In order to talk about any topic in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it’s imperative to first acknowledge the core of TCM, which is Qi or energy. TCM is the study of Qi and its functions and mechanisms.
In regards to stress, it can be physical and emotional/mental. For the purpose of this article, let’s talk about emotional and mental stress and we will start with the pain of anger. Most people have encountered an angry person at some point in their lives (including themselves).
According to TCM theory, spring is dedicated to the liver meridian/organ and anger is its negative expression which makes Qi rise in the body. Sides of the tongue (where the distribution of liver energy is located) can appear to be redder than normal and when the pulse is taken it will generally feel wiry, like a guitar string, in the liver pulse position. The normal Qi mechanism of the liver is to smoothly flow energy in all directions. When a person is angry, the healthy flow of Qi is impaired. So the smooth even flow of Qi moving throughout the body delivering nutrients is hindered and that can lead to headaches, insomnia, vision problems, muscle tension, even heart disease. Even Western medicine has acknowledged the link between anger and heart disease.
While it’s important to not deny your feelings, it is beneficial to release that negative energy from tissues and cells. Acupuncture helps to move stagnant energy, as does cupping, another TCM therapy. A TCM diagnosis pattern for an angry person can be “Liver Yang Rising”. In this case, the treatment principle is to subdue Liver Yang and Tonify Yin. The acupuncture point prescription could include: Liver-3, San Jiao-5, Gall Bladder-38, Tai Yang (extra point), and Spleen-6 among other specific points.
Wood Element: In TCM there are five elements. The spring season is associated with the liver and Wood element. Foods that help strengthen the function of the liver are greens such as: spinach, kale, parsley, lima beans, avocado, asparagus, artichoke, lime, green tea, and so forth. Green is the colour of the wood element, and the liver belongs to the Wood element, according to TCM theory. To connect with your liver, you can close your eyes, take a few breaths, and visualize green light nurturing your liver.
Fire Element: Next is the Fire element, which is dominant in the summertime. Can you feel the hot sun warming you? The meridian associated with the fire element and summer is the heart.
The stressful emotion in this category that creates havoc in the body is overstimulation. The tip of tongue where the heart energy is located may be redder than normal, there may also be a yellow coating, and the pulse rapid and even overflowing in the heart pulse position. This extreme pattern of mental restlessness is called “Heart Fire Blazing” and the treatment principle is to Quell Heart Fire and Calm Shen (mind). Acupuncture points can include: Heart-9, Heart-8, Ren-15, as well as Du-24 among others. TCM is about balance, meaning yin and yang must be harmonized for optimal health. Acupuncture helps to balance yin and yang energies, restoring harmony.
Since the colour associated with the summer is red, foods that are beneficial to the fire element and the heart meridian include tomatoes, watermelon, beets, strawberries, cherries, and other cooling yin foods. To connect with your heart, you can close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and visualize red light nurturing your heart.
Earth Element: Continuing with the five elements in TCM to understand the relationship between stressful emotions and the meridians/organs, the next element is Earth. The organ or meridian associated with it is the spleen. The associated time of year is ‘Indian summer’ (late summer, early fall). The stressful emotion here is worry, overthinking, obsessiveness.
The main area of the tongue revealing the distribution of the spleen energy is in the center. When a person worries a lot or is overthinking, that part of the tongue can appear pale. Keep in mind that a normal looking tongue body is pink or pale red with a thin coating and slightly moist. With excessive stress, the pulse may be felt as empty which is a faint type of pulse indicating a deficiency of Qi and blood, hence the pattern here includes “Spleen Qi Deficiency.” According to TCM theory, the impact of excessive worrying knots up the Qi energy. Acupuncture helps to undo the Qi knots so that Qi can flow more freely. Since the colour associated with ‘Indian summer’ is yellow, foods that are beneficial include garbanzo beans, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, oranges, papaya, pineapple, and squash. To connect with your spleen, you can close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and visualize yellow light energizing your spleen.
Metal Element: Moving along to the next element, it’s called Metal and the meridian/organ includes the lungs. Fall is the time of year associated with the Metal element and the lungs. The emotion in this category that puts stress on the body is sadness and grief which dissolves Qi. A person feeling sad can have a tongue that is slightly red on the sides in the chest areas (of the tongue) while the pulse would be tight (like a rope) in the lung position. The TCM pattern would be called “Lung Qi Stagnation” and the treatment principle would be to Smooth Lung Qi using specific acupuncture points such as: Lung-7, Stomach-40, Ren-15, Pericardium-6. Acupuncture helps to regulate the flow of Qi.
Foods that help nurture the lungs are white in colour as that’s the colour of the Metal element. These include onion, garlic, mushrooms, rice, soy, banana, pear, and almonds. To connect with your lungs, you can close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and visualize white light nurturing your lungs.
Water Element: The fifth element is Water and its corresponding meridian/organ includes the kidneys. Winter is the season associated with the kidneys and the Water element. The emotion in this category that puts stress on the body is fear, which makes Qi descend. A TCM pattern accompanying fear is “Kidney Yin Deficiency,” and the tongue would have a normal colour, without coating though, and the pulse could be felt as empty. Acupuncture helps to nourish Kidney Yin using specific points such as Kidney-3 and Kidney-6. Foods that benefit the kidneys and support the Water element include fish, black beans, seaweeds, and walnuts. To connect with your kidneys, you can close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and visualize dark-blue light energizing your kidneys.