Modern day living is stressful. Financial problems, workplace stresses, relationships, commuting - even reading the daily news brings stress. But stress is not a modern phenomenon. The ancient Chinese no doubt had their fair share of problems. They too would have been affected by food shortages, money, work problems, marital disharmony and sickness. Stress is a part of life.
Stress causes many problems. Apart from a constant feeling of anxiety, uncertainty and worry. If it is severe, it can lead to insomnia, loss of appetite, overeating, digestive problems, headaches and gynaecological problems. In relationships it can lead to more arguments with family members. It can lead to self-destructive behaviour like over-drinking, smoking too much, drugs or general irritability towards others. Or it can turn inwards leading to depression.
According to the UK Office of National Statistics, a report by the Health and Safety Executive issued in 2013, stress was listed as a prevalent factor in 428,000 cases of work related illnesses causing a loss of 10.4 million days in 2011/12. Cases were particularly high among nursing and teaching professionals. But with the economic problems in recent years, financial stress has become a prevalent problem for everyone.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the emotions are seen as a cause of disease and are a key factor in stress. Stress causes an over-expression of the emotions in the human body which can impact the body negatively.
The five key emotions are joy, sadness, pensiveness or worry, anger and fear. Emotions are a part of healthy human life and the expression of them can be beneficial. If someone close to us dies, we should be sad. If we lose our job we should be a little upset and a little angry. This anger can propel us to re-evaluate our life and give us a kick to move our life forward again. However, everything should be in moderation. It is when an emotion is overly experienced, that it can lead to disease. If we are too sad for a period of years it can actually hinder us and stop us from moving on. If we are too angry for too long, the anger starts to lash out against others or worse turns inwards into depression or self loathing.
In Chinese theory, the various organs of the body correspond to various emotions. For example, the heart relates to joy, the lung relates to sadness or grief, the kidney relates to fear, the liver relates to anger and the spleen relates to pensiveness or worry. If the human body is exposed to a particular emotion excessively it can lead to an overstimulation of the related organ and ultimately lead to a weakness which can affect the rest of the body and the organs because in the human body everything is inter-related.
The emotions related to stress are typically anger and irritation (Liver), worry (spleen), depression (Liver and Spleen) and to a lesser degree â?? fear (kidney) and sadness (lung). In this way stress has the potential to affect the entire body system in Chinese medicine and it is up to the trained acupuncturist to decide which system is most affected and which emotion is most prominent and treat accordingly. However, by far the most active organ in stress is the Liver.
The ancient Chinese liked to use analogies to describe how the body works and one way was to define the organs as members of the government. The Heart being the most important was called the Emperor. The Liver is traditionally called the General of the organ system. And if you imagine the General of the armed forces, you can imagine a very strong official â?? one that keeps the Empire (the body) safe and stable. However, when the General is under pressure (perhaps by an attacking army) the General may well become short tempered and lash out at its subordinates. It may well order the farmers to stop growing food and take up arms so that no new food is grown. It may well bully all the ministers and advisors to stop their duties and bend their will to his own. At worse he may well plan a coup against the Emperor and take over the empire with a brutal dictatorship. This is an analogy, but metaphorically this is exactly what happens in the human body.
The Liver becomes over active. It is one of the most powerful organs in the body and it has the power to affect everything else. When stressed, it may well overexert itself on the digestive system (the spleen and stomach) causing digestive problems, diarrhoea, constipation gas or IBS. It may well overact on the lungs causing a worsening of conditions like asthma. The liver controls the gynaecological system in women along with the kidney and can cause painful or irregular periods. It can even stop fertility. It can affect the heart (which governs sleep) causing bad dreams and insomnia. The liver also sends energy upwards in the body causing headaches or migraine.
One reason that stressed people drink alcohol is that it has a depressive effect on the liver and helps calm it down although at the same time stimulating it in the long term. In this respect, although alcohol can help in the short term, it can make things worse and lead to addiction in the long term.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to calm the overactive Liver down by yourself and reclaim balance in your life allowing you to deal with the stress in your life with a level head.
One way would be to see an acupuncturist. By needling points on your body they can rebalance the organ system in your body. Acupuncture also helps put the body into a relaxed state allowing you the freedom to reflect more wisely on the stressful situation and allow you to deal with it on a more constructive level. People who have regular acupuncture treatment can find that their emotions start to become more stable and they find it easier to deal with stresses.
As well as acupuncture treatment, there are various ways to calm yourself down. One way to calm or quieten the General is to strengthen the Emperor. Give him more power â?? the General has to obey. Meditation strengthens the Heart. In this way mediation can be a potent way particularly if you meditate on the heart chakra energy field (right between the breast area).
The colour green is also associated with the liver and can help calm it down. This can be in the form of eating green leafy vegetables â?? cabbage, spinach, kale or going for regular walks in the park. Even having plants in the house can have a calming effect on the body.
The Liver is also related to the eyes in the human body. Our modern world tends to overuse the eyes and thereby over stimulate and overwork the Liver through looking at excess TV, internet, smart phones and computer work. Again closing our eyes with meditation and turning inwards can be beneficial
These are just small steps you can take, but even small changes can lead to small improvements in the long term. And we are all here for the long haul. For as long as humans are alive, we will be beset with various life stresses. The best we can do is to maintain a level mind as we deal with the worst that life can and often does throw at us.
About the author:
John Dixon is an acupuncturist practicing in London. His clinic is located in Angel, Islington, North London. John has over 5 years experience in acupuncture and practices a combination of Chinese and Japanese systems of acupuncture.
Acupuncture is helpful for managing and treating many conditions.
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