July 31, 2021
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In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), emotions and physical health are intimately connected. This integrated mind-body approach to health and healing operates in a dynamic loop where emotions impact the health of the body and vice versa.
For example, according to TCM theory, excessive irritability and anger can affect the liver and result in multiple ailments, including menstrual pain, headache, redness of the face and eyes, dizziness, and dry mouth. Alternatively, imbalance in the liver can result in stormy moods.
Diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine is highly individualized. Once an impaired organ system and/or emotional imbalance is identified, the unique symptoms of the patient determine the practitioner’s treatment approach.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for over 2,000 years and its use in the United States as part of complementary healthcare has grown dramatically over the last few decades.
TCM is based on the principle that mental and physical well-being are intricately entwined. In turn, practitioners believe that optimal health is governed by balancing a person’s qi (vital life force) with the complementary forces of yin (passive) and yang (active) and the five elements of fire, water, earth, wood, and metal.
In TCM, it is believed that emotional imbalances can act as both symptoms and causes for physical issues. Additionally, mental health conditions are linked to specific physical ailments of key organs.
According to TCM, emotions are narrowed down to five basic feelings that are each associated with a corresponding element and organ in the body:
For example, under the TCM theory, breast distension, menstrual pain, and irritability during menses are treated with certain herbs and acupuncture points that target the liver. Headaches, dizziness, excessive anger, and redness of the face point to an alternative type of liver pattern and are treated in a different way.
The TCM approach
What does the liver have to do with migraines or PMS? Organ systems in TCM may include the Western medical-physiological functions, but they are also part of the integrated, holistic body system. So, the entire mind and body may be evaluated and treated to improve a specific health concern.
The liver, for example, ensures that energy and blood flow smoothly throughout the body. It also regulates bile secretion, stores blood, and is connected with the tendons, nails, and eyes.
By understanding these connections, TCM practitioners explain how an eye disorder such as conjunctivitis might be due to an imbalance in the liver. Or, excess menstrual flow may be due to dysfunction in the liver’s blood-storing ability.
On the emotional side, the liver is connected to anger, which when out of balance, can be expressed in the extremes of excess wrath and irritation or as a lack of feeling, as in depression or PTSD. These mental health imbalances can be both symptoms and/or contributing causes of liver dysfunction.
When ailments occur, TCM practitioners seek to untangle the mind and body imbalances that contribute to a person’s physical and mental health conditions using a variety of treatments, including acupuncture, herbal medicines, moxibustion (heat therapy), cupping (a suction procedure that cultivates blood flow), tui na massage (therapeutic massage and bodywork), and nutrition.
In addition to emotions, TCM philosophy believes that other elements, such as dietary, environmental, lifestyle, and hereditary factors, also contribute to the development of imbalances and the body’s ability to heal itself.
Understanding the interplay of each of the five organ-emotion pairings is key to unlocking the healing potential of TCM. Below, we summarize traditional Chinese medicine’s beliefs on how the connections and imbalances between these organs and emotions contribute to basic mental and physical health concerns.
The spleen plays an important part in the body’s immune system and acts as a blood filter, removing old blood cells, bacteria, and impurities from the body. In TCM, the spleen is linked to the following emotions and ailments:
The lungs bring oxygen into the body and remove carbon dioxide. In TCM, this organ is believed to be connected to grief and the following conditions:
Digestion and the processing of nutrients are primary functions of this vital organ. In TCM, the liver is associated with anger, depression, and the below physical symptoms:
The heart pumps blood throughout the body. In TCM, this organ is linked with joy but the imbalance of joy is expressed as either too much (agitation or restlessness) or too little (depression). Below, are the mental and physical ailments linked with the heart:
The kidneys remove waste and excess fluid to make urine. In TCM, the kidney is related to fear, which can manifest as chronic fear or anxiety when qi out of balance, as well as result in:
Other TCM conditions
Below are a few more conditions related to emotional and organ imbalances that traditional Chinese medicine practitioners may diagnose:
Despite the growing popularity and anecdotal evidence, it’s important to note that many TCM treatments and philosophies have not been vetted in the same way as conventional Western medical care. While TCM has been practiced for centuries and has been shown to be effective for treating some conditions—particularly those related to pain and stress—much research is mixed or unclear.
More research needs to be done to determine the efficacy and safety of TCM treatments for specific health issues.
Interestingly, in some cases, the benefits of TCM treatments are correlated to the placebo effect. However, rather than simply dismissing the efficacy of those TCM practices, these findings reinforce the powerful (and in many ways, still mysterious) link between mind and body in the healing process, which is the underpinning theory of TCM itself.
TCM can be a productive component of an integrative health approach, which many people find to be beneficial to their mental and physical well-being.
Source: Very Well Mind
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