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The Elements Of Anxiety: A Chinese Medicine Perspective

Updated: May 10

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CW: abuse, mental distress, trauma

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the world, and I’m seeing the reality of this epidemic on a daily basis in clinic.

For people experiencing anxiety, there has either been a poignant moment in one’s life or a series of moments where a rupture and traumatic event occurred. Often something devastating happened that was emotionally overwhelming however there was no repair or loving support to emotionally regulate the nervous system of the individual. This is the source of anxiety manifesting as irrational fear and and phobias, obsessive thoughts and behaviours and ptsd.

From a Chinese medicine framework there is a relationship between certain emotions and the organ systems, all of which can lead to feelings of anxiety.

This means that on any given day I might see a handful of patients with anxiety that I will give completely different acupuncture protocols and herbal formulas.

The emotion related to the Kidneys is fear. When a fearful situation or a series of fearful events has taken place (and is followed by chronic invasive and fearful thoughts) the Kidney system will be taxed. Think of the Kidney organ system in Chinese medicine as your batteries. Constant fear depletes the system leading to chronic fatigue. This is most common with panic disorders and phobias. Panic disorder is often accompanied by repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms might also include: heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, digestive distress and fear.

Children who have had a confusing or overwhelming situations occur (eg separation of parents) can find it difficult to ‘digest’ the experience, and it can manifest as over thinking or obsessive thoughts. OCD involves repeated and unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviours; anxiety that is associated with excessive worry or OCD symptoms would relate to Spleen Qi Deficiency.

In cases of PTSD, personal boundaries have often been crossed in the most horrific way, especially in cases of sexual/physical/psychological assault, and child abuse. Often people are struck with persistent feelings of loss and grief that feel impossible to shift. Anxiety related to this pattern is considered a Metal element disorder relating to the Lungs and may include a fear of dying, unresolved grief and regular crying.

Chronic stress (often simply from the pressures of life, work, social media etc.) can have debilitating effects on the Liver system and cause feelings of being stuck and anxiety with depression.

Chinese medicine is a complex system of health concerned with understanding the root causes of illness. When we can understand where the anxiety has come from and why it is manifesting, we can work on re-building the depleted organ system/s in order to strengthen, support and heal the underlying trauma and depletion that has occurred over time.

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