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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

How Chinese Medicine Can Help Alleviate Depression and Anxiety

Oct 02, 2013 02:43AM

From a Chinese medicine perspective, depression and anxiety can be understood as a disturbance to the shen, or roughly translated, our spirit. When shen is disturbed, manifestations might include a feeling of lack of meaning in one’s life, an inability to connect to other people, feelings of worthlessness and inauthenticity, self-loathing or a lack of energy among other things. Moreover, if qi/energy is stuck in the body or not moving smoothly, a person’s emotions may also become stuck, for example, in states of fear, anger or grief. Chinese medicine treats these conditions by reconnecting the spirit with the deepest sense of our self and with something larger than ourselves. In doing so, it can guide the qi to move more smoothly, thereby alleviating feelings of being stuck emotionally or spiritually.

Chinese medicine therapies that are particularly beneficial for those with depression and anxiety include acupuncture, herbs, dietary therapy, Qigong and Tai chi. No matter if one chooses acupuncture or herbs, or uses them in conjunction with each other, the importance of eating healthy foods and getting enough exercise cannot be overstated. Chinese dietary therapy can help identify the best foods for a person’s particular constitution and Qigong and Tai chi are gentle ways that teach a person to move energy in their bodies through the use of physical movement.

Another key concept in Chinese medicine is the importance of opening our sensory orifices, the portals of perception, so we can see and taste and hear the world in a different and healthier way. In this case, one can use incense, chanting, voice therapy, sound therapy and visualizations to help move out of depression or anxiety.

Perhaps what makes Chinese medicine such a unique and powerful therapy, particularly for those with depression and anxiety, is that it always treats the individual and not merely the disease. Its beauty is that there are no set point formulas or herbal prescriptions; the treatment is really based on the individual. You could liken it to making a beautiful, gourmet meal; the points and herbs work together to create something that is larger than the individual ingredients.

That being said, there are particular points and herbs that might be very useful for their ability to help open our eyes to see the world differently. Such a shift in outlook can ultimately allay our fears and give us the will and courage to face the world. For instance, there are a group of points on the upper chest called the Kidney transport points. Each of these points deals with an emotional or spiritual aspect that relates to one of the five elements. If you happen to be stuck in grief, a practitioner might use the point that is associated with metal to help you acknowledge and move beyond that emotion. Chinese medicine also uses herbs that are traditionally used for wound healing but are also very beneficial in treating anxiety and depression. The thought behind the use of these herbs is that the spirit can be wounded in the same way the physical body is wounded.

One question that a patient suffering from depression and anxiety might have for their practitioner is how long it might take for them to notice any results from Chinese medicine. Generally, people are helped during their very first session by the powerful ability of Chinese medicine to use language to describe the disturbances of the spirit. But like many complicated conditions, it takes the dedication of patient and practitioner working together to make the necessary changes in one’s body, mind and spirit. Length of treatment depends greatly on the severity of the condition. While anxiety can often be addressed quickly, long term, debilitating depression can be a much longer process. During the process, the patient can see progress, in small and large ways. This perhaps is one of the most important concepts in Chinese medicine – that there is always the possibility for healing, no matter how intractable the disease.

Heidi Most, MAc, LAc, DiplAc (NCCAOM), is an Associate Professor at Maryland University of Integrative Health. For more information about her work, visit


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