Emotional Healing In A Time of Crisis

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

We are living in unprecedented times in our world. We have just lived through a global pandemic of COVID-19 and the world we knew no longer exists. Anger and frustration are coming out in so many ways all over the world as people struggle with the new reality and many struggle to survive. 

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To me, it isn’t the physical challenges that the virus presents that worry me, it is the emotional state of our global population. In the US we see riots, campaigns to defund the police, racial tensions, destruction of property and businesses and unprecedented violence. No matter how many of us may want to politicize what is happening, I think it points to something much deeper that has been brewing for much longer than many people realize. People are angry. They are frustrated. Life is getting harder. People work more for less money. There is so much uncertainty about the future. Many have lost their businesses. Their jobs. Their abilities to support their families. People are exhausted and scared. And they see more and more corruption at every level of business and government - which only feeds the anger and frustration that a few profit at the expense of so many. 

 


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I can’t offer a solution to the problems we face as a global community, but I think that we need to be honest about what is happening and be able to express those feelings. We have a right to be angry, frustrated and afraid. And we need to give those feelings a place to go. There is so much “political correctness” that people these days feel that they can’t say anything for fear it will offend somebody. We need to be able to have honest discussions about what is REAL and TRUE. And yes, it might offend somebody. In the present climate, the truth seems to have become a dirty word. The truth might hurt someone’s feelings. The truth might not be what someone wants to hear. And this is part of the problem. Because the truth is what is going to save us. 

For most of my life and career, I have been very conscious of focussing on the good. The positive. Practising kindness. Being loving. Having compassion. But I don’t insulate my life and not let anything negative come in. That would be delusional. When you are healing, people come and they need those things. They are hurting so they need love, kindness, compassion and your positivity and light. Those are the things that start the healing process, and support it until the end. But now I see that we seem to be having a reality problem. Some people are unable or unwilling to accept what is happening in the world. I understand this, as often, the reality is dark. It’s hard. There are things that are difficult to accept. And they hurt. 

There have been a lot of difficult truths coming to the surface lately. And if you don’t know what I am talking about, then you aren’t paying attention. This has been causing a lot of pain and a lot of grief. The new reality, for many, is difficult to accept. 

Another theme I see that is contributing to a lot of pain is that there seems to be a conscious effort to divide us. Break us apart and make us fight with each other. This breeds fear, fear of the “other” and only compounds the feelings of grief, depression, anxiety and isolation that have exploded since this all began. They want you to feel that you are alone. But the truth is, that you are not alone. There are more than 7 billion of us on the planet. We are a global community, and we have the intelligence and creativity to solve any problem we may face. But we can’t solve problems when we are angry, sad and afraid. You cannot focus your energy on solving problems when you are fighting an enemy.

I have been thinking about how we might go about trying to heal from so many of the powerful emotions we are dealing with right now. Both ones that have been building up for years, and the ones that are a result of this new situation that we find ourselves in. Chinese Medicine is really unique in how it looks at our emotions and how important they are to our health and wellbeing. As many of you know, each of the emotions is associated with an organ or an organ pair and when that emotion is healthy and in balance, it is strengthening to the body and that organ in particular. But when that emotion is out of balance, in excess or unexpressed, it is depleting to the body and its respective organs, causing problems in all aspects of your life and health. Generally in our culture, we are not taught that emotions can make us sick, but I think that most of us instinctively know that this is true. How does your stomach feel when you worry? Or how about those headaches when you are angry and stressed? How does your heart feel when you are grieving?

The good news is that because the emotions are built into the system of Chinese Medicine, it also offers solutions and practices we can use to keep emotionally healthy. Each of the seasons, for example, offer us an opportunity to really work to clear old emotions we’ve been holding on to and balance and strengthen the system. I have been thinking that this wisdom is so needed right now. 

The emotions - things that hurt us, cause us grief or stir up anger can be an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. Why are we having these reactions to things that are happening? Why does one person respond to a situation in anger when another might feel grief?

Treating Emotions in the Real World

Helping us to manage the tsunami of emotions we are all feeling right now is the understanding that we must first become aware of the emotions, and then work to change not WHAT we are feeling but how we REACT to those feelings. Read that again. It's so simple, but it will likely change the way you think about how you may be feeling.

In my work with patients, we often start with simple awareness. Let's use an example.

If you are struggling with a particular emotion, let's say grief. Usually (but not always), the person is aware of the grief. The cause is the death of someone close to them, their loss is causing the grief. The lungs in Chinese Medicine are associated with grief, so there might be lung symptoms as well- shortness of breath, asthma, dizziness (not enough oxygen), coughing, etc. Their grief can literally be causing the lung symptoms because intense or excessive grief weakens the lungs' Qi. The person is describing how they are feeling, saying they feel consumed by their grief, out of breath, have no energy and are anxious and stressed because the grief is making it difficult to function because they still need to go to work and look after their young children. And this is it. The grief is a completely natural result of someone important in your life passing away. But the reaction is an increasing feeling of anxiety and panic because there is no space for the grief in their life because they have to keep going to work and looking after children.

So, we look at those feelings first - the anxiety and panic - and we figure out a way to help to manage them. Are you able to take some time off? Could the children go to stay with a grandparent for a few days? Can you take some time to allow yourself the space to grieve? Do you have someone you can talk to about everything you are feeling? All of these things will help release some of the pressure that can make these emotions so overwhelming. Just the acknowledgement begins the healing process. We start with the reaction - the anxiety because of the pressure to keep going normally while you are suffering - and work backwards to the grief itself.

When we get to the grief, there are a few ways that we can help reduce its intensity. We work to strengthen the lungs and build up their Qi, which very often helps lessen the grief's potency. We create a space for the grief to be felt, fully allowing those feelings to be expressed. In Chinese Medicine, the way emotions can be causes of disease is if they are repressed or unexpressed, leading to a stagnation in the body and eventual toxicity. Anyone who has a secret or something in their past they have been holding on to for years can tell you. It has an effect. Holding on to emotions isn't good for you, so finding the proper avenue for their expression is an important part of the healing process.

We are living in challenging times that are unprecedented in our history. Our struggles are multi-faceted right now. People are struggling to find their way in the new reality we face as a global community. The good news is that human beings have incredible intelligence, adaptability and resiliency. If we are able to stay positive, stick together and express what we are all feeling honestly, we can come out the other side of these difficult times stronger and with a new appreciation for everything good that still exists in this world.

If you need help working through what you are feeling right now or healing in general, I am here for you. My information is below.


Featured image photo by Mitchell Griest on Unsplash - Thank you!



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The Importance of Emotions in Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The emotions are an extremely important aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Emotional wellbeing is an integral part of health in the TCM model. Each emotion is associated with an organ, which, if out of balance will cause specific symptoms.  These are what the experienced acupuncturist or practitioner of TCM is looking for when you walk into their office with a complaint.

Emotions are of course a natural part of being human. Feeling joy, sadness and anger are all perfectly normal experiences we have in our day to day lives. It is when these emotions become excessive or are repressed and turned inward that they can become pathological and cause disease. The belief is that balancing the organ associated with the emotion will balance the emotion. Sometimes the organ is out of balance and produces the emotional imbalance. But sometimes the emotional imbalance can produce the organ imbalance. The difference to the practitioner is important only in preventing a recurrence of the problem. For example, if a person is experiencing extreme fits of anger, frustration, red eyes, problems sleeping, migraines and constipation, they are seen to be suffering from an imbalance of the Liver. This can be corrected with acupuncture and herbs. The liver returns to balance, the migraines disappear, sleeping improves and the bowels return to normal. But, if the patient is in a job he hates, with coworkers that make him angry and is constantly fighting with his wife, his anger will remain and the Liver imbalance will return. This is why during the diagnostic process, the practitioner asks many questions, and to the patient, it might seem like they have no bearing on the presenting condition. The job of the practitioner is to evaluate all aspects, not just the physical so that once the imbalance is corrected, the environment that created that imbalance no longer exists.

It is important to remember that cause and effect in TCM is not linear but circular. We usually think that something is the cause of an act, or effect such as - eating too much will give you a stomach ache. Eating too much is the cause and the stomach ache is the effect. This is linear thinking. In TCM linear cause and effect does occur when symptoms are present, for example - going outside without enough warm clothes on in the middle of winter will cause you to catch a cold, resulting in symptoms like a runny nose, achy muscles and a fever. These symptoms are the effect of the cold which was the cause. However, in some cases, the symptoms are not a result of such straightforward reasoning which is especially true when we are dealing with emotions.

One very common cause of emotional imbalance in TCM is repressed emotions. TCM is all about balance and flow. If emotions are not being expressed, they are being stuck which can lead to a blockage of the flow or stagnation, which in turn can lead to disease. How the disease manifests is completely individualized depending on many factors, and it is up to the practitioner to determine the “how”. Releasing emotions can heal disease. Even things that are considered extreme and long-standing stagnation in TCM like cancer. Diseases which, in the West, are seen as incurable.  Emotions that do not have avenues for expression and release can create disease and disharmony in the body manifesting as physical symptoms. So, it is very important to have a healthy emotional life, expressing your emotions freely and not allowing things to build up.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Here is a breakdown of the emotions, their related organs and some symptoms when an imbalance occurs...

HEART

Emotion - Joy
Emotion out of balance - Lack of enthusiasm and vitality, mental restlessness, depression, insomnia, despair, confusion, anxiety, fidgeting, easily startled
Organ Function - Regulates the heart and blood vessels, responsible for even and regular pulse, influences vitality and spirit. Connected to the tongue, complexion and arteries
Symptoms of organ imbalance - insomnia, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, excessive dreaming, poor memory and concentration, dizziness, spontaneous sweating

SPLEEN

Emotion - Worry, overthinking
Emotion out of balance - Dwelling or focusing too much on a particular topic, excessive mental work
Organ Function - Food digestion and nutrient absorption, the first step in the formation of Blood and Qi, holds blood in the vessels, connected to the muscles, mouth and lips, involved in thinking, studying and memory
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Tired, loss of appetite, mucous discharge, poor digestion, abdominal distension, loose stools or diarrhoea, weak muscles, pale lips, bruising easily, excessive menstrual blood flow, other bleeding disorders

LUNG

Emotion - Sadness
Emotion out of balance - Excessive sadness, grief, or detachment, uncontrolled crying
Organ Function - Respiration, controls sweat and body hair, creates energy (Qi) from the air and redistributes it throughout the body, works with Kidney to regulate the water metabolism, an important part of the immune system and helps protect the body from viruses and bacteria, provides moisture to the skin
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, catching colds easily, fever with chills, sore throat, runny nose, headache, asthma, chest oppression, pale complexion, dry skin

KIDNEYS

Emotion - Fear
Emotion out of balance - Fearful, no willpower, insecure, aloof, isolated
Organ Function - Responsible for reproduction, growth and development & maturation, connected with lungs in water metabolism and respiration, responsible for bones, teeth, hearing and head hair
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Frequent urination, urinary incontinence, vertigo, night sweats, dry mouth, poor short term memory, low back pain, sore or weak knees, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, hair that turns grey prematurely, hair loss and osteoporosis, lowered libido

LIVER

Emotion - Anger
Emotion out of balance - Explosive anger, resentment, frustration, irritability, bitterness, moodiness
Organ Function - Stores the blood, responsible for the smooth flow of Blood and Qi throughout the body, regulates the secretion of bile, connected with the tendons, nails and eyes
Symptoms of organ imbalance - chest distension, red face, bitter taste in the mouth dizziness, ringing in the ears, jaundice, menstrual problems (cramps, irregular or heavy periods), headaches, tendonitis, nausea, vomiting, sighing, breast tenderness, swelling and/or itching of the genitals, blurred vision, floaters, dry skin and hair

Here are examples of some combination patterns:

Heart & Kidney

If a patient is experiencing extreme mood swings between Joy (mania) and Fear (depression), it indicates an imbalance between the Heart (Joy) and Kidney (Fear). We would see symptoms such as insomnia, dream disturbed sleep, heart palpitations and dizziness.

Liver & Lung

If a patient is experiencing violent mood swings between Anger and Grief, an imbalance between the Liver and Lung is present with symptoms involving breathing problems, issues with bowel movements and waking between 1-5 am.

The way the TCM model views emotions is very specific. For example, there are many different types of depression. It depends on which organs are involved. Here are some examples:

Liver

If the depression is actually anger turned inward on itself, which is common with many women, the Liver is out of balance. Symptoms could include PMS symptoms, cramps during the period, vomiting and nausea.

Spleen

If obsessive thinking or worry characterizes the depression, we would suspect the spleen and look for symptoms such as decreased appetite, diarrhoea, fatigue, heavy bleeding with the periods, and bruising easily.

Kidney

Sometimes the depression comes with panic attacks (Fear). In this case, we would suspect the Kidneys.  We would look for urinary changes (usually an increase in frequency), low back pain and weakness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), poor appetite and diarrhoea.

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Emotions are not the only factor contributing to disease. Another thing to consider is lifestyle. It is difficult to always avoid getting cold, having an umbrella for when it might rain, getting enough sleep and eating properly. We live in a fast-paced world full of stresses on both our minds and our bodies. We always seem to be rushing and there never seems to be enough time. And although sometimes we can’t help getting sick or feeling a little under the weather, it is important to remember that the cause of an imbalance may be occurring from events in your life. There is no needle for a bad relationship, stressful job or frustrating coworker. A practitioner can help you to deal with the stress in your life that may be causing the imbalance, but we can’t remove the stress. Only you can do that. Sometimes we feel that we are unable to change the circumstances that are causing stresses in our lives, but a practitioner can help you to deal with that stress by advising on how to eat healthily (eating with the seasons, and the incorporation of the 5 flavours - Sour, Salty, Spicy, Bitter, Sweet), and how to incorporate exercise and meditation techniques such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong into your life. The TCM practitioner is trained in how to live or the “Tao” (which comes from Taoist philosophy) helping both to rebalance a patient and educate him on how to retain that balance by living a healthy balanced life.

We are all living full, busy lives. Imbalance is everywhere, and staying healthy isn’t easy. I have found that in my practice people often feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I always suggest that they be kind and gentle with themselves, and to try to do at least one nice thing for themselves every day, as our happiness is so important for our health. We are living in a time when we are dealing with so much, so it is important to take the time to do things for yourself like have a bath, read a book, spend time with your children, or walk outside in nature. Whatever brings you happiness and makes you feel good. It is these small things that are the keys to wellness. Life is the journey we all share, and if we live it with mindfulness and wisdom, that journey will always lead to balance and happiness.

Photo by Blaise Vonlanthen on Unsplash

Lovely featured image photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash


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