses the Shen which is our spirit, consciousness and intellect. A patient with this disturbance of Shen may present with a pale lack lustre complexion, poor appetite and digestive disturbances, insomnia or poor sleep quality disturbed by recurrent dreaming and forgetfulness.
Sadness / Grief
Breathlessness, the inability to breathe freely or deeply, heaviness on the chest, the weight of Grief.
Anyone who has experienced intense sadness or loss will recognize these physical symptoms I have just described and no doubt will not be surprised when I tell you that in Traditional Chinese Medicine the Lungs are the organ that is associated with the emotion of Grief.
When our Lung Qi is weak our defensive Qi can also be impacted and it’s not uncommon for chest infections, frequent colds and coughs to occur.
Familiar with the flight or fight response? Fear is a useful adaptive human response. In history it has served to keep us safe. We know (thanks to modern science) that our fight flight response originates in our adrenal glands of the Kidneys. Traditional Chinese Medicine was onto this fact a bit earlier – a few thousand years earlier - but it’s great to have the back-up! Overwhelming f fear like any emotion is detrimental to our system (hello adrenal fatigue) A weakness in our Kidney system may be expressed in knee and joint pain, loose bowels and the excessive need for urination.
In children this relationship of Kidneys and Fear is well demonstrated with the manifestation of bed wetting. Treatment to support Kidney strength and function with Acupuncture – or in the case of children Shonishin (needle free acupuncture) and yin or yang tonics are extremely effective in resolving imbalances relating to Fear.
Fright / Shock
When we experience physical symptoms of Fright, we find it is usually associated to a combination of our Kidneys and Heart. Note that Fright and Fear are different. Fright is being startled by something that is present. Fear is an ongoing experience of fearing something that is not currently present. Fright scatters the Qi and the initial impact of fright is experienced in the Heart. When the sensation or experience of fright is persistent (as it often is) it can develop into fear and as detailed in a previous post this then moves to the Kidneys. Shock is most often related to the Gallbladder. This can manifest as indecisiveness, confusion and lack of courage.
All the organs within our body work together as one whole system. As the ruler of all organs, when required the Heart is maintained by the energy of the other organs and they will compromise themselves to do so. In TCM the Stomach is referred to as the “child” of the Heart and where the Stomach is strong and vital the Heart is happier. The Liver is known as the “mother” of the Heart. In times of chronic stress, the Liver who regulates emotion is impacted. In turn this means the Liver cannot properly support the Heart.
It is important when understanding our health that we take stock of all the information our body presents to us. We should never dismiss our emotions or any other signs or symptoms that our body sends us. These are messages to us, calls for help and attention and the key to finding the root cause of any imbalance, ill health or dis-ease lies in listening to all our body tells us.
If you feel like you have some signs of imbalance you would like to explore or if you want to take a look at your health through a TCM lens then get in touch with us at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture on (03)59061494 or via our contact page.