About six or so months into the pandemic, colleagues and I began having conversations about the general mental state of the patients we were seeing. Given that it was such a uniquely stressful time, we wanted to observe trends and gain insight as to how people were processing their emotions and how that related to East Asian medicine. These conversations were immensely useful, and though every patient has a specific mental/emotional state based on a number of individual factors, there are trends that I have seen and trends that I'm currently seeing....and the emotional imbalance that I'm seeing most right now is fear. Fear is one of the primary emotions in Five Element Theory. We are designed to experience fear. Fear naturally sets in motion a protective response from the nervous system, which in turn ramps up certain bodily functions such as heart beat and respiration and slows down other functions such as digestion. In moments where people face their fears, such as bungee jumping or public speaking, putting conscious thought into the breath can allow the heart rate to slow down and diminish the fear so that a sense of calm is felt.
However, the fear today appears unique to this time, which is likely an obvious statement given the continued threat of Covid-19, the changes in the environment and the conflict in Israel and Gaza, but examining it from a Five Element Theory point of view provides clarity as to why the fear that many people are experiencing today is so palpable. In Five Element Theory, each element "tonifies" (meaning increases the available energy of) the next element. In the chart above, you'll see lines connecting each element in a circle. This tonification goes in a clockwise direction, so Wood tonifies Fire, Fire tonifies Earth, etc. Here, Metal, the element associated with grief and the lungs, tonifies Water, the element associated with fear and the kidneys. Covid-19 is a virus that deeply affects the lungs (Metal) and the tremendous loss of life during the pandemic caused many to experience a significant amount of grief (Metal). Collectively, much of society has been experiencing an excessive imbalance of the Metal element, which can lead to a disproportionate amount of tonification of Water, which can increase the propensity for experiencing fear. Not everyone is experiencing Metal excessively tonifying Water, but there are enough people feeling fearful that I think it warrants some proactive self care to achieve or maintain a balance between the Five Elements. 1. Breathwork - In East Asian medicine, the Kidney (Water) Qi grasps the Lung (Metal) Qi on inhalation. I will be explaining this in further detail during the Changing Seasons class I'm teaching on November 5th at Sinofilia Tea Shop with Megan Stypulkoski from Sheep Hill Herbals, but simply put moving through various breathing exercises can strengthen that Kidney Qi and Lung Qi relationship, which in turn can support many other vital systems. 2. Therapy - I think everyone should have a mental health professional. Mental health is as vital as physical health. A common resistance I hear from patients is a lack of understanding how talking to a stranger about one's problems can help. Talk therapy is more than talking about problems. It's learning how to process emotions in a healthy manner. Sometimes breathing exercises, meditations and other exercises are involved. It's worth taking the time to seek out someone who is a good fit for you. 3. Acupuncture - Because East Asian medicine does not separate the body, mind and spirit, many times when patients come seeking relief from a physical problem such as pain their emotions improve as well. Even if you are feeling well, in these times it's worth receiving acupuncture at least monthly to support yourself in continuing to feel well.