Traditional Chinese Medicine In Emotional & Mental Health

TCM In Mental Health

Emotional and mental health challenges are way more common than many of us think. A 2015 study conducted by the Ministry of Health of Malaysia revealed that almost one in three adults live with some sort of mental health disorder which vary in degree of severity – from mild to moderate, to severe. This is a very sobering statistic especially when one considers that the highest prevalence comes from young adults ranging from 16 – 19 years of age.

Mental health disorders are medical conditions that take many forms and affect people to varying degrees. Mental disorders can cause disturbed thinking, an inability to cope with daily tasks, impaired work performance, feelings of worthlessness, delusions, mood swings, a compromised immune system, insomnia, fatigue and difficulty relating to others.

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.

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 passive Yin and active Yang 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:

  • Anger with the liver
  • Fear with the kidney
  • Joy with the heart
  • Sadness and grief with the lung
  • Worry with the spleen

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.

This is why TCM treatments like acupuncture and other forms of holistic therapies like Reiki that treats the whole person – mental and physical – at the same time, is an effective and safe addition to any conventional medicine treatment plan.

While conventional medicine tends to treat the body as a complex system of biological parts, an approach that can be ideologically and philosophically traced back to it’s ancient Greek and Egyptian dualistic roots as well as the seminal influence of Rene Descartes in modern epistemology, TCM and many other holistic therapies tend to treat the body as a holistic unit with mutually dependent elements.

Conventional medicine has definitely been an indispensable part of our health and wellness and has made amazing advances. This is especially obvious during this current once-in-a-century global pandemic. It is, however, not the only pathway to health and wellness. TCM, including treatments of acupuncture and herbal medicine, can alleviate many of the unpleasant symptoms associated with mental health issues and the side effects related to prescription medications.

In TCM, mental health disorders are seen as a disturbance in the flow of Qi. Think of it like an energetic imbalance. This imbalance can lead to many problems, both physical and emotional. The aim in TCM is to treat the unique individuals and their specific symptoms in order to improve their overall well-being. This is why patients with the same conventional diagnosis will be treated with different acupuncture points as well as different lifestyle and dietary recommendations.

Some effects of acupuncture that have been scientifically proven include:

  • Raising the level of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are chemicals naturally produced in the brain to fight pain. They can also positively affect your mood.
  • Lowering blood pressure, induce relaxation, increase circulation, decrease anxiety and treat sleeplessness to help patients better regulate their emotions and responses to stress.
  • Helping regulate serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects a person’s emotional state.

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.

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