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Anxiety and East Asian Medicine

Meet Gizmo. He'll be 10 this year. He enjoys playing with puff balls laced with catnip, jumping on top of the kitchen cabinets, wrestling with his brother, sticking his nose out the window, watching cars go by and greeting everyone who enters his habitat (which he hasn't be able to do in a long time). He's all too much.

I wouldn't be surprised if most people view the world the way Gizmo is in this photo. In all seriousness, it is completely normal if you're experiencing varying degrees of anxiety. Speaking with a few friends who are mental health providers, they're seeing anxiety in 100% of their patients. It is possible to move through anxiety, even in times like these.

This newsletter is dedicated to learning about anxiety from an East Asian medicine perspective.


Anxiety and East Asian Medicine

Have you ever noticed that anxiety manifests differently in different people? Some people get a feeling of pressure in their chest and heart palpitations. Others get shortness of breath and profuse sweating. Some people get abdominal cramps and intestinal issues. Some get jittery and irritable.

We talk about anxiety in East Asian medicine in terms of Spirit, but understand that East Asian medicine doesn't separate the body, mind and spirit from each other.

The illustration below is from the Essential Readings in the Medical Lineage, 1637, also known as Li Zhongzi.

Though the illustration appears to depict the organs in a rather simplistic way, in actuality it beautifully highlights the relationship between the organs. Below I've pointed out the Heart.

According to East Asian medicine, anxiety originates in the Heart. This explains why some people experience heart palpitations. That being said, do you notice how towards the top of the heart there appears to be tubes coming out? One may think those depict blood vessels, but if you look closely they connect to different organs throughout the body. When anxiety develops, the spirit of the Heart becomes enlarged and can travel from the Heart to a specific organ. These tubes depict where that spirit can travel.

In Five Element Theory each Element has an organ and an emotion associated with it.

Combining the illustration with Five Element Theory can explain why anxiety manifests differently for different people. For instance, anxiety may begin in the Heart, but if that spirit moves to the Liver, that may manifest as anxiety with irritability or anger, which is associated with the Wood element. In another patient, if anxiety moves to the Lungs, the patient may experience sadness and grief. If it travels to the Kidneys, the patient may be fearful.

Successfully treating anxiety with acupuncture requires an understanding of how the anxiety is manifesting in the patient. There is no magic point or magic treatment protocol. Rather, each treatment is created specific to each patient. 

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