The Truth About Anxiety
Anxiety is a human emotion; however, it is often referred to as a mental disorder. The truth is, like all emotions, anxiety is a normal emotion to experience, when appropriate. The problem with anxiety and all other emotional problems is when it becomes chronic and one is unwilling and unable to experience it. In other words, it is the resistance to an emotion that often leads to its persistence, which becomes chronic anxiety.
In TCM, any emotion that becomes chronic, even positive ones like joy, can be problematic to the body. This is because emotions are manifested in the body through chemicals like neurotransmitters and hormones. And any neurotransmitter or hormone in the body in excess can lead to imbalances.
Because of this, medications used to relieve anxiety are rarely effective; at best they mask some of the chemical symptoms but may also come with undesirable side effects, that mask symptom while adding a chemical stress to the liver.
TCM and Anxiety
In TCM, the approach to healing chronic anxiety is to treat disorders of Shan You Si, which affect the Zang Organs. This means modifying the Zang Organ’s responsible for the chemical secretions that bring life to our emotions.
- The Heart Zang, which stores the Shen or spirit
- The Liver Zang – anger
- The Spleen Zang – worry & anxiety
- The Kidney – fear
- The Lung – grief
TCM classifies the cause of a specific mental disorder according to how much each Zang Organ has been disturbed and how its Qi is affected. The flow of Qi or energy can be interrupted by several factors, including anxiety, stress, anger, fear or grief. Acupuncture seeks to restore any imbalance between Yin and Yang. By inserting needles into the fine points of energy, the body's own healing process is stimulated to restore its natural balance. Treating depression and related conditions such as a seasonal affective disorder or dysthymic disorder (chronic depression) with TCM requires the proper evaluation of the signs and symptoms of these conditions. Specific acupuncture techniques are advised to treat each condition. Changes in lifestyle and the adoption of self-help recommendations are also part of the healing process.
Supplementing the Shen: Psychological Aspects
Now keep in mind that all emotions are created by thoughts, not directly by the organs – the organs are responsible for the chemical secretions that animate and give sensation to each emotion. So, in handling emotions, we start with the psyche or Shen. However, there can be a vicious cycle that can occur where a disturbance in the psyche can lead to organ impairment, where the organs fail to properly metabolize the hormones associated with different emotions and we are no longer to physically “digest” different emotions.
So, impairment of the Zang Organs does not directly cause an imbalanced emotional state but perpetuates it. The cause is a deficiency of Shen or a psychological imbalance. Nevertheless, getting the body into proper shape and condition is usually the first line of action in TCM treatment, in combination with psychological treatment, which in the Taoist sense would involve various forms of meditation and philosophy such as Tong Ren Therapy where a person meditates or relaxes while receiving a healing energy.
From a metaphysical or mental standpoint, anxiety is constant computation without resolve. In other words, when a person is experiencing anxiety, the mental condition involves having some sort of unresolved conflict or problem one is worrying about compulsively. So, ultimately, becoming aware of the thoughts one thinks and more so, the mental conflicts one is having and then posing solutions for those conflicts is key for healing any chronic anxiety.
TCM also utilizes diet and herbs to help with treating anxiety. While addressing the previous root causes we’ve discussed so far is of senior importance, herbs are a key part of TCM as they are useful, non-toxic tools for reducing stress biologically.
The more common Chinese herbs used to treat anxiety are:
You can learn more about each of these in detail on our blog or YouTube channel.