An introduction to how emotions impact health.
I feel that increasingly there is more clinical research out there proving the impact of emotions on our health. Chinese medicine has known for centuries the connection between psycho emotional wellbeing and physiological symptoms.
In this article, I am going to break down for you the basics of how emotions affect your health through the lens of Chinese medicine.
Some of it may seem very simplistic, but what I have found through working with hundreds of clients is that actually some of the most simple principles have the most profound impact.
Chinese medicine is based on the Taoist 5 elements. The five elements are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. Each of the elements has an associated organ system, emotion, food, time of day etc. Basically everything in life can be categorized into these elements.
The five yin organs of the body (kidneys, liver, heart, spleen and lungs) produce five kinds of essential Qi (circulating life force), which bring forth fear, anger, joy, worry and grief.
Each of the organs is connected to one of the emotions.
Kidneys = fear
Liver = anger
Heart = joy
Spleen = worry
Lungs = grief
Fear is a normal and adaptive human emotion. But when it becomes chronic and when the perceived cause of the fear cannot be directly addressed, then this is likely to lead to disharmony. The organs most at risk are the kidneys. In cases of extreme fright, the kidney's ability to hold qi (vital energy) may be impaired leading to involuntary urination. This can be a particular problem with children.
Anger, as described by TCM, covers the full range of associated emotions including resentment, irritability, and frustration. An excess of rich blood makes one prone to anger. Anger will thus affect the liver, resulting in stagnation of liver qi (vital energy). This can lead to liver energy rising to the head, resulting in headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms. In the long run it can result in high blood pressure and can cause problems with the stomach and the spleen. It is commonly observed that ruddy, "full-blooded" people with flushed faces are more prone than others to sudden fits of rage at the slightest provocation.
"When one is excessively joyful, the spirit scatters and can no longer be stored," states the Lingshu (The Vital Axis). However, in TCM, joy refers to a states of agitation or overexcitement, rather than the more passive notion of deep contentment. The organ most affected is the heart. Over-stimulation can lead to problems of heart fire connected with such symptoms as feelings of agitation, insomnia and palpitations.
In TCM, pensiveness or concentration is considered to be the result of thinking too much or excessive mental and intellectual stimulation. Any activity that involves a lot of mental effort will run the risk of causing disharmony. The organ most directly at risk is the spleen. This can lead to a deficiency of spleen qi (vital energy), in turn causing worry and resulting in fatigue, lethargy, and inability to concentrate.
The lungs are more directly involved with this emotion. A normal and healthy expression of grief can be expressed as sobbing that originates in the depths of the lungs - deep breathes and the expulsion of air with the sob. However, grief that remains unresolved and becomes chronic can create disharmony in the lungs, weakening the lung qi (vital energy). This in turn can interfere with the lung's function of circulating qi (vital energy) around the body.
The emotions are considered to the major internal cause of disease in Chinese medicine. Emotional activity is seen as a normal, internal, physiological response to stimuli from the external environment.
When emotions are within normal limits, are not prolonged or repressed, they cause no disease or weakness in the body.
However, when emotions become so powerful that they are uncontrollable, overwhelm or non accessible to a person, then they cause serious injury to the internal organs and open the door to disease.
Western science may say that this is psychosomatic. But in Chinese medicine we believe this is a real cause of damage because we know that we are not made of just our physical bodies but are also energetic beings.
Excess emotional activity causes severe yin yang energy imbalances which negatively affects the flow of blood, qi (vital energy), blocks the free flow through the body and damages the organ functions.
So when you are looking at healing a chronic health condition, it is imperative that you not only support the affected organ systems but you start to uncover the emotional behaviors that are at the root of the imbalance.
An example of this would be if you know you are suffering from health issues related to your liver, then exploring the emotion of anger is important. Some symptoms that may be related to liver function could be: hormonal imbalance, skin issues, jaundice, liver disease etc.
Once you have identified your organ system, you can start to inquire your relationship to the related emotion. For instance, if you have an issue with liver function what is your relationship to anger? Do you often feel frustrated and angry? Or do you feel unable to express anger? Where you taught that anger is bad emotion?
Both the excess and absence of an emotion are problematic. We want a healthy balance as there is no such thing as a good or bad emotion. It has more to do with frequency and the ability to move through it.
Uncovering the root emotional imbalances and false limiting beliefs that fuel our lives and current health issues, is a key part of the Inside Out Program. With the support of my team and me, my clients are able to not only identify where they are stuck, how it’s affecting their health but also learn how to change it.
I feel that this is a crucial missing piece in many functional medicine health programs. It’s all too easy to heal the gut and balance the hormones, but if we don’t address the emotions that fueled your choices that got you there in the first place then true healing will not occur.
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The author (“Author”) is a holistic health coach who has been trained to specialize in health, wellness, and lifestyle coaching. She provides a non-medical, complementary approach to the medical healthcare system.
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