Chinese Medicine’s View of Stress

Emotions key to our well-being

    A pleasant mood brings serenity and balances Qi. (Patrick Lin/AFP/Getty Images)

    In today’s society, people have to face stress. A certain amount of stress is helpful, but extreme physical and mental stress leads to health problems. 

    According to Chinese medicine, people have seven kinds of emotions: happiness, panic, anger, worry, loneliness, grief, and fear. Under normal circumstances, these moods do not cause illness. However, excess emotions—both positive and negative—cause changes to the way our Qi (vital energy) moves throughout the body, leading to bodily discomfort. 

    Thus Chinese medicine believes that the true key to health is to keep the psychological and physiological aspects balanced at all times. A moderately pleasant mood will balance the Qi and the blood. Excessive emotions, however, will affect the internal organs, resulting in the chaotic Qi that eventually leads to disease. 

    Chinese medicine has these maxims: “Excessive happiness leads to loss of Qi,” and “Excessive happiness hurts the heart.”

    When people are excessively happy, Chinese medicine finds that their heart Qi slackens, their minds become disordered, and palpitations, insomnia, mental imbalances appear. Excessive happiness can also cause people to laugh excessively and move aimlessly.

    When people are startled, the heart Qi becomes disordered, resulting in panic, palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, and even mental disorders. This state is called “panic leads to qi chaos.” 

    When people are angry, they become impatient, have a headache and red face, and may even faint. This can affect the spleen and the stomach, giving rise to symptoms such as vomiting and loss of appetite. Chinese medicine describes this state as “anger leads the Qi up,” and “anger leads to liver injury.”

    With excessive grief, people will have a low voice and be unable to speak with strength, be depressed, have chest tightness, and have shortness of breath, which is described in these ways: “Sadness leads to Qi disappearance,” “Worry leads to gloomy Qi,” and “Sadness hurts the lungs.” 

    With excessive fear, people will be pale and dizzy or even collapse. Some will have urinary incontinence. This state is called “fear leads Qi downward,” and “fear hurts the kidneys.”

    When a person is in acute pain or experiencing symptoms of illness, appropriate medical care is a must. But when facing illness, patients can and should also reflect on their emotional states and lifestyles.

    Getting appropriate exercise and enough sleep and eating a proper diet are important ingredients for a healthy life, but Chinese medicine reminds us that to be truly healthy, the most important thing we can do is to cultivate our hearts.

    Meiyi Lin is a doctor of Chinese medicine 



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