There is not one set treatment for anxiety according to TCM. By differentiating the many types of anxiety possible, Chinese medicine becomes very effective at addressing all types of anxiety along with other illnesses or imbalances. These are the most common imbalances responsible for anxiety:
Kidney Deficiency and Anxiety
Kidney Deficiency is most common with panic disorder and phobias. Fear is related to the Water Element and Kidney function in Chinese medicine. Panic disorder is often accompanied by repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms may include:
Phobias are typically based on irrational fears of specific situations.
Kidney - Spleen Imbalances and Anxiety
The Spleen system is associated with the following indications:
- Anxiety with digestive problems
- Obsessive thoughts
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Kidney - Lung Imbalances and Anxiety
The Lung system is related to self esteem in the ability to maintain positive personal boundaries. In cases of PTSD, those personal boundaries have often been assaulted and broken in the most traumatic way, especially in cases of rape, criminal assault, and child abuse. After experiencing natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or war, people are often struck with a persisting feeling of loss and grief that they cannot break through. Anxiety related to this pattern would be considered a Metal Element disorder and may include the following symptoms:
- The fear of dying
- Unresolved Grief
- Regular crying fits
Anxiety that is a result of chronic stress is addressed with herbs that soothe the Liver. The Liver system is related to anger, frustration, and feelings of being constrained and would include symptoms such as:
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It is normal to feel anxious before a significant event such as an exam, public speaking, or first date; however, anxiety disorders that dominate people's lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear are a clear sign of imbalance and disease according to Chinese medicine. It is always better to start herbal therapy earlier, and not wait until the condition has become chronic in nature, with unremitting episodes, growing progressively worse. However, even if the condition has been developing over a number of years, Chinese tonic herbal therapy can address anxiety, it will just take longer than if you had caught it early on.
In Chinese medicine, fear relates to the Water Element and the Kidney energetic organ system. Each of the organs is assigned an emotion and the Heart ‘houses the mind’ in Chinese medicine; it is the origin at the center of all emotions. The Spleen is related to obsessing and over thinking; the Kidney is related to fear and phobias; the Lung is related to grief, self esteem, and the inability to let go; the Liver is related to anger, frustration and feeling stuck. Imbalances in any or all of the energetic organ systems can be part of the imbalance depending on how anxiety manifests in a particular individual. Kidney Deficiency is almost always a core issue with anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal response to life stresses unless it becomes a chronic illness that fill people's lives with overwhelming thoughts and fear that are chronic, unremitting, and can grow progressively worse. Tormented by panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks of traumatic events, nightmares, or countless frightening physical symptoms, some people with anxiety disorders even become housebound.
TCM and Anxiety and the Western Medicine
According to Chinese medicine, anxiety is often classified as a 'fear' response that is due to a Water Element imbalance and Kidney Deficiencies. While many feel an immediate calming effect from nervine herbs that are contained in our Calm the Dragon formula, true anxiety disorders require tonic herbal supplementation over a number of months (likely 6-10) to resolve the condition.
Anxiety disorders, as a group, are the most common mental illness in America. More than 19 million American adults are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year. Children and adolescents can also develop anxiety disorders. Western medical treatments have been largely developed through research conducted by NIMH and other research institutions. They help many people with anxiety disorders and often combine medication and specific types of psychotherapy. A number of medications that were originally approved for treating depression have been found to be effective for anxiety disorders as well. Some of the newest of these antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Other anti-anxiety medications include groups of drugs called benzodiazepines and beta-blockers. If one medication is not effective, others are often tried. New medications are currently under development to treat anxiety symptoms.
People often turn to herbal therapy to avoid the many side effects that accompany such medications. While the medicines are important in stabilizing the emotions of those who are non-functioning, many feel that the medicines change their personalities and suppress their every day emotions and feelings.
Two clinically proven effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders are behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several techniques to stop unwanted behaviors. In addition to the behavioral therapy techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to understand and change their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety. Unfortunately, this type of treatment is almost exclusively reserved for the rich as our modern culture in the US does not provide mental health care and insurance companies rarely cover this type of costly treatment fully.
Common Types of Anxiety
It is common for an anxiety disorder to accompany depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can also co-exist with illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. In such instances, the accompanying disorders can also be addressed with herbal therapy. Here are some of the more common disorders:
Panic Disorder - Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying. Rescue Remedy can be purchased at any good health food store to be used for acute panic attacks until the tonic herbs are able to affect the root organ level imbalances.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as rape or other criminal assault, war, child abuse, natural or human-caused disasters, or crashes. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression, and feeling angry, irritable or distracted and being easily startled are common. Family members of victims can also develop this disorder. Auricular acupuncture therapy (ear acupuncture) is quite effective at resolving PTSD. Search the Community Acupuncture Network for affordable treatments in your area starting at $15.
Phobias - Two major types of phobias are social phobia and specific phobia. People with social phobia have an overwhelming and disabling fear of scrutiny, embarrassment, or humiliation in social situations, which leads to avoidance of many potentially pleasurable and meaningful activities. People with specific phobia experience extreme, disabling, and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives unnecessarily.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder - Constant, exaggerated worrisome thoughts and tension about everyday routine life events and activities, lasting at least six months. Almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it; accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache, or nausea.
Because true anxiety disorder is often rooted in Kidney Deficiency according to Chinese medicine, it is not typically a quick fix. If it were a simple matter of blocked energy that sometimes occurs with pain syndromes, or an exterior pathogenic invasion such as a cold or upset stomach, herbs might have a quick healing potential as they often do with acute conditions; however, it takes time to rebuild Kidney energy and vitality once it is depleted. You will want to devote at least 6-8 months utilizing herbal therapy and meditation to fully address anxiety naturally.
Acupressure for Anxiety
Acupressure uses specific acupuncture points that over the generations been proven useful in the treatment of anxiety by soothing the Qi of the Liver and clearing up Stagnation, and supporting the Kidney energetic organ system in TCM.
Tonify Acupressure point KI 3 (Taixi or Great Stream) to strengthen the Kidney energy:
Kidney 3 is located in the depression between the medial malleolus and the tendo calcaneus, level with the tip of the medial malleolus.
Tonify Acupressure Point Sp 6 (Sanyinjiao or Three Yin Meetings) to strengthen the Spleen and Kidney Energy:
Spleen 6 is located 3 cun above the tip of the medial malleolus on the posterior border of the medial aspect of the tibia.
Tonify Acupressure Point LU 9 (Taiyuan or Great Abyss) to Reinforce the Lung Energy:
Lung 9 is located at the radial end of the transverse crease of the wrist on the lateral side of the radial artery.
Release Acupressure Point LV 3 (Taichong or Great Surge) to Resolve Liver Qi Stagnation:
Liver 3 is located on the dorsum of the foot, in the depression just distal to the junction of the first and second metatarsal bones.
The Effect of Acupressure at Spleen 6 Acupuncture Point on the Anxiety Level and Sedative and Analgesics Consumption of Women during LaborAn integrative review of acupressure interventions for older people: A focus on sleep quality, depression, anxiety, and agitation