Mental Health in Chinese Medicine
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I love the mental health model of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Because it lacks the stigma of "mental illness" and the idea that "there's something wrong with my brain/hormones/neurotransmitters."
Because TCM does not view the mind/emotions separately from;
1) your physical body
2) your lifestyle and life events - previous and current.
In TCM we very rarely discuss the brain. The brain is simply a meeting place of all the other organs in the body - its the train station. It is generally considered that the messages or Qi of other organs in the body are where the pathologies lie.
Each organ in the body has an associated emotion/mental function - both positive and negative.
Emotional & Mental State: The spleen houses the intellect. It is about being engaged and focused on what you are doing, and helps you to study. It houses creativity and gives you a sense of being grounded and content.
Why?: The Spleen (and stomach and pancreas) takes in the food from the earth and ground, transforming them into substances the body can use. "When the belly is full, the mind is content." The Spleen and Stomach are the earth element in TCM.
Disharmonious Emotional and Mental State: When the Spleen is not working as well as it could, mental clarity becomes blurred. This may result in some or all of the following symptoms:
Discontented with life or yourself
Difficulty focusing on work/study
Lack of motivation/creativity
Poor digestion, bloating, tiredness
How does my Spleen become 'disharmonious': The Spleen can go out of whack from overthinking - overworking yourself mentally. This is common in students studying at tertiary level (think of craving sugar while studying - that's your spleen crying out). It can also happen through poor diet, the worse you eat, the worse you feel physically and mentally. Other factors such as moving home and feeling out of place can also contribute negatively to the Spleens function.
What to do about your Spleen mental function:
The most important thing is to try and improve your diet - not just what you are eating, but how you're eating. Take time to enjoy your food - your body needs it if you want it to perform well physically and mentally. Don't rush your meals.
Self massage on the acu-point St 36 and at the very top on the head in the morning or when you feel tired and sluggish can also help. Remind yourself of any positive aspects of your life - friends, family, your food or home etc, and feel grounded in knowing you have these for support. And try acupuncture if you can!
Emotional & Mental State: The Liver is your assertive friend. It is the organ of decision making and change. It respects boundaries meaning it can be flexible to other peoples needs, but it doesn't let your body/mind be taken advantage of. It is sensitive to being blocked or constrained and helps to distinguish yourself from others.
Why?: The Liver is responsible for keeping the Qi and blood in your body flowing smoothly, and maintaining strength, flexibility and suppleness of your physical body and your mind. When the Livers Qi becomes stuck, you become frustrated, and "things build up inside" just waiting to explode...
Disharmonious Emotional and Mental State: The Livers Qi can become either replete (when things are stuck and get built up), or deplete (if there is not enough Liver Qi or blood to nourish the body and mind). Below are some examples of emotions and mindsets you may feel:
Frustration building up inside
Anger, may be explosive
Lump in the throat
Nervousness and fidgety
Kind to others but harsh on self
Lack of self esteem and worth
How does my Liver become 'disharmonious': Stressful living and work situations tend aggravate the Liver, you feel mentally under pressure and this can cause the liver Qi to become stagnant. In the deplete Liver cases, things like not getting enough sleep and not eating properly aggravate the condition. Patterns in childhood of either always being yelled at or of never being shown value can also lead to future Liver dis harmonies.
What to do about your Liver mental function: Both Replete and Deplete Liver people already probably know what makes them feel better. Replete: Excersize and getting out doing the physical things you like. Deplete: Resting, taking breaks from work and spending time with family and friends that you know appreciate you. Essentially ya'll need to take a break and not be so harsh on yourself! There is also a tender point between the big toe and second toe about 2cm up your foot that you can massage when you feel particularly tense or irritable. And give acupuncture a go!
Emotional & Mental State: The Lungs are rather difficult to explain, as they are often described as the organ of grief or sadness, their positive mental states being a little more ambiguous. The Lungs are entwined with immediate and current time and space - this means they "capture the perfection and completeness of a single moment" (1). Like those moments where you feel like everything is just perfect and you feel like you are part of that moment. And then wish you could be that aware of your beautiful surroundings and the marvels of the world all the time (...maybe I'm just speaking for myself here!) The lungs are also associated with a sense of self esteem, dignity, integrity and being able to let go of old and unnecessary emotions and habits that no longer serve you positively.
Why? Like filling the lungs by taking a big deep breath or having a satisfying yawn, the lungs allow you to feel a sense of fulfillment in your life. This may include being able to complete tasks, or just a generally sense for the preciousness of life. That you can simply breath in an invisible substance and that keeps you alive. It is quite precious really.
Disharmonious Emotional and Mental State: When the Lungs aren't functioning as well as they could, they tend toward sadness and grief and a feeling of incompleteness. Others symptoms may be:
Sad but you don't know why
Frequent colds and flues or coughs
How do my Lungs become 'disharmonious': As the Lungs are one of the more exterior organs in the body due to their role in breathing, they are obviously more susceptible to colds and flues which can weaken Lung Function. For people who have chronic Lung related illnesses such as poor immunity or asthma, the emotional aspect of the Lungs may also become hindered over time. The Lungs are also greatly affected by grief. Intense and extended periods of grief or an inability to overcome a sense of grief can damage the lungs.
What to do about your Lung mental function: If the problem is stemming from current or past grief that you are having trouble over coming, then counselling may be a good option for you. Its important to go easy on yourself, and try to see the beautiful in the little things and to take pleasure in them again. Things like rain drops on flowers, or shapes in the clouds. A great point for lung function - whether you have the flu, feel exhausted or are feeling a bit depressed, is a point in the center of the chest, Ren 17. It is just over a hand breadth down from your collarbones.
Emotional & Mental State: The heart allows you person to feel a sense of joy and love. It also ensures propriety - that is, interacting appropriately with others at the right time and behaving correctly in social situations. The heart also allows you to connect with others, and have a "heart to heart" with someone.
Why? The Heart is considered to be the Emperor of all the organs in the body. It has the essential job of providing blood to all the other oragans. Therefore it must act with propriety - interact with the other organs in an appropriate way. It must be timely in its beat. The heart also has a large electromagnetic field due to the thick fascia wrapping it. Fascia has been shown to create its own electricity every time it moves (piezoelectricity) and this electricity can connect and communicate with other electricity/hearts (2).
Disharmonious Emotional and Mental State: Heart dis harmonies often show themselves in social situtations and the ability to have relationships with others. At the extreme end of this scale, people may be disorientated, mutter to themselves, appear 'crazy' etc. More commonly though symptoms are subtle and may include:
Anxiety and/or Depression
Social anxiety (worried you may not act correctly in front of others)
Difficulty expressing oneself
Lack of warmth connecting with people
To open with thier relationships - get hurt easily
Insomnia, heart palpitations, easily blushing
How does my Heart become 'disharmonious': Often people can tend towards heart patterns from a young age. This may be caused by crippling shyness, or not being corrected or being over corrected in their behavior as a child. Again overworking and stress can affect the heart, making it difficult to feel joy and just wanting to retreat away from everyone. Difficult relationships and breakups can upset the Hearts Qi - though the heart can also learn from these experiences which helps to recover from these situations.
What to do about your Heart mental function: It can be quite difficult to self manage the Heart health. Keeping company with good friends can help, and acupuncture and Chinese herbs as well as magnesium and iron may all be beneficial. There is also a nice point on the inside of the wrist that you can massage, as well as Ren 17 (the Lung section point).
Emotional & Mental State: The Kidneys are all to do with willpower, resolution and self-determination. It is also that sense of direction - the path you are on that you may only realize you are on when you reach the end. The sense of looking back and thinking "it was always there", or "it was always meant to be" (1). Wisdom and faith in what you are here on earth to do, even though you may not know what you are to do yet are also virtues of the Kidney mental state.
Why? The Kidney Qi is the bittersweet story of wisdom coming with age, but declining Qi eventuating in death. In Chinese Medicine the Kidneys are connected with reproductive health and allow for the unfolding of the circle of life. The Qi that is given to you by your parents resides in the Kidneys and that may be where the deep sense of determination and 'just knowing' comes from. As a tiny bundle of cells in the womb, the cells just know what to do, they don't know they are going to become a human, let alone how, but they just get on with it and do it.
Disharmonious Emotional and Mental State: Weakened Kidney Qi can result in lower back aches and reproductive problems. Here are some Kidney signs pertaining to mental health:
Fear (wisdom and faith in the unknown can be replaced by fear of the unknown)
Lack of drive and motivation
Dread/fear of death
Passive, easily controlled, feeling of guilt
How do my Kidneys become 'disharmonious': Some people can be born with not quite enough Qi from their parents and that may predispose them to Kidney Qi problems. The Kidneys can also be weakened in people who have experienced extreme fear, been in life threatening situations or have been subject to sexual abuse. More subtle causes can also be standing on cold hard floors for extended periods of time and overworking yourself physically and mentally.
What to do about your Heart mental function: If you experience irrational or extreme fear, or just lack some motivation, you may want to try acupuncture. Massage, particularly for the lower back can improve Kidney energy. If you know that your fear comes from past experiences then counselling may also be useful. The point Kid 3 on the ankle is a nice one for Kidney related problems including lower back pain and you can massage that yourself.
Hopefully this post helps to illustrate how the mind and body are connected, and that you are not crazy!
Remember, everyone feels all of these different emotions at different times.
The purpose of this post is to point out some common mindsets and emotions that tend to occur more in some people than they do in others. You might find you are a mix of different organ mental states - both positive and negative at times. If you find that more often than not you're really irritated, anxious, or keep overthinking things, then you might want to give acupuncture a go.
If you have any mental/emotional health questions are wonder if acupuncture could help, feel free to get in touch and we can have a chat.
1. Kaptchuk, T. (2000) The Web That Has No Weaver. Comtemporary Books. U.S.A
2. Keown, D. (2014) The Spark in the Machine. Singing Dragon. UK