In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the body and the mind are closely interconnected. As well as being responsible for their physical functions, each of the organs has a mental and emotional aspect.
This is especially true for the yin organs, known as the zang. These are the Heart, Spleen, Lungs, Kidneys and Liver. Each of these organs has the role of “housing” a different aspect of the spirit and is also responsible for a particular emotion.
When your organs are healthy and in balance, you should be able to experience all of the emotions at the appropriate times, but not hang onto any one for too long. If a particular organ is sick, you may suffer from both physical and psychological symptoms. Similarly, sitting in a particular emotion for an extended period can lead to an imbalance in its associated organ and cause further problems.
When emotions such as anger and loss are suppressed, they can cause the chest muscles to tighten, constricting the flow of qi. This leads to multiple physical and psychological symptoms over time. Additionally, the organs can be affected by factors such as diet, lifestyle and climate as well as emotional stress and trauma.
Conditions such as anxiety and depression can arise from an imbalance in any of the zang organs. The symptoms which you experience will depend on which organ or organs are being affected.
The Heart is seen as the emperor of the body and houses the shen, or the mind. In TCM, the word shen can have two different meanings. The first is the shen which is responsible for our consciousness and mental processes. The second meaning of shen encompasses all of our emotions and the spirits of all five of the zang organs. This shows just how important the Heart is in diagnosing and treating any kind of psychological or emotional problems in TCM.
The emotion associated with the Heart is joy. It is plays an important role in our ability to form relationships and fall in love. If the Heart is in balance, we are able to communicate easily, forms bonds with others and experience joy. However, on the flip side, an imbalanced Heart can result in an inability to experience joy or love and we may form unhealthy emotional or sexual relationships. People with this type of imbalance often indulge in promiscuous behavior, trying to meet a deep emotional need, but ultimately find this unfulfilling.
If your Heart is out of balance and your shen becomes disturbed, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Panic attacks
The Spleen is one of the chief digestive organs in TCM. As well as breaking down and processing food, the Spleen is also responsible for processing thoughts. It houses the spirit known as the yi, which translates roughly as “thought” or “ideation”.
In balance, the Spleen provides clarity of thought, good concentration and memory. But when it is out of balance, our thinking can become foggy or muddled.
The emotion associated with the Spleen is sympathy, but when this gets out of control it can turn to worry. Thoughts can get stuck, turning over and over as the Spleen tries and fails to digest them.
The Spleen is also associated with the season of late summer. This is a time when fruits ripen and crops are ready for harvest. If the Spleen is imbalanced, we may feel that things have failed to come to fruition, leading to disappointment and depression.
If your anxiety or depression is mainly due to a Spleen imbalance, you will probably experience symptoms such as:
- Obsessive thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Digestive issues
The Lungs are associated with grief, letting go and new beginnings. They house the po, the most physical aspect of the spirit, which is said to return to the earth after death.
When our Lungs are in balance, we are able to grieve our losses and move on. Just like it is necessary to breathe out in order to breathe in, we need to let go of what is no longer needed to make way for the new.
However, if our Lungs become imbalanced, we may cling on to past experiences, looking back on our lives with regret and preventing ourselves from moving on.
If you are depressed for this reason, you may experience symptoms such as:
- A sense of loss
- Bitterness about the past
- Shallow breathing
- Skin problems
The Kidneys house what is known as the zhi. Zhi means “willpower”, and the Kidneys are often seen as the powerhouses of our body, giving us the strength we need to keep pushing forward in life.
The Kidneys are also associated with the emotion of fear. In balance, this means a healthy caution of potentially dangerous situations, which is why the Kidneys are also associated with wisdom. However, when this fear becomes irrational, we can be paralyzed by it, leading to phobias and paranoia.
Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety or depression due to Kidney imbalance are:
- Lack of motivation or willpower
- Lack of energy
- Loss of sexual desire
The Liver houses the hun, or the ethereal soul. This is the more immaterial counterpart to the po, which is housed by the Lungs. The hun is said to survive the body after death and return to the spiritual plane, while the po is left behind to return to the earth.
Most of the emotions associated with the Liver come from its connection to the season of spring. It is responsible for birth, growth, vision and hope. If this is lost, it results in anger, frustration and a sense of being thwarted by life.
The Liver is also responsible for the smooth flow of qi within the body. This is important to keep all of the organs functioning properly and preventing disease. When the Liver is failing to circulate qi as it should, symptoms such as depression, poor digestion and pain can arise. In fact, emotional stress affecting the Liver is one of the most common causes of all disease in TCM.
If your primary imbalance is in the Liver, you may experience:
- Anger or frustration
- Inability to plan ahead or make decisions
- Muscle pain
The Gentle Way Acupuncture Helps Anxiety and Depression
Acupuncture can help anxiety and depression by restoring the smooth flow of qi within the body and promoting harmony throughout the organs. As well as relieving symptoms, it aims to treat emotional issues at their deepest level, enabling us to break negative thought patterns and gain a new perspective on life.
In treating anxiety and depression, it is always important to treat the Heart, regardless of which other organs are being affected. By treating the Heart, you enable the shen to be calm and untroubled. This in turn has a beneficial effect on the spirits of the other organs; the yi, po, zhi and the hun. When all of the spirits in the body are happy and healthy, your emotions will be too.
From a scientific perspective, we know that acupuncture works to keep your brain chemistry in balance. This includes regulating the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. It also stimulates the production of endorphins which relieve stress and pain, and bring about a feeling of general well-being.
Because acupuncture works to stimulate your body's innate ability to heal itself, it can take several weeks before it reaches its full effect. This is also the reason that acupuncture is a far safer alternative to drugs or surgery. It provides a gentle and natural way for your body and mind to heal, giving you a greater sense of physical and emotional well-being.