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Balancing the emotions: traditional Chinese medicine’s view of mental health
In traditional Chinese medicine, emotional wellbeing indicates a good energy balance in the body and the correct circulation of energy through all organs. Stress and mismanaged emotion represent “energy stagnation”, especially in the liver. According to traditional Chinese medicine, if this situation persists over time, there is a high risk of depression.
There are different types of depression that manifest themselves differently, with different symptoms.
Anger, frustration, resentment, and hatred are emotions that are difficult to channel, as their expression is not socially accepted and we are taught to repress them. These repressed emotions produce energy stagnation in the liver that can lead to an increase in yang energy and cause depression, often accompanied by severe headaches.
Sadness saps energy from the heart and lungs, and is a frequent cause of depression following a loss, break-up, or unwanted divorce.
Excessive worry also tends to block the free flow of energy, especially through the spleen. This organ is very important in traditional Chinese medicine, as it belongs to the earth element, which is the basis of our energy support.
Guilt can block the energy of the heart. It often appears after the loss of a loved one, when we think we have not cared for them sufficiently, or that we could have spent more time together.
It is important to know that in traditional Chinese medicine there are yin and yang organs.
The heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and liver are yin organs, also considered treasure organs because of their ability to collect and store the essence we ingest from food. These essences, known as “subtle”, enter the energy circulation and nourish the mind.
An energy disturbance in any of these five organs can affect our mental health. For this reason, in traditional Chinese medicine no two mental disorders are ever treated in the same way, as everything depends on the organ responsible for the emotional discomfort.
For example, a stagnation of energy in the liver causes depression with frustration. It also causes a bloated belly, cramps, and irregular menstruation. When yang is on the rise in this organ, it manifests through dry mouth, tension, headache, premenstrual syndrome, constipation, and an exaggerated preoccupation with things that did not seem particularly important before.
When the heart is not in balance, depression manifests itself with tightness in the chest, palpitations, lack of appetite, and cold feet. Excess phlegm causes depression accompanied by anxiety, insomnia or nightmares, nausea and mucus. Yang deficiency is manifested by fatigue, coldness, listlessness, palpitations, and susceptibility to fear.
In the kidney, yin deficiency causes depression with palpitations and anxiety that worsens at night, restlessness, insomnia, tinnitus, night sweats, and dizziness. This disorder usually appears in middle age.
Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and sleep disorders can be successfully treated with acupuncture.
Each situation requires personalised treatment according to the organ affected. Acupuncture will treat a different set of points in each case. The time it takes to cure a problem will depend on progress and the patient’s effort to modify his or her lifestyle, as well as the experience and skill of the acupuncturist.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses medicinal plants as another powerful tool to strengthen mental health.
Xiang yuan (fructus citri medicae), a fruit that eliminates stagnation and excess mucus and phlegm, is used to treat depression. It is an important component in formulas for treating depression because of its ability to relieve liver stagnation.
The fo shou plant (fructus citri sarcodactylis), which harmonises the energy of the stomach and spleen, is also used for despondency and depression.
The flower of the he huan hua tree (flos albiziae) helps calm the mind, and is used in formulas to treat depression with anxiety and insomnia.The bark of the he huan pi tree (cortex albiziae) is useful for treating despondency caused by the stagnation of energy in the liver and heart.
Yuan zhi root (radix polygalae) has a calming effect which, according to traditional Chinese medicine, is produced by “opening the mental orifices”.
Finally, the mei gui hua flower (flos rosae rugosae) improves mood and is commonly consumed for its pleasant taste.