Mental health and how to treat it is a complex issue and there is no “one way fixes all approach” as it affects everyone so differently. By definition, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Throughout our lifetime we will go through situations and experiences where our mental health is affected. This doesn’t mean we are affected by it our entire lives, just through that experience. We all have the capability to suffer from mental health issues just as much as we have the ability to work through them and find a balance.
In today’s day and age prescription drugs are incredibly over prescribed as a treatment plan for mental health issues, among many other things, but there are lots of all natural options. Like exercise, acupuncture, meditation, relaxation techniques and writing to help bring your body back to balance. The one we are going to discuss today is Acupuncture. Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice that entails stimulating certain points on the body, most often with a needle penetrating the skin. How does inserting needles into the skin help your mental health? Mental health in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM)is viewed very differently than in Western Medicine. TCM sees mental health as an imbalance in the body’s energy (qi). Imbalances can happen in certain “organs” or “organ energy pathways” - a disturbance is almost always a blockage, an excess or deficiency in one or more of these energetic pathways that function to communicate and regulate balance and well being in the body.
In terms of mental health, TCM views each “organ system” to have a related emotion that rules that organ/pathway. This can be a good thing when qi is flowing smoothly but imbalance or obstruction in flow can cause issues. Imbalances are almost always accosted with an excess in emotion.
In TCM the:
Joy/Anxiety is related to the Heart
Motivation/Anger/Frustration/Depression is related to the Liver
Drive/Grief is related to the Lung
Willpower / Fear is related to the Kidneys
Thinking/ Focusing/ Over-worry is related to the Spleen
Let me give you some examples to help you relate:
A person who has a lot of drive, works hard, stays up late and/or is effected by stressors such as deadlines has a tendency to exhaust there “liver” energy. This can lead to an imbalance and stagnation of energy in that pathway, leading to symptoms like inability to cope with stressful situations well, frustration, lack of motivation, anger, short temperedness, neck and upper back tension, temporal headaches and depression. In a case like this a TCMD would work with herbal medicine and acupuncture to strengthen the Liver energy to better cope with external stressors, smoothen and reopen blocked energy channels that were causing tension and pain and calm the mind and spirit.
Another common pattern seen in clinic is when a patient is experiencing an abundance of external excitement or overwhelm. Good or bad (joy or stress), this can lead to an imbalance in the Heart pathway. Energy can get stuck and turn to fire leading to symptoms such as anxiety, over joy, a tight sensation in the chest/throat, heart palpitations, easily startled, difficulty falling asleep and over excitement. In this case a TCMD would work with herbal medicine, acupuncture and possible dietary recommendations to help cool the “fire”. Relax the body, spread stuck energy, calm the mind, promote sleep and enhance the individuals ability to deal with external stimuli.
Let’s focus on the liver and see if we can help you understand the relationship of Qi, emotions and the body. The liver is responsible for managing the smooth flow of blood and Qi—and emotion—throughout our bodies, it’s easy to see that chronic anger or stress will, sooner or later, take its toll on the health of the Liver and our health overall. Symptoms such as tendonitis, migraines, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive problems, changes in vision, and menstrual difficulties can be signals from our bodies of Liver function imbalance.
Mental health in TCM is a BIG chapter, as there is a multitude of different combinations that can arise and form patterns unique to each patient. This is also why TCM can be effective in supporting and treating mental health issues. A TCMD will always tailor the treatment specific to that patients specific unique pattern rather than a one pill fits all solution. Always targeting the root cause rather than just the symptoms