Anxiety & Depression

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Chinese medicine acupuncture has shown to be an effective treatment in anxiety & depression disorders. It is common for these disorders to accompany eating disorders, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can also co-exist with illnesses such as cancer or heart disease.

Common Types of Anxiety

Panic Disorder – Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying. Rescue Remedy can be purchased at any good health food store to be used for acute panic attacks until the tonic herbs are able to affect the root organ level imbalances.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control. This is most commonly associated with an Earth Element imbalance.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as rape or other criminal assault, war, child abuse, natural or human-caused disasters, or crashes. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression, and feeling angry, irritable or distracted and being easily startled are common. Family members of victims can also develop this disorder. Auricular acupuncture therapy (ear acupuncture) is quite effective at resolving PTSD.

Phobias – Two major types of phobias are social phobia and specific phobia. People with social phobia have an overwhelming and disabling fear of scrutiny, embarrassment, or humiliation in social situations, which leads to avoidance of many potentially pleasurable and meaningful activities. People with specific phobia experience extreme, disabling, and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives unnecessarily.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Constant, exaggerated worrisome thoughts and tension about everyday routine life events and activities, lasting at least six months. Almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it; accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache, or nausea.

Because true anxiety disorder is often rooted in Kidney Deficiency according to Chinese medicine, it is not typically a quick fix. If it were a simple matter of blocked energy that sometimes occurs with pain syndromes, or an exterior pathogenic invasion such as a cold or upset stomach, herbs might have a quick healing potential as they often do with acute conditions; however, it takes time to rebuild Kidney energy and vitality once it is depleted. You will want to devote at least 6-8 months utilizing herbal therapy and meditation to fully address anxiety naturally.

Anxiety and Traditional Chinese Medicine

How Chinese Medicine Addresses Anxiety

There is not one set treatment for anxiety according to TCM. By differentiating the many types of anxiety possible, Chinese medicine becomes very effective at addressing all types of anxiety along with other illnesses or imbalances. These are the most common imbalances responsible for anxiety:

Kidney Deficiency and Anxiety

Kidney Deficiency is most common with panic disorder and phobias. Fear is related to the Water Element and Kidney function in Chinese medicine. Panic disorder is often accompanied by repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms may include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Digestive distress
  • Fear of dying

Phobias are typically based on irrational fears of specific situations.

Kidney – Spleen Imbalances and Anxiety

The Spleen system is associated with the following indications:

  • Anxiety with digestive problems
  • Worry
  • Obsessive thoughts

OCD involves repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors; anxiety that is associated with excessive worry or OCD symptoms would relate to Spleen Qi Deficiency.

Kidney – Lung Imbalances and Anxiety

The Lung system is related to self esteem in the ability to maintain positive personal boundaries. In cases of PTSD, those personal boundaries have often been assaulted and broken in the most traumatic way, especially in cases of rape, criminal assault, and child abuse. After experiencing natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or war, people are often struck with a persisting feeling of loss and grief that they cannot break through. Anxiety related to this pattern would be considered a Metal Element disorder and may include the following symptoms:

  • The fear of dying
  • Unresolved Grief
  • Regular crying fits

Kidney-Liver Imbalances and Anxiety

Anxiety that is a result of chronic stress is addressed with herbs that soothe the Liver. The Liver system is related to anger, frustration, and feelings of being constrained and would include symptoms such as:

  • Feeling stuck
  • Stress induced anxiety
  • Anxiety with depression

In Chinese medicine, depression is often seen as anger turned inward. Over time, anxiety disorders will affect the Qi of the Liver causing Stagnation according to Chinese medicine.

It is normal to feel anxious before a significant event such as an exam, public speaking, or first date; however, anxiety disorders that dominate people’s lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear are a clear sign of imbalance and disease according to Chinese medicine. It is always better to start herbal therapy earlier, and not wait until the condition has become chronic in nature, with unremitting episodes, growing progressively worse. However, even if the condition has been developing over a number of years, Chinese tonic herbal therapy can address anxiety, it will just take longer than if you had caught it early on.

In Chinese medicine, fear relates to the Water Element and the Kidney energetic organ system. Each of the organs is assigned an emotion and the Heart ‘houses the mind’ in Chinese medicine; it is the origin at the center of all emotions. The Spleen is related to obsessing and over thinking; the Kidney is related to fear and phobias; the Lung is related to grief, self esteem, and the inability to let go; the Liver is related to anger, frustration and feeling stuck. Imbalances in any or all of the energetic organ systems can be part of the imbalance depending on how anxiety manifests in a particular individual. Kidney Deficiency is almost always a core issue with anxiety. Consider Yin Valley formula.

Anxiety is a normal response to life stresses unless it becomes a chronic illness that fill people’s lives with overwhelming thoughts and fear that are chronic, unremitting, and can grow progressively worse. Tormented by panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks of traumatic events, nightmares, or countless frightening physical symptoms, some people with anxiety disorders even become housebound.

Anxiety and Western Medicine

Anxiety disorders, as a group, are the most common mental illness in the world. Children and adolescents can also develop anxiety disorders. Western medical treatments help many people with anxiety disorders and often combine medication and specific types of psychotherapy. A number of medications that were originally approved for treating depression have been found to be effective for anxiety disorders as well. Some of the newest of these antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Other anti-anxiety medications include groups of drugs called benzodiazepines and beta-blockers. If one medication is not effective, others are often tried. New medications are currently under development to treat anxiety symptoms.

People often turn to herbal therapy to avoid the many side effects that accompany such medications. While the medicines are important in stabilizing the emotions of those who are non-functioning, many feel that the medicines change their personalities and suppress their every day emotions and feelings.

Two clinically proven effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders are behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several techniques to stop unwanted behaviors. In addition to the behavioral therapy techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to understand and change their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety.

Depression and TCM

Addressing Depression with Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, depression can be an expression of an imbalance that can be related to a number of different patterns. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) holds theories that interconnect the body and the mind, and a diagnosis cannot be accurate for any bodily disease without taking in to consideration the emotional state of a person. Likewise, emotional disorders such as depression will often relate to physical imbalances or diseases when being diagnosed; Chinese medicine is affective at bringing the body-mind-spirit back in to balance, thus is able to address depression with naturally safe modalities that resolve the root imbalances rather than suppressing emotions.

Some of the more common TCM patterns seen in depression:

Depression Related to Liver Qi Stagnation – Frustration
Depression related to Liver Qi Stagnation is the most common type of depression seen in Western culture. The Liver is of the Wood Element and helps to keep us flexible, like the bow of a tree, and able to weather the winds of life’s changes and challenges. The negative emotions associated with the Wood Element are anger, frustration, and ‘feeling stuck’; the positive attributes are the ability to have a a plan or vision for our life, and the motivation to actualize the vision.

Depression due to Liver Qi Stagnation is likely to present with an immobile feeling of frustration due to the inability to navigate the inevitable stresses of life with a purposeful drive. This type of depression is often seen as anger turned inward, and with self dissatisfaction due to the inability to deal with life’s disappointments.

Depression Related to Spleen Qi Deficiency – Worry

Depression associated with Spleen Qi Deficiency would likely manifest as extreme
worry, with a propensity for patients to overeat or completely lose their appetite when feeling down. An innate feeling of disconnect of natural grounding to the Earth or feelings of not being adequately emotionally nourished would also be indications of an Earth Element imbalance.

Depression Related to Kidney Deficiency – Anxiety

Mild cases of Kidney Deficient type depression would involve depression with anxiety and panic attacks. However, depression related to Kidney Deficiency can be the most distressing types of depression and is often referred to the “dark night of the soul”. Typically, severe bouts of deep depression would be experienced without any obvious cause for the emotional plunge. The Kidney energy is closely associated with Essence (Jing – DNA), and a history of familial emotional disorders are likely. Those suffering from Kidney Deficiency induced depression are more likely to commit suicide than the other types of depression. This severe of a condition should be addressed with a local health care professional such as a licensed acupuncturist and mental health counsel. Look to Yin Valley formula.

Depression Related to Metal Element Imbalances – Sadness
Depression relating to a Metal Element Imbalance is typically associated with sadness, grief, and loss. With the loss of a loved one there is a therapeutic process of grieving; however, there are also feelings of loss and grief with a business failure or divorce. Sadness and grief are normal during these times, and only becomes a clinical imbalance in TCM when the patient is unable to pass through the seven stages of grief, instead becoming emotionally stuck for a long period of time. Some people turn to anti-depressants in the throes of grief. Unfortunately, this can prevent working through the grief process, and can result in a chronic grief-based depression.

The ability to maintain self esteem and positive personal boundaries is also an attribute of the Metal Element. Most of us have a deep concern over the state of the environment, the threat of terrorism, and ongoing conflicts throughout the world; however, when this deep concern turns to depression over world events, it would signify an inability to draw personal boundaries and a clear sense of where the self ends and the world begins.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD is also an indication of a Metal imbalance. Our vibrant energy of summer is naturally supposed to waine in the fall as we turn our energy and focus inward for the winter season according to Chinese medicine. Those already suffering from imbalances associated with depression in TCM may find that this natural state of depressed energy emphasises their feelings of depression.

Chinese Medicine and Depression

Patients are often surprised to find that acupuncture and Chinese herbs are quite affective at addressing depression and other emotional issues, as they perceive acupuncture as only addressing physical maladies. In reality, Chinese medicine is a mind/body healing modality and is commonly used to enhance the mood and lift depression. It typically takes 4-6 months to help patients wean off of anti-depressants using Chinese medicine and should be done with the guidance of the prescribing physician.

In a clinical setting patients are often taking antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, and Wellbutrin. Chinese herbs may be an alternative to psychiatric drugs, but the more impressive fact is that Chinese medicine addresses root imbalances that can eliminate the need for any medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a holistic medicine; so it can comprehensively treat conditions with both physical and mental symptoms.

Causes of Depression

Depression can have many causes in both Chinese medicine and western medicine. Not all types of depression can be helped by antidepressants, but Chinese medicine does have treatment plans to address all types of depression. Also, if your self-esteem is intact, your mood does not vary during the day, and you are not impaired socially, your depression may have a physical cause. In either case, acupuncture and herbal therapy has been known to help patients experiencing signs of depression.

Some physical-biomedical causes of depression are: chronic pain, chronic fatigue, normal grief, vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, folate deficiency, amenia, viral disease, connective tissue-collagen disorders (arthritis), an organic brain disorder, drug side-effects, cancer, and endocrine abnormalities. Chinese medicine can enhance the health of anyone with any of these conditions.

Psychiatric Drug Therapy vs. Chinese Herbs

Controlling depression with pharmaceuticals usually requires weeks or months of experimentation with various drugs at different dosages. During this experimentation, the patient experiences physical and mental side-effects which can range from the annoying to the unbearable. Chinese  medicine acupuncture does not cause measurable side-effects and so may ultimately be preferable to psychiatric medications.

However, there are many grave situations where psychiatric pharmaceuticals are essential, and not taking them can endanger the well-being, or even the life of the patient. More and more doctors are now working to minimize the amount of pharmaceuticals taken by each patient, and some are even working with acupuncturists to utilize acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to slowly take the patient off of drugs and cure the root problem. Patients should never stop medication without the guidance of all practitioners involved.