Anxiety: a perspective from Traditional Chinese Medicine

Based on Western definition, anxiety is not a disease by itself as it's considered to be a worry about future events (being afraid of the unknown), past events (consequences of past actions) or a reaction to current events. At its root, worrying is often a fear of uncertainty and it's something that many people experience.

Around 20% of the population in Ireland will experience a mental health problem like anxiety each year, which has steadily increased over the past 20 years.

As Professor Ad Kerkhof, author of the new book Stop Worrying, says: 'Worrying is a form of self-torture where our own thoughts often make us suffer a great deal." So basically our thoughts create the disease itself turning them into measurable and real sings and symptoms.  

'Worry is something that many people experience. It's not the same as thinking. Thinking leads to solutions. Worrying leads nowhere. Thinking leads to action. Worrying leads to nothing. Thinking leads to relief. Excessive worrying leads only to powerlessness, tiredness and exhaustion.' he says. 

Feelings of anxiety trigger the body to release stress hormones that prepare you to react to a threat. It's called the fight-or-flight response. These hormonal reactions may cause physical symptoms, such as a fast heart rate and shakiness, breathing is increased, blood is shunted to the extremities to increase strength in the arms and legs, and digestion slows down so the body can reserve resources in order to be ready against the apparent danger. If these symptoms are experienced along with chest pain, sweating, dizziness and weakness, then panic and anxiety symptoms escalate into anxiety attacks and panic attacks, it may be an anxiety disorder.

If worrying becomes chronic, then worriers operate under the misperception that their fretting allows them to control the future. As a consequence, the individual loses control of his own actions.

As a conclusion, if you control your thoughts, you overcome your anxiety. 

There are different types of anxiety disorders:
The GAD is the most common type of anxiety disorder. It's is diagnosed when there is excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events or activities over a period of at least six months.

Symptoms of anxiety disorders from Chinese Medicine Perspective

In Chinese medicine, patients are treated as a whole; the sum of signs and symptoms and associations between them provide the origin of the imbalance. It is the universal treatment goal to correct imbalance and resume harmony of the body.

However,  practitioners must maintain a high index of suspicion for anxiety as it can be masked in numerous psychosomatic ways.

Symptoms vary among individuals and in severity, and may include:

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The correlation and relationship between symptoms is key in order to define the syndrome(s) and consequently, the respective therapeutic principle. 

The order of appearance of anxiety's symptoms is not clinically established as the attacks tend to begin suddenly and peak quickly within 10 minutes or less. Afterwards, the patient might experience fatigue that can last for the rest of the day, depending on the severity of the attack.

It would be logical to consider Yang symptoms at the peak of the attack's episode with an off-peak of fatigue afterwards. Therefore it's important to recognize if the patient is permanently anxious as well as the number of permanent Yang type symptoms at the consultation. Based on the specific case, the practitioner will be able to recognize if the pathogenic process is categorized as Excess or Deficiency. 

Prevention of Anxiety from Chinese Medicine Perspective

Events can't be controlled but only the reactions. 

In our society, prevention of anxiety essentially involves awareness of life's stresses: workplace stress, impact of illness on the family, disability from aging parents that require care needs, change or continuous alteration of plans or goals in career development and economic problems. The level of ability to cope with them depends on ever had similar experiences so give some background to be able to deal with. This can often be a difficult task in our busy 21st century.

The current mechanisms to handle stress and the respective anxiety might include:
  • Relaxation exercises, including deep breathing
  • Visualization
  • Adequate rest
  • Health diet
  • Interpersonal skills in dealing with difficult people and situations or parenting skills training in dealing with your children
From the Chinese Medicine's perspective, anxiety might be classified according to which Zang Organ has been affected and how the Qi is affected at the specific organ as well as at the body as a whole. External and internal events (concerns and thoughts) can interrupt the flow of Qi. Acupuncture seeks to restore any imbalance between Yin and Yang by inserting needles into specific points so the Qi gets stimulated and start circulating as normal. If the Qi moves harmoniously, the internal thoughts will not stagnate and will also flow with harmony. 

Most of the patients come with Liver Qi Stagnation, Heart Blood Stagnation and other syndromes related to the Heart. Anxiety harms the lungs generating a Lung Qi deficiency. In order to restore your health after the anxiety took over your mind, these advises listed below will help you to rebalance your Qi again:
  1. Avoid eating the Hot Nature Food such as: Chili, Pepper, Coffee, Alcohol, Spicy Curry, Chocolate and Fried Chips or BBQ Food.
  2. Avoid eating the Cold Nature Food such as: Cucumber, Ice Berg Lettuce, Celery, Water Melon, Banana, Straw berry, Pears, Kiwi, Pekin Duck, Shell Fish (except Prawns), Salmon Fish, Green Tea, Chamomile, Mint Tea, Jasmine Tea.
  3. Eat enough vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and proteins such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, peas.
  4. Quit caffeine products such as: coffee or tea.
  5. Avoid eating too much salt on a regular basis which might cause more anxiety.
  6. Avoid or learn how to manage the stress: anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
  7. Drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water with Lemon or Lime Juice in order to trigger the Qi flow within the Liver.
For patients with a tendency to feel anxious, it's worthy to pay a visit to your acupuncturist once a month. The therapist will help you to keep calm and balanced.