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TCM for Stress and Depression

by Dr. Hong Chen (over 20 yrs experienced)

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Theory, the human body responds to seven kinds of emotions or moods: joy, anger, worry/anxiety, thoughts, sadness, fear, terror. These represent the various responses of the human body to events and environment. When emotions or moods are stimulated suddenly and severely, the body's internal balance can be impaired, causing an imbalance of Yin and Yang, discord between Chi (energy) and blood , blockage of meridians, and can lead to malfunction of the body's organs.

Letha Hadady, explains further in her book Asian Health Secrets (Three Rivers Press; 1998): "Each of the Five Elements is said to contain a spirit that provides an emotion. Happiness comes from the heart, anger from the liver, obsession from the spleen, anxiety from the lungs, and fear from the kidneys. When an element is troubled, its associated emotion can surface to announce an imbalance."

Furthermore, Chinese medical professionals have observed that when stress and depression are present there may also be damage to the heart, liver, and spleen. Therefore, our objective is to strengthen and balance the functions of these organs, and restore balance to the body. This in turn will cause the release of stress and depression and cure relevant problems.

In Trasitional Chinese medicine, Stress is defined as any kind of imbalance in the body that occurs in response to its environment. While low levels of stress can be stimulating, excessive stress can lead to psychological pressure, manifesting as insomnia, fatigue, and headaches. Uncontrolled stress can develop into depression, creating low self-esteem, moodiness, lack of interest in life, sadness, and feelings of anxiety. In TCM, we treat the meridians (energy lines) to cure stress and depression safely and effectively.

Cause of Stress and Depression

There are four primary psychological factors that contribute to stress, leading to depression:

  1. The North American lifestyle - people in North America work hard, frequently work overtime, have tight schedules of deadlines; and may frequently have to drive long distances to work.
  2. Job loss and money - when a job is lost, there are still mortgage payments to meet, and bills to be paid.
  3. Family or personal problems - disputes arise between couples or lovers, parents and children.
  4. Loss of a loved one.

On the other hand, a primary physical factor that can create anger and stress is blockage in the liver meridian. In fact, symptoms such as severe mood swings or angry outbursts are a strong indicator that the liver is congested. By clearing liver Chi, the patient often experiences a significant reduction in symptoms of anger-related stress. And since depression can be the result of suppressed anger, clearing the liver can have a positive influence on depressive tendencies as well.

Acupuncture for Stress                                                                                                  

According to the TCM meridian theory, the Pang Guang meridian is an energy pathway situated on both sides of the spine, from which vital energy of related organs is imported / exported, via acu-points, and then concentrated and circulated along meridians to provide nutrition to various organs. If some acu-points along this meridian are blocked or Chi (energy) is stagnated, the related organs will be affected and problems will arise.

Some of the people who come to my clinic do not like the idea having needles stuck into their body. Therefore, we also use acupressure instead to stimulate affected acu-points.

Whether needles or acupressure is used, the result is the same. The body's healing response (or auto-immunity system) is stimulated and enhanced, strengthening the body's self-harmony and balance.

Acu-points near the Du Mai meridian, in which lots of Yan Chi (vital energy) is concentrated, can be stimulated to flow through the use of acupuncture or acupressure. Supplementary acu-points, whose function is to calm nerves, improve sleep, bestow peace of mind, clear the head and remove stagnated liver Chi, will also be stimulated whenever necessary.

Herbs for Stress

To complement these treatments, TCM also uses herbs to enhance the life force of the body and help it reach balance. Then there are patent (over-the-counter) herbal pills, such as Ginkgo Biloba, which help bring relief from stress and depression. Ginkgo Biloba is an herb which improves brain function and stregthens the nervous system.

Letha Hadady explains that stress can sometimes cause "bilious" tendencies in people, described as energy that is hot and stuck, leading to insomnia, headackes, and rashes: "bile-type persons tend to overheat, but they need cooling brain and nerve tonics, not sedatives. One excellent remedy is gotu kola, which cools and clears the mind. Gotu Kola (in Chinese - man t'ien hsing) is a rejuvenative nervine recommended for nervous disorders including epilepsy, senility, and premature aging. As a brain tonic, it is said to aid intelligence and memory. It is strengthens adrenal glands while cleansing the blood to treat skin impurities. It is an aid for meditation that is said to balance the two sides of the brain. It is particularly helpful for stressed out city folk who feel as though they're juggling both sides of the brain"

Because each person's needs are unique, all herbs should be used carefully and under the supervision of experienced professionals.

Shiatsu and Qi Gong

Two other therapies used at my clinic to relieve stress and depression are Shiatsu and Qi Gong. Shiatsu is a form of massage theray involveing the stimulation of the body's meridians; it works to relieve muscle tension, soothe frazzled nerves, and stimulate circulation of Chi. And Qi Gong is a specialized form of movement energy therapy with many beneficial health effects.

These two therapies, or a combination of them, are effective in clearing meridian blockages and promoting circulationg of Chi energy and blood, balancing Yin Yan and, at the same time, improving and strengthening the organs to which they relate (heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, etc.) As a result, the body's ability to resist disease through immune system stimulation is enhanced. In the process, the symptoms of stress and depression can be relieved.

Case Histories

  1. Lawyer Helen, 48, was in a high pressure job. She had suffered from stress for three years. Her insomnia let her sleep for only three hours a night. She was unable to concentrate on work, had migraines, and was constantly tired. Further, she and her husband were arguing a lot. She came to my clinic, where I took the pulse of her various organs and meridians, and examined her tongue to help diagnosis. For Helen's treatment, I used both acupressure and herbs including Wild Jujube Seed, Chinese Senega Root and Tuckahoe. These herbs can calm the nerves, promote sleep, and restore peace of mind, promote clear headedness, and remove stagnation of the liver Chi. She responded well. Her symptoms improved, and she began sleeping seven hours a night, with fewer migraines. She also felt better and had more energy. After six sessions, her stress and insomnia were cured, she sleeps 8 to 9 hours nightly, and the migraines have disappeared. Her energy level is high with no trace of fatigue.
  2. Michael, 35, a computer programmer, told me he had been suffering from depression for five years, had no interest in anything, could not concentrate on his work, and felt constantly fatigued. Although he slept six hours a night, they were filled with dreams. I treated him with acupressure therapy along both sides of his spine on meridian acu-points around the Pang Guang meridians. From the first treatment his depression started to lift; after his second session, his other symptoms had improved. He was able for concentrate on work and regained an intereast in life. He was also sleeping eight hours a night with fewer dreams, and his energy levels were sustained. After four sessions his depression was gone and he felt really energized.

As these case histories demonstrate, Chinese Traditional Medicine, using acupuncture / acupression, along with Chinese herbs, and allied with Shiatsu and Qi Gong, plus an exercise program, are effective therapies to relieve stress and depression. However, it is important to consult a qualified practitioner knowledgeable in the use of herbs, to undertake a specific program geared to your unique physiology.

Note: this article has been published on July/Augest 1999, issue of Vitality magazine. For more information please contact Dr. Hong Chen at Chen Acupuncture Herbs Shiatsu Centre, 33 Lowbank (Steeles. E/ Bestview(between bayview and Leslie) /Harrington/Lowbank). Tel: 416 221-9074


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