Emotions from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Perspective

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

Emotions have powerful effects on our mind and body. Under normal circumstances emotions are not the cause of disease. They are normal and natural mental stimuli that affect most human beings. However, excessive and prolonged emotions can create disease.

This year has been a year full of emotional turmoil for many people. The events of September 11, 2001 have left most of us with additional fears, worries, sadness, grief and anger. As these emotions fester inside, not only is the mind affected but the body as well. Prolonged and ongoing emotions can break down the body and lead to poor health, influencing the immune, endocrine and the central nervous systems. Emotions can affect all aspects of our lives.

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that there are seven main emotions: joy, anger, sadness, grief, pensiveness, fear and fright. Each emotion correlates with a particular organ: joy with the heart, anger with the liver, sadness and grief with the lungs, pensiveness with the spleen, and fear and fright with the kidneys. When a particular emotion is in excess, suppressed or unexpressed, it can create imbalances with the corresponding organ. The opposite is also true, organ imbalances can generate corresponding emotions. With time, these imbalances bring about disharmony in the body that can lead to potential illness or disease.

Listed below are some examples of how emotions can affect our body and mind. Joy corresponds to the heart. Excessive joy may lead to palpitations, insomnia, unclear thinking, mania, and possibly heart attacks. Anger is associated with the liver. Excess anger can lead to hypertension, red eyes, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, stroke, trembling, costal pain, nosebleeds, menstrual disorders and inability to think clearly. Sadness and grief affects the lungs and can create tightness in the chest, excessive crying, asthma, a decrease in the immune system leading to frequent colds, and skin conditions. Pensiveness or worry affects the spleen and can lead to palpitations, fatigue, and problems with the bowels. Fright and fear correspond to the kidneys and may lead to indecisiveness, confusion, lack of courage, and possibly loss of bladder control.

The examples above may vary from person to person and are not limited to these particular disorders. A person can experience imbalances with more than one emotion or organ and therefore have more complicated emotional and physiological disturbances.

Lifestyle factors such as work, stress, relationships, and eating and drinking habits, all have an effect on a person’s emotional state. Day-to-day emotional stress can easily become excessive and lead to disease (or dis-ease). A trained TCM practitioner can help diagnose where the imbalance is located and through the use of herbs and acupuncture help correct the imbalance. Proper diet and exercise are also effective in reducing emotional tension and in maintaining balance. Talking to a psychotherapist is another way to ease emotional strain and tension and help to understand issues that affect the mind and body.

Many diseases and illnesses are the end-result of emotions that have been in excess, suppressed or unexpressed. The healing process can begin when we learn to express, feel and release our emotions. It is important to let go and understand suppressed emotions that may be slowing our growth as individuals and impeding optimal health.