Mental Health and Chinese Medicine

The mind and body are connected in ways that can help or hinder each other
By Christina Xu
Christina Xu
Christina Xu
October 28, 2019 Updated: October 28, 2019

Mental illness is common in today’s fast-paced, lonely, nutrient-deprived world.

It’s projected that one in five Americans will experience a mental illness, and most of us will experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives, with anxiety and depressive disorders being the most common ailments.

In Chinese medicine, the key to treating mental ailments is to identify the patient’s specific symptoms and treat them with the appropriate herbs, acupuncture, and lifestyle changes.

Generate Yang to Balance Yin

The root cause of an illness is an imbalance in the body. Too much heat (inflammation), or too little water (dehydration) are two common imbalances that lead to a wide range of health issues. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), these are seen in terms of yin and yang. For example, water is considered yin, while heat is considered yang.

In terms of mental health, many conditions arise from what are known as the three lows, where yang is deficient.

The first is a low mood level. This refers to persistent sadness, feeling useless or unable to cope with life, feeling bored all the time, or increased feelings of anxiety and isolation.

Second is a low level of activity. For example, loss of interest in anything, feeling tired all the time, wanting to go to sleep and never wake up again, finding no fun or enjoyment in life, loss of energy.

Third, a low mentality. This refers to slow thinking, and poor reaction time. It causes inefficiency in study or work, leading to difficulties in making personal and business decisions.

Most of the symptoms belong to yin. So one of the solutions might be to produce more yang to balance them out.

At a very basic level, yang can be increased by physical activity such as regular exercise, walking, and spending time outdoors. Research has found several benefits to these as well, though doctors rarely prescribe walking or time in nature in Western clinical practice.

Acupoints for Self-Assistance

While walking and physical exercise are acknowledged in Western medicine, the idea of acupoints isn’t as clearly understood. This is largely because Western medicine has yet to accept that the human body is highly dependent on energetic systems.

Our cells go through a variety of processes, requiring very specific balances of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, air, and food to create the energy that moves our body. Our brains require electrical connection to let our neurons fire and run the body.

In TCM, this life energy is known as “qi.” Breathing and eating create qi in the human body. Lungs extract the qi by breathing, while the stomach and spleen system extract qi from food and water and then deliver it to the whole body.

Acupoints tie into this energetic system by stimulating areas that are connected to specific functions. The following points are commonly used in managing neurological and mental health issues.

Baihui Points: In Chinese, the name of these points means “a hundred channels meet together.” It’s closely related to the brain and is the key point for regulating brain function. To locate the Baihui point, draw a line from your nose to the center of the top of the head. Draw another line between two ear tips to the top of the scalp. The Baihui point is located at the intersection.

Use your fingers to lightly massage this point, or gently hit with an empty fist.

Neiguan (P6): Neiguan is the gateway for the human body to communicate with the outside world. Neiguan points can help people achieve better sleep, treat insomnia, relieve stress, and stop nausea from motion sickness. To locate the Neiguan point, lift fists or palms so that two tendons appear in the wrist. The point is located in the middle of the tendons and 3 fingers width from the wrist-line.

Use your thumb to massage the point.

Shenmen (HT7): The Chinese name is the spirit gate. It’s good for emotional issues, especially those related to sleep or mental manifestations such as insomnia and muddled thinking. The Shenmen point extends from the little finger to the lateral stripes of the wrist, at the end of the root of the palm.

You can use the other thumb to massage this point. Alternatively, you can put your hand on the table with this point touching the table, and roll your hand left and right, using your weight of hand to massage it. This is easy to do while you’re at work or studying.

Emotional and Physical Health

In TCM theory, it’s understood that emotions and the body have an influence on each other. This is something many of us know intuitively, like how stress may give us an upset stomach, or how exercising makes us feel happier.

In TCM, emotions are tied to the interdependence of internal organ systems and their functions.

This is in contrast to Western medicine, which has historically viewed organs as having a single specific physical function only, independent of the whole system, akin to a component in a car. This thinking is proving inadequate, though, with the discovery of the microbiome and an ever-expanding fact-base showing ties between mind and body, like the fact that some neurotransmitters are produced in the stomach. These new findings, however, will likely take years to make their way into actual clinical practice.

Emotional management is very important to the health of the body. Emotions follow thoughts, so paying attention to what you’re thinking can help resolve many of these types of issues.

Christina Xu holds bachelor’s degree from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. Now living in Australia, she dedicates her time to advocating for and promoting the benefits of TCM to mainstream Western society. Learn more at

Christina Xu
Christina Xu