The Emotions & Sleep
Within Chinese medicine, the different organs have different emotions and mental abilities associated with them and I have listed the main ones below.
Liver (Gan) – anger, frustration, resentment, bitterness, and stress
Spleen (Pi) – worry, over thinking
Lung (Fei) – sadness, grieving
Heart (Xin) – joy, sadness, grief
Kidneys (Shen) – fear
Within our society there are a lot of problems relating to Liver and Spleen imbalances. We live in a stressful society and almost everyone will display some kind of Liver imbalance. The beauty of acupuncture and Chinese medicine is that it can identify these imbalances long before they become problematic from a Western medicine point of view and you can take steps to avoid serious illness.
To give an example, the main function of the Liver is to ensure the smooth circulation of Qi (energy) throughout the body and by doing this it aids all the other organs in carrying out their tasks. Long-term stress impedes the circulation of Qi and this will affect different individuals in different ways.
Chest pain can occur if the Qi circulating in the chest becomes obstructed. If this is left untreated then the Lung and Heart energy becomes obstructed. Since Qi (energy) moves Blood then long term Qi stagnation will cause blood stagnation. Stagnation of Heart Blood is a cause of heart disease. In this case acupuncture can help move Qi stagnation in the chest long before any visible Heart symptoms appear. Of course, this is not the only cause of chest pain and Western medicine investigations & treatment are very valuable and sometimes essential.
The Spleen is the main organ of digestion and it is also referred to as the Spleen-Pancreas. Not only does the Spleen digest food and drink, but it also digests ideas and thoughts. Dwelling on thoughts, having the same thought going over and over in your head would indicate a Spleen imbalance. Eating lots of starchy food (crisps, potatoes, pasta), and overly sweet food inhibits clear thinking. If you have a job that involves a lot of mental tasks then it is important to support this with a diet that promotes clear thinking. This is especially important since over study/too much mental work taxes the Spleen and if your diet does not support the Spleen then illness/ poor general well-being will result. University students need to support their Spleen.
The Lungs and Heart are strongly connected since they are both located in the chest cavity (Upper Burner in Chinese Medicine). Emotional imbalances that affect the Lungs will in turn affect the Heart and visa versa. Sadness includes the emotion of regret, as when someone regrets a certain action or decision in the past and the Mind constantly turns towards that time. The Lungs are particularly affected by bereavement and this is a time to support the Lungs, along with the rest of the body as the person goes through grieving. It is appropriate to grieve; in fact if you do not grieve then this can cause illness as the sadness is locked inside. However, grieving for too long is also damaging. Like everything else in Chinese medicine, it is all about balance.
The Kidneys are very important in Chinese medicine as they are regarded as the root of all the Yin and Yang energies of our bodies. Having strong Kidneys results in strong will power to carry out tasks and progress in life. The Kidneys are affected by fear. Long-term fear will deplete the energy of the Kidneys and this can be a cause of bed-wetting with children as the Kidneys control the lower orifices of the body.
Stress is endemic within modern societies. There are many, many illnesses that are stress-related. Within Chinese medicine stress affects the Liver organ and there is a saying that states, ‘disharmony of the Liver is the cause of 10,000 illnesses’.
The main reason the Liver is so important, is because the function of the Liver within Chinese medicine is to ‘ensure the smooth circulation of qi (energy) throughout the body’. Many illnesses are the result of qi not moving correctly and obstructions forming within our bodies.
Long periods of stress often cause tension to build up in our shoulder muscles that then leads to shoulder, neck pain or headaches. In Chinese medicine the Gall Bladder channel runs over the shoulders, up the neck and over the sides of the head. The Gall Bladder is paired with the Liver and stress-related problems often affect the Gall Bladder channel.
When energy (qi) stagnates over a long period time, it can cause our blood, and other body fluids to collect. This is because energy moves blood and other fluids. If untreated this can even lead to the formation of masses; such as breast lumps, fibroids in the uterus, harmless cysts, etc. If blood stagnates in the chest then the lungs and heart will be affected. In fact, all the organs in our bodies can be affected by stress and imbalances with the Liver. Different people will be affected in different ways.
People who are under a lot of stress and are unable to manage their stress are often irritable and short-tempered. Small everyday ‘mishaps’ can result in explosive behaviour and this is a sure sign that one is not coping. For example, dropping a cup and then ‘flying of the handle’. This kind of imbalance inevitably affects other people and can lead to tensions and general unhappiness.
I cannot understate the importance of managing stress to prevent illness. Everyone is affected by stress, not only the person under stress but also everyone whom he or she comes in contact with.
Articles from the NEWS section
The British Acupuncture Council have compiled an interesting and balanced factsheet on ‘stress‘ and you can find it by following this link.
Accurate information about the incidence and prevalence of anxiety disorders is difficult to obtain; a survey by the Office of National Statistics (ONS 2000) found that 164 people per 1,000 had a neurotic disorder in the week before interview, which represents about 1 in 6 of all adults. They found that the most prevalent neurotic disorder among the population as a whole was mixed anxiety and depressive disorder (88 people per 1,000).
Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (NICE 2007; Clinical Evidence 2007). They can be chronic and cause considerable distress and disability; if left untreated, are costly to both the individual and society (NICE 2007). As well as emotional symptoms such as worry, disturbed sleep, irritability and poor concentration, anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, diarrhoea, dry mouth, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold hands, muscle tension and aches, trembling and twitching (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; WHO 2007). Also, the symptoms of many physical conditions can become worse with stress, for example, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and tension headaches, and back pain (Clinical Evidence 2007).
Treatments recognised as useful for anxiety disorders include psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and applied relaxation, and medication such as some antidepressants and benzodiazepines (NICE 2007). All the drug treatments have side effects, and many may cause withdrawal or discontinuation symptoms (British National Formulary 2009).
How acupuncture can help
The best evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness (Pikington 2010; Pilkington 2007) comes in specific acute anxiety situations such as around medical operations (Mora 2007; Wang 2007; Gioia 2006) or dentistry (Karst 2007).
There is surprisingly little research with a primary focus on acupuncture for generalised anxiety disorder. Those studies published so far are mostly small and methodologically flawed, hence the reluctance of reviewers to draw conclusions (Pilkington 2010; Pilkington 2007).
There are also preliminary positive findings for treating chronic anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (Hollifield 2007), substance misuse (Chae 2008; Courbasson 2007; Grusser 2005), eating disorders (Fogarty 2010), hyperventilation (Gibson 2007), asthma (Scheewe 2008), insomnia (Nordio 2008), post-stroke ((Wu 2008), musculo-skeletal pain (Hansson 2007; He 2005) and various other conditions where anxiety has been measured as a secondary rather than primary outcome.
Although the overall evidence is patchy, it does lie promisingly in a positive direction, and, given the very low level of side effects and lack of demonstrably superior outcomes from other interventions, acupuncture could be considered as one possible therapeutic option alongside the existing repertoire.
In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:
• Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).
• Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brains’s mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007).
• Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
• Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)
• Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009).
Acupuncture can be safely combined with conventional treatments such as medication or psycho-educational therapy, possibly enhancing their beneficial effects (Courbasson 2007) and reducing unwanted side-effects (Yuan 2007).
For more detailed information about the reseach studies, please go to the British Acupuncture Council website.
Depression is very commonplace in our society, and some would say that is it normal to feel some depression every once in a while. The question is… should you wait for it to pass or do you try and do something about it? The inherent problem with depression is the lack of motivation to do something about it once it is there. A common symptom is to lose interest in things you usually enjoy doing, and to feel cut off from society with no desire to go out and meet people.
Depression represents something very clearly in Chinese medicine. It represents stagnation at an emotional level. The Qi (energy) no longer has its motivational force and it is said to ‘stagnate’. In truth a lot of illnesses are related to stagnation of some form, but there are different degrees of stagnation which can affect our well-being. Since the spiritual/ mental/ emotional/ physical is a continuum, it is common for long-term emotions problems to start to take on a physical appearance too.
Acupuncture has the ability to move stagnation; in fact this is the most important mechanism behind acupuncture. As acupuncturists, we are looking to find blockages in the flow of Qi which is leading to poor well-being. Acupuncture points are like gates which can be stimulated to promote better energy flow. Qi flows to every cell in our body, however the points that are mapped on the ancient acupuncture meridian system are points which have the most profound effect on the overall flow of energy. There is over two thousand years of acupuncture history behind the meridian system.
Of course acupuncture isn’t the only method of moving energy, but it can be a powerful tool to help balance our emotional wellbeing.
Articles about Depression from the NEWS section
Article about alternative treatments (incl. acupuncture) for depression. Follow this link to Telegraph article
The British Acupuncture Council have compiled an interesting and balanced factsheet on depression and you can find it by following this link.
Difficulty in Sleeping
During an acupuncture consultation it is routine to ask about sleep and it never ceases to surprise me how many people do not have peaceful, restful sleep. Perhaps it is a sign of the times and the stressful society that we live in.
Adequate rest is essential for our well being as it allows time for the body to recuperate and revitalise ready for the following day. Not enough sleep can be a cause for future illness. There are many factors that can cause sleeping problems and I will mention the main ones here, hinging around the theory of Chinese Medicine.
There may be an obvious causative factor leading to poor sleep such as drinking too much coffee late at night or too much visual stimulation from video games or the TV. In these cases it is easy to rectify the situation. Muscular pain can also lead to sleeping problems if the pain is worse at night. In other cases the cause is not so obvious and a detailed consultation is needed to produce an accurate diagnosis.
The term ‘insomnia’ covers a number of different problems such as inability to fall asleep easily, waking up during the night, sleeping restlessly, waking up early in the morning and dream-disturbed sleep.
Excessive heat in the body can cause sleeping problems. Heat is said to ‘agitate the spirit – the ‘Shen’‘, in Chinese Medicine. We have all experienced this during hot days in summer, perhaps being stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway, or being in a crowded bus. During the night our ‘spirit’ or ‘Shen ‘ resides in the Blood of the Heart. Heat can disturb the ‘spirit’ and lead to insomnia. This heat can come from many sources such as the heat often associated with menopause, or the heat from a viral illness. Identifying the source of heat is the key to treatment.
(b) Deficiency of Heart Blood
This is a Chinese medicine diagnosis and needs a note of explanation. As mentioned above, the spirit is said to reside in the Heart Blood during the night. The Heart Blood acts as an ‘anchor’ for the spirit, to prevent it from wandering around at night. If the ‘anchor’ is not strong enough then the spirit is free to roam and this results in sleeping difficulties. In this case acupuncture aims to strengthen the Heart Blood and give the spirit a stable residence at night. This may sound confusing, but the Chinese have a very different way of looking at the body compared with ourselves in the West. Their knowledge is the accumulation of over 2000 years of observation and clinical application.
(c) Disturbed Shen
In the introduction I mentioned about excessive visual stimulation leading to sleeping problems. If our mind (the Shen – the same word which is used for ‘spirit’) is overactive then sleeping problems can occur. This can happen if our lives are full of mental activities & processes and we find it difficult to switch off at night. Our mind races and sleep does not come easily.
Sleep problems can also develop from shift work. I recently treated a patient who had difficulty sleeping after changing his job. He used to do shift work and then changed to a regular day job and that was when his sleeping difficulties started. After five acupuncture treatments he was back to a normal sleep pattern.
Excessive sleepiness during the day can be distressing, embarrassing, or even dangerous. Some individuals can fall asleep half way during a sentence and be completely unaware of this.
According to the theory of Chinese medicine, during night the Yin energy rises to our eyes and allows them to close. During the day Yang energy rises to our eyes to keep them open and our mind alert. Insomnia or excessive sleepiness occurs when there is an imbalance in the Yin and Yang going to the eyes. Acupuncture aims to regulate the Yin and Yang energies so that we are alert and awake during the day and are able to sleep during the night.
Many people wake up in the morning and do not feel refreshed. In the morning our ‘Yang’ energies are increasing and we should feel alert and be ready for activity. Despite sleeping well during the night many people feel ‘groggy’ in the morning. This is often caused by ‘Damp’ in our bodies.
‘Damp’ is a concept frequently used in Chinese medicine and there are many symptoms associated with ‘Damp’, depending on what part of our bodies is affected. We live in a Damp climate and a lot of our diet is ‘Damp’, and so it is only to be expected that people suffer from imbalances and illnesses characterised by ‘Dampness’. ‘Damp’ food refers to food that is difficult for our bodies to digest and so ‘clogs up’ our digestive system, or alternatively food that promotes the development of harmful bacteria in our digestive system which again clogs up our system.
Our sense organs need clear ‘Yang’ energy in order to function well. Our minds require clear ‘Yang’ energy so that our thought processes are clear and focused. A feeling of grogginess and drowsiness in the mornings can be caused by not enough clear Yang energy nourishing our minds and sense organs (ears, ears, nose, etc.). Dampness obstructs clear Yang and prevents it from reaching our minds, resulting in poor concentration and a ‘muzzy head’. There are other reasons for Dampness, but diet is the main one. Our dietary routines, e.g. regularity of eating, allowing time to eat properly, etc., are also very important.
Dream disturbed Sleep
It is important to differentiate between normal dreams, and dreams which are troublesome and indicate some kind of imbalance.
Dreaming which does not make the sleep restless, is not frightening, does not disturb the mind the morning after, and does not leave the person very tired in the morning, can be consider as normal.
‘Excessive dreaming’, or dreams with indicate imbalance may be defined as dreams which cause restless sleep or nightmares, resulting in the person feeling very tired the following morning.
Within Chinese medicine, the Mind (or Spirit) resides in the Blood, in particular the Heart Blood. In this sense, the Blood acts as an ‘anchor’ for the Mind to prevent it from wandering off. When the Heart Blood is weak, then there is no ‘anchor’ for the Mind and at night it can wander and cause excessive dreaming. The old classics of acupuncture described various types of unpleasant dreams such as nightmares, waking up screaming, sleepwalking and talking in one’s sleep. They related dreaming to the wandering of the ‘ethereal soul ‘ at night.
Although it is mainly the Heart organ that is involved with excessive dreams, other organs such as the Kidneys, Gall Bladder, or Stomach may also be involved. The content of the dream may also give some indication of where there is an imbalance, for example, dreams with crying and weeping would point to a Lung excess condition, since these are the emotions linked to the Lungs. Plunging into water and being scared would indicate a Kidney deficiency condition, and there are many others.
At the initial consultation, information is gathered to get a complete picture of what is causing the bad dreams and disturbed sleep. Treatment would normally be once weekly, perhaps more frequently if the dreams were particularly disturbing.