|Have you ever felt nauseous after hearing bad news or gotten so angry that you felt your blood pressure rise? Emotions can affect your physical health in a variety of ways and East Asian Medicine (EAM) theorizes that each emotion will have a predictable impact on the body.
Emotional problems can be caused by extraordinarily stressful events or any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone. They can be caused by single blow, one time events, such as a horrible accident, a natural disaster or a violent attack. Or they can also stem from ongoing, relentless stress, such as living in a crime-ridden neighborhood or struggling with cancer. They can be from falls or sports injuries, surgery, the sudden death of someone close, an auto accident, the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition. There are also other factors such as constitution, diet, excessive sexual activity, overworking or drugs, which can also cause emotional problems.
In EAM, there are seven recognized emotions. The seven emotions are grief, melancholy, fear, fright, anger, joy and worry. They are naturally occurring emotions without pathological consequences in many instances. However, abrupt, severe or chronic occurrences may cause pathophysiological consequences. This excess leads to disruption of qi and blood, directly affecting the organs and the energetic pathways of the organs. When this occurs, the emotions can then become major factors in the cause of endogenous illness.
Emotions and physical health are intimately connected. On the one hand, an imbalance of qi, blood, yin or yang affects the individual’s emotional state. On the other hand, emotion can also affect the balance of qi, blood, yin and yang, eventually resulting in impairment of vital organ functions. In EAM, each emotion is linked to a specific organ.
The Seven Emotions
Joy – Joy is linked to the heart. Joy is a cheerful, positive concept. Joy can be very beneficial. However, excessive joy (over-excitement, over-stimulation, over-agitation or rowdy over-exuberance), can be harmful to the heart. First, heart energy produces joy. Excessive joy consumes heart energy, which leads to deficiency of heart energy so heart qi slows down, which leads to lack of enthusiasm and vitality, depression and despair. Secondly, excessive joy slackens the heart, which leads to heart the qi being scattered. As the heart is a combination of the mind and spirit in EAM, some people experience an inability to concentrate or have confused behaviors or mental restlessness. A person with extreme disturbances of heart qi might be seen chattering happily to him or herself with outbursts of laughter. Heart imbalances are often associated with palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, irregular heart beat, excessive dreaming, poor long-term memory or psychological disorders. Conversely, a person with heart imbalances or heart disease may also exhibit emotional symptoms.
Anger – Anger covers the full range of associated emotions such as resentment, irritability, explosive rage and frustration. Anger is linked to the liver and is a normal emotion. We feel angry when we have been hurt physically or emotionally, or when we feel really frustrated. However, excessive, inappropriate or uncontrolled anger causes liver imbalances such as the stagnation of liver qi or liver-blood, and the rising of liver yang or liver fire. These will cause symptoms in the head and neck such as headaches, tinnitus, dizziness or red blotches in the front of the neck, flushed face, chest congestion or a bitter taste in the mouth. In women, there may be breast distention, menstrual pain and irritability during menses. Chronic anger can result in high blood pressure. Anger can also affect the stomach and spleen, causing indigestion and other problems.
Worry – Worry means dwelling too much on a particular problem, ruminating on a particular topic or excessive mental work. This emotion also includes too much studying, obsessive thinking or continually working something over in your mind. Worry is linked to the spleen and is a normal emotion. However, too much worry consumes spleen energy, which leads to the deficiency of spleen qi. Worry also causes the stagnation of spleen qi. A person with this condition may exhibit digestive disturbances such as poor appetite, abdominal bloating and distention or poor digestion, loose stools or diarrhea. A weakened spleen cannot efficiently turn food into energy, which eventually results in chronic fatigue, lethargy, inability to concentrate, depression, anxiety, weakened limbs or menstrual irregularities in women.
Pensiveness – Pensiveness is sometimes thought of as a wistfulness, dreaminess or sad quality, which is considered to be the result of thinking too much, obsessing about a topic or excessive mental and intellectual stimulation. Any activity that involves a lot of mental effort will run the risk of causing disharmony. Pensiveness is linked to the spleen and the heart. EAM considers that thought starts in the spleen and ripens in the heart. Therefore, pensiveness not only impairs the spleen qi, but also affects the heart qi. Pensiveness causes qi to become stagnant or obstructed. The obstruction or stagnation of spleen qi can decrease the spleen’s functions of transporting and transforming, leading to abnormal food digestion and absorption. Common symptoms of pensiveness include poor appetite, abdominal distention, diarrhea or constipation. A weakened spleen cannot efficiently turn food into energy, eventually resulting in chronic fatigue, lethargy, inability to concentrate, depression, anxiety, weakened limbs or menstrual irregularities in women. Spleen qi deficiency eventually affects the heart because the heart qi can not be nourished, thus producing symptoms such as palpitations, amnesia, insomnia or dreaminess.
Grief – Grief includes sorrow, regret, sadness and feelings of loss or remorse. Grief is linked to the lung and is a normal emotion. People cry to release their grief or sadness, which is natural behavior. However, an excess of grief or grief that remains unresolved and becomes chronic, can create disharmony in the lungs. Grief consumes lung qi and makes the lungs weak, leading to respiratory problems such as bronchitis, asthma or shortness of breath. Grief also impacts the lung’s function of circulating qi around the body and makes qi stagnant, eventually leading to fatigue or depression. When grief becomes extreme, it can affect the whole body and cause symptoms that we would call shock, which includes pallor, difficulty breathing, a feeling of suffocation in the chest, as well as loss of appetite, constipation and urinary problems.
Fear – Fear is linked to the kidney and is a normal, adaptive human emotion. But when it becomes too intense or it persists too long, fear leads to disharmony of the kidney. Fear consumes kidney qi, leading to kidney qi deficiency. Kidney qi deficiency causes kidney qi to descend instead of rise, which leads to urinary incontinence. This situation can readily be seen when extreme fear causes a person to urinate uncontrollably. The descending of kidney qi can also lead to fatigue, low back pain, other urinary problems and a desire for solitude. In women, fear can also cause irregular menstruation. Fear can be the emotion responsible in children who suffer from bedwetting and also the related symptoms of shyness and timidity. Long-term anxiety due to worrying too much can deplete yin or yang or qi of kidneys, eventually leading to chronic weakness.
Fright – Fright, in western medicine, is frequently labeled as shock or panic attacks, and is an emotion that is considered an imbalance of the heart and the kidneys. Fright is a state of panic aroused by a sudden external event. It is distinguished from fear by its sudden, unexpected nature. Fright primarily affects the heart, especially in the initial stages, however, if it persists for a long time, it becomes conscious fear and moves to the kidneys. Fright affects the heart qi and it causes it to scatter, wandering around or adhering to nothing. The clinical manifestations of this emotion include a tendency to be easily startled, cold sweats, sudden palpitations or persistent palpitations and mental restlessness. Severe fright can have a long-term effect on the heart, as is evident in victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Chronic stress from fright can cause a general dysfunction of qi, debilitating the entire system. This can lead to a wide range of problems such as anxiety, insomnia or overall body weakness.
In addition to regular acupuncture treatments, there are several things you can do to restore internal balance. Exercise, tai chi or qi gong can be extremely beneficial at keeping the energy flowing and allowing for better emotional coping skills. Even taking a daily walk can help. Herbal medicine is very helpful for balancing the spirit and addressing the root cause of the disharmony. Spending time with friends or out in nature are also great ways to avoid emotional outbursts. EAM recognizes that pain and illness are not “in your head”. Each part of the whole contributes to your wellbeing on every level – physical, mental and emotional. If you are ready to make changes and get help with your emotions, consider East Asian Medicine. You might be surprised how your emotions have been holding back your ability to heal.