Your emotions are considered to be a primary cause of ill health in Chinese medicine. In fact, the Chinese say that emotions are the cause of a hundred diseases. You know this is true when a stressful time in your life led to chronic insomnia, or a major loss gave way to depression. However, in Chinese medicine, your emotional makeup is more nuanced and closely tied to the health of your organ systems. In fact, each of the organ systems has a very important emotional component.
Your Emotional Heart
You know that your Heart is an emotional organ—it can soar, be broken, or feel grateful to its very depths. This is also the case in Chinese medicine, in which your Heart is considered to be the home to your emotions, as well as cognition and memory. While your Heart is responsible for circulating blood, its equally important job is to govern your overall emotional health.
Emotional upsets may affect any of the other organ systems, but the Heart is always affected to some extent when things that are emotional arise. Each of the organ systems in Chinese medicine are associated with a single emotion, and the Heart’s emotion is joy. However, when your Heart is overwhelmed, that joy can turn into mania.
Common symptoms that might suggest that your Heart is out of balance include palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia. When your Heart is in balance, joyfulness and connection with others and the divine reign.
Worry and Your Spleen
In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is paired with the Stomach as the organ systems of digestion. The Spleen’s job is to sift and sort the food you eat; keep what is helpful and nutritious and get rid of what you don’t need.
This choosing and eliminating is mirrored in the emotion most closely related to the Spleen, which is that of worry. Worrying is the inability to process your thoughts—essentially, you’re unable to sort through the ideas that are useful and let go of the rest. This is rumination; chewing an idea over and over, but unable to digest it and move on. Over time, excessive worry can also become anxiety.
Symptoms beyond worry that suggest your Spleen may need some attention include digestive issues of any kind, poor energy, and something called dampness; your body’s inability to metabolize fluids. Dampness often shows up in your body as edema (water swelling), moist skin conditions, joint pain that is worse in the damp weather, and an overall feeling of heaviness.
Your Lungs and Boundaries
The emotion most closely associated with your Lungs is grief. The sound of crying comes from your Lungs, and in the clinic I will always include points to treat the Lungs for any patient who is experiencing the grief from a profound loss.
Your Lungs are also considered to be the most exterior of your internal organs. Think about it: with every breath that you take, you are inhaling the outside world. As such, your Lungs are also tasked with guarding the exterior of your body, which physically translates into immunity. A strong Lung system almost always means that your immunity is also strong.
Strong Lungs are important in fighting off outside pathogens on a physical level, such as colds, flu, and allergens. However, strong Lungs are also needed in order to fight off outside “pathogens” on an emotional level in the form of toxic people and harmful ideas. It’s fair to say that your Chinese Lungs play a role in your ability to set strong boundaries.
Kidneys at the Deepest Level
While your Lungs are considered to be the most exterior of your organs, your Kidneys are the deepest. Like seeds or beans that hold the potential of an entire plant, your Kidney system is the keeper of your potential for health and governs the constitution of your entire body. Growth, maturity, fertility, how you will age, and your overall health is governed by your Kidney system.
On an emotional level, your Kidney system is associated with fear. However, this is not fear that comes from a noise in the dark or a near miss in your car, but rather fear that shakes you to your core. Some examples include fear from shocking events, trauma that causes Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD), and even the fear that comes from chronic, unrelenting stress.
Because your Kidneys encompass a wide range of health issues, symptoms of a Kidney imbalance can be far-reaching. In general, weakness or achiness in your lower back and/or knees is a hallmark symptom, however feeling hot at night, feeling cold, bone problems, hair loss, fluid imbalances (dryness or edema), infertility, and premature aging all could be signs that your Kidney needs some attention.
Your Liver, Stagnation, and Anger
Your Chinese Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of everything—your blood in the vessels, food in your digestive tract, and even your emotions. A basic concept of Chinese medicine is that you need to have enough energy to fuel all of your bodily functions, and that energy has to flow smoothly.
When life is good, your emotions flow smoothly, however when things go wrong your Liver stagnates from the frustration, stress, and anger that you feel from being thwarted. The emotion most closely associated with your Liver is that of anger—the feeling of being stopped, stuck, blocked, and unfulfilled. The greater the difference between the life that you are living and the life that you would like to have, the greater the possibility for feeling obstructed and for your Liver to stagnate.
Symptoms of Liver imbalance include pain under your ribs, irritability, a sensation of heat in your upper body, migraines, and depression. One of the most common causes of Liver stagnation is stress, which over time can create flushing, sweats, digestive issues, and even poor energy and fatigue.
Cindy Chamberlain is an acupuncturist in Overland Park, KS and the founder of Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC. She is licensed in Kansas and Missouri and has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine since 1996.