It is only recently that Western medicine has started to acknowledge the importance of emotions in our general health. Numerous studies have shown that negative feelings such as anger, bitterness or even stress, constantly stimulate our sympathetic nervous system. Unfortunately, over a long period this abnormal pattern, not only weakens our immune system but produces deep changes in the body’s internal structure leading to serious disease in the future
This concept of synergy between the body mind and the spirit has been a fundamental aspect of Oriental medicine since its origin centuries ago. This means that an imbalance in a specific emotion will negatively affect the organ it is related to. In the reverse, if an organ is in disharmony over a long period of time, a specific emotional dysfunction will result.
In Traditional Chinese medicine, the state of mind of the patient is considered a critical factor in pathology. Obviously, the expression of emotions is a normal human response, but when it is repressed, excessive or even prolonged over a long period of time, the body will be affected and illnesses or disorders will result.
In this Oriental medical framework, it is acknowledged that five specific emotions have a deep effect on our health, each one being associated with one of our main organs. Anger is associated with the liver, joy with the heart, overthinking with the spleen, grief with the lung, and fear with the kidneys. An interesting example is Joy, which is related to the heart. It is, of course, a very positive emotion, but one can easily imagine an excess of joy being detrimental to our health.
Let’s imagine, what would happen to our body if we suddenly discovered that we had won the lottery. The extreme sudden level of excitement would quickly result in a jump in blood pressure, causing, palpitations, insomnia, and even in some extreme reported cases a heart attack. We can also see how the search for extreme joy can easily lead to a craving for constant excitement, leading the individual to seek more and more intense forms of stimulations. Such as extreme sports, or drug addictions.
In the case of anger, which is related to the Liver, the expression of sudden anger has the effect of speeding up the circulation of blood, which creates heat affecting the blood stored in the liver. Also, the consequences of long-term anger or stress would impair the liver’s ability to move the Qi (energy) around the body The stagnation of this energy would affect the area where it is localized resulting in symptoms such as headaches, neck tension, indigestion or the case of women, irregular or painful periods.
An excess of thinking, or reflection, as well as, the absorption of new information and concepts is associated with the spleen. It is also connected with the expression of sympathy and empathy. In a case of disharmony, we would see a person suffering from self-pity, the pathological victim mentality who thinks the whole world is against them. Also, since it is responsible with the processing of ideas, an imbalance could result in a person being excessively focused, and obsessed on one thought
On the other extreme, we could see someone who is unable to focus on one topic and therefore never seems to complete any task undertaken
As a consequence, the flow of Qi in the digestive system would be reduced, resulting in symptoms of bloating, tiredness, or loose bowels.
The fourth emotion, which is grief is related to the Lungs.We are all familiar with the posture of a sad person: the head is down; the eyes are looking at the ground, while the back is bent forward and the chest is depressed. This is the image of somebody who is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. One can easily imagine how over a period of time, such a stance would decrease the lung’s ability to function. Therefore long-term expression of grief or sadness will weaken the Lungs energy. This will, in turn, affect our breathing, and the voice will change, which can easily be observed when people are sobbing.
Our last emotion which is fear, has an emotional impact on the kidneys, causing its Qi to descend, this affects the urinary system causing incontinence, but it affects the lower limbs especially the knees. Somebody scared will often be described as having wobbly knees. Also due to a weakness in the kidney’s energy, the perception of fear in the individual can become excessive leading to irrational behaviors, such as phobias or terror.
The complexity of the human brain is one of the wonders of nature, but despite centuries of studies, our understanding of individual behavior still remains largely fragmented. In that respect, Oriental medicine can provide a different understanding of the way we think which can only be beneficial to all of us.
Olivier Lejus MHSc., BHSc is a registered acupuncturist practicing in Sydney.