AOMA Blog

Chinese Medical Approaches to Depression and Anxiety

Posted by William Morris on Tue, Sep 13, 2016 @ 09:26 PM

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Depressed and anxious, what is the experience? I ask this question because people have unique experiences operating under the words anxiety or depression. Other questions might be: “when you say you are depressed or anxious, where do you feel it in your body?”… “What do you feel?”… “When do you feel it?” Such nuances are vital to the understanding and treatment of these conditions.

Patterns of Depression

Chinese medicine has an elegant approach to assessing health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Given the name of a particular disease, there may be an array of patterns that a person expresses in unique form. In this article, we will explore a few patterns of disharmony and some ways that they might be understood from a physiological point of view.

If the blood is insufficient or lacks smooth circulation, there can be insufficient nutrient supply and waste removal from brain tissues. This pattern is called blood deficiency with blood stasis. The pulse will be thin due to low circulating blood volume, and the tongue will be pale. I also like to pull down the lower eyelid so I can see how the blood fills the vessels. The surface under the tongue may be pale and the vessels congested with blood which fails to flow smoothly. We can increase total circulating blood volume by consuming blackstrap molasses or bone broth soups.

If there is low vitality, then the fatigue contributes to depression. This can become complicated with a lack of exercise and poor eating habits, resulting in poor nutrient supply and waste removal to the brain.  This pattern is called qi (chee) deficiency due to lifestyle and damage by food. Regular eating of good quality organic produce with small amounts of regular exercise will put a break in the chain.

Stress induced depression takes place in the overworking of the nervous system and endocrine systems with increased adrenaline. This causes the blood vessels to become tense and can be observed by the practitioner when they take the pulse of the person whom they are treating. The pattern is called liver qi (chee) stagnation. Intensity of emotions such as shock may affect the emotional state, leading to depression and anxiety. Chinese medicine lists 7 emotions as internal causes of disease. Meditation, self-reflection and exercise are our paths to reducing stress.

These are just a few examples of disharmonies and patterns that might produce what a person calls depression or anxiety. It is important to do what is necessary to correct the entire picture in order to produce good long term results. Herbs and acupuncture provide conservative, low risk solutions to the deeper problems of our lives by adjusting how we respond.

Often, there is a story related to why a person is depressed or anxious. But the state which is experienced, be it depression or anxiety, has an origin. This may be from the family in the form of intergenerational trauma or various epigenetic imprints. In Chinese medicine, such influences are addressed by the idea of the kidney system.

Kidneys in Chinese medicine are a trans-systemic expression that includes the central nervous system, bone marrow blood production, reproductive system, endocrine system and urinary tract. The treatment of conditions related to inheritance, the central nervous system and the endocrine system require a lifestyle of relationship with the plant kingdom as healers. A professional herbalist is the ideal person for guiding such a journey.

 

Topics: chinese medicine, depression, anxiety

Heart and the Emotional Wellbeing in Chinese Medicine

Posted by Xiaotian Shen on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 @ 03:50 PM

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In modern society, an illness is no longer considered just the problems of the physical aspect of the body. Very often, the emotional state of the patient can be a contributing factor, if not the primary cause, of their illness.

Today we typically believe that the brain commands the emotions and mental activities, but in the tradition of Western culture, the true source of our emotions is deeply rooted in the heart. We say “I love you from the bottom of my heart”, “heart bursting with joy”, “heart is full”, “my heart is broken”, instead of saying “I love you with my brain” or “brain wrenching”, etc. On the surface, the heart of the issue seems to be that in the West we think with our brains, feel with our hearts, and go with our guts. But if we look deep into Western traditions, some similar philosophies to Eastern culture can be found. When people say “know by heart”, or “take it to heart”, we put the heart in charge of the conscious and subconscious awareness in the same way Chinese medicine believes; when people say “heart to heart”, “heart of steel” or “heart of gold”, it suggests people still intuitively identify their sense of self with the heart. In Chinese medicine, the Heart governs both the mind and the spirit, and therefore represents a more holistic and less isolated approach.

While there’s a recognition of biofeedback based upon heart-brain connection in both cultures, the difference in Western and Eastern medicine is that Eastern medicine takes the heart-brain connection, and furthermore the heart-body connection, more seriously. Traditional Chinese medicine in particular uses it in a more practical way within everyday diagnosis and treatment instead of treating the body with medicine, treating the mind with science, and treating the spirit with religion - as is commonly done in modern Western society.  

Heart is considered the monarchy organ in Chinese medicine, which means Heart not only dominates the blood circulation of the body, but also guides our consciousness and awareness, memory and intellect, emotions and mental activities. When the Heart is strong, we sleep soundly, think clearly and have a good memory, and we have balanced emotions and consciousness. When there are disorders in the Heart, we might experience memory and concentration deficiencies, poor sleep, moodiness and even madness in some extreme cases. In Traditional Chinese medicine we tend to look at a person as a complete system and treat both the emotions and the physical body. Consequently, when we treat, we treat the whole person and we put our hearts into it.

According to the Eastern ancient medicine, the positive energy of the Heart is essential to the good health of the entire body. In order to cultivate the energy of the Heart, one should focus on maintaining a positive outlook and worrying less, seeking peace and tranquility being driven by compassion instead of desires, keeping a regular sleep and eating schedule, and exploring nature often.

The foods that are good for the heart are usually red, because the Heart is the fire organ according to the five element theory and the color red corresponds to the fire element too. These foods include red berries, tomatoes and watermelon; some red meat also helps to nourish heart blood, but remember another important principle of Eastern medicine: everything in moderation.

Learn More: Download an Overview of the Master's Program Introduction to Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine

Topics: tcm nutrition, tcm, tcm health, chinese medicine

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