Stress and emotional problems are increasingly common these days. There may be a few different theories regarding why this is the case. My personal opinion is that it is related to the fast and furious pace of modern life combined with a great confusion regarding why we are here and what the purpose is of our lives. Both are a side product of the capitalistic way of life that we all enjoy. This is of course a massive simplification of a complex issue, but the fact is that human life used to be hard but simple and now life in the Western world is not hard anymore from the point of view of physical survival, but it tends to be very complex psychologically and emotionally. Stress and pressure can start as early as when the baby in the womb has to cope with all the stress hormones produced by his stressed mother. When he is eventually born he can surely sense the stress of people around him. In many cases babies don’t get as much love and attention as they need for healthy emotional development, people are just too busy for that. Some babies and children can even suffer abuse, emotionally or physically. These sort of experiences are guaranteed to cause emotional problems later in life. The pressure continues in school, college, university and the workplace. People that are constitutionally emotionally strong will be able to cope with all the stress that is thrown their way but most people will have a problem at some stage of their life, in one form or another.
In Chinese Medicine we know that all of this stress has a bad effect on our liver. A subtle but very important function of the liver is to regulate and control the emotions. When this function is damaged due to accumulation of stress, typical symptoms are mood swings, feeling tearful, and irritability. It can also affect our sleep (typically waking up very early in the morning) and our digestive system.
Sometimes we can also feel tightness of the chest or a feeling of a lump in the throat. Ladies will often suffer from bad PMS (pre menstrual syndrome) with symptoms like tender breast, irritability and mood swings in the days leading to the period.
It was quite an amazing insight from the ancient Chinese practitioners to understand this connection between the liver and the emotions. It is this understanding which allows us to treat emotional conditions and stress so effectively with Acupuncture and Chinese herbs. When the liver has been restored I often hear people say “I feel better in myself” or “I feel my old self again”. People feel relaxed and happy again. It is often only at that point that people can look back and see how low they were.
Often stress and emotional problems can also cause other symptoms like sleep problems, digestive system conditions, headaches etc and with the treatment of Chinese Medicine one can expect improvement in all of those.
In some cases, when the emotional traumas of the past are deep and severe It will be recommended to have some counselling as well as the Chinese Medicine. There is actually a specific treatment of Acupuncture that is designed to clear these traumas from our subconscious, but even that sometimes is not enough.
It is very important to understand that when a TCM practitioner says it is a problem with the liver, we do not refer to it in the same way a Western doctor would. It does not mean liver disease but refers to a subtle function of the liver that Western doctors are completely unaware of.