Grief Treatment in Chinese Medicine
Grief is a normal response to loss. It can be the loss of a home, family pet, job, business, relationship, marriage or a love one. People also experience grief and have to work through the stages of grief with chronic or severe illness. In Chinese medicine, grief is related to the Metal Element which includes the Lungs, and Large Intestine. One of the main beliefs in Chinese medical theory is that an emotional imbalance can cause physical disease; and, a physical imbalance can cause an emotional imbalance. In and of itself, grief is not a disruptive feeling causing chronic illness unless one gets stuck in one of the stages of grief and cannot work through the grieving process in a timely manner. In rare instances of shock due to a sudden loss, severe injury to both the Heart and the Lung energetic organ systems can occur. For best outcomes using self-care, combine associated Acupressure Sticks™ to acu-points, organic herbs, topical remedies, and good lifestyle practices.
Related Article: The Metal Element of Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Apply the Metal Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Lung 9
- Apply the Fire Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Heart 7
- Apply the Wood Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Liver 3
- Apply the Earth Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Stomach 36
- Apply the Water Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Kidney 3
The Grieving Process and Stages of Grief According to Chinese Medicine
Grief typically follows a process of healing that can be somewhat predictable. However, individuals experiences the stages of grief differently and there are no set rule as to the order in which these states of grief occur. In Chinese medicine, it is only when one is unable to move all the way through the grieving process in a timely manner that grief becomes abnormal. Acupressure, Chinese herbs, meditation, flower essences, aromatherapy, and affirmations are all natural ways to free any blocks involved with grieving. These remedies will not mask the emotions of grieving, but aid in the natural process of grieving.
Grief is painful, and can be combined with many other emotions that may seem erratic. The length of time one grieves depends on the severity of the loss; it can be weeks or months for the loss of a job, for example. One study suggests that intense grief due to the loss of a loved one typically peaks at around 4 months and then quickly begins to subside over a two-year period (reference link). If the emotional pain associated with grief does not begin to ease in a matter of months then the person who is grieving is likely stuck in one or more of these states of grief:
Fire Element-Shock and Grief
This is a period just after a loss fraught with confusion. Loss of appetite is common during this stage. Acupressure can lessen the damage to the central nervous system due to shock, and help the progress through this stage of grief. This stage can damage the Heart energetic organ system and Fire Element of Chinese medicine.
Metal Element-Denial and Grief
Denial can come soon after the initial shock and eases the transition. This is often the first level at which people become stuck in the emotions of grief; often people who have lost a loved one will hold on to their belonging for years, somewhere in the back of the mind thinking they will return one day. The Metal Element provides us with positive boundaries; with loss where the truth is too hard to face the Metal Element throws up a shield of protection while we process information.
Wood Element-Anger and Grief
Anger is normal and may be directed at oneself, another, God, or just life in general. This will be a tumultuous period of outbursts that should be experienced in a safe and private setting. Flower essences, meditations, affirmations, essential oils and herbs can all have a healing influence on anger due to loss. In Chinese medicine, prolonged anger is especially destructive causing Liver Qi Stagnation that contributes to many physical illnesses.
Anguish would be indicated with uncontrollable sobbing. When grief is unresolved in a timely manner it can begin to consume Kidney Yin especially if one tries to work through the grief and does not take time off from work to grieve. The unresolved grief becomes a heavy energy that settles in the lower part of the body which is associated with the Kidney energetic system in Chinese medicine. One who has already depleted the nervous system by burning the candle at both ends would be more susceptible to prolonged anguish after loss and adrenal exhaustion. The difference between sadness and anguish is that emotions are suppressed with chronic sadness; with anguish one is in an emotional agony for an on-going, seemingly endless, period of time.
Water Element-Guilt and Grief
Guilt is often based in the fear that you did not do all that you could have done to aid the person who died, to save the business that failed, or to keep the lover who left. Questions of how you could have changed or prevented events that have led up to the grieving process are common. Was it my fault? Could I have done something different? Why didn't I see the signs? This is where the self-worth of the Metal Element converge with the fear aspect of the Water Element. While guilt is normal during grieving, guilt is not a productive emotion to have to live with and can block the progress to personal growth.
Metal Element-Sadness and Grief
After passing through shock and denial, and as the anger is exhausted, sadness. This stage is typically when a person stays inactive and cries for long periods. If one suppresses the outward expression of grief than the Qi is stuffed down into the chest and lungs and cannot circulate correctly. This can result in someone who lives the rest of their life with unresolved sadness and unable to experience emotional feelings, both good and bad. Because the Qi of the chest does not circulate, they become hunched over always looking at the ground as they walk through life.
Unfortunately, this is also where people seek anti-depressants. Utilizing a pharmaceutical anti-depressant is called for when depression leads to thoughts of depression or destructive behavior. However, utilizing anti-depressant medication for sadness due to grief can be counterproductive because it does mask the emotions rather than productively work through them.
This stage can be seen as a move towards acceptance; patients facing poor outcomes may bargain to improve their lifestyle habits to buy more time or reverse the condition. This stage only becomes a problem when one replays the events leading up to and during the loss over-and-over in their minds. One may obsess over what they could have done differently or how they can change things now. Obsessive thinking belongs to the Earth Element and can damage the Spleen energetic organ system of Chinese medicine.
Acceptance and Grief
One must acknowledge the loss, and accept life with a new set of circumstances. This is the time when efforts must be made to find new activities, new friends, and new outlets for a new life.
Other Correlations for Grief in Chinese Medicine
Water Element-Fear of Dying
The energetic organ system associated with fear is the Kidney. Another indication of Kidney Deficiency combined with a Metal Element imbalance is an irrational feat of death as the Lung and the Kidney energetic organ systems are very closely bound according to Chinese medicine.
Wei Qi and Grief
The Wei Qi is associated with the immune system and it has been shown that prolonged grief can weaken the immune system and make on more vulnerable to chronic disease and acute illnesses.
Stress and Grief
Studies have shown that prolonged grief can evolve into a similar mental state as seen with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In Chinese medicine this can involve several energetic organ systems typically involving the Heart, Lungs, and Kidney Elemental systems.
Heart and Grief
Recent studies suggest that prolonged grief may contribute to the development of heart disease. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31487567/)
Loss is a normal part of living and all of us experience different types of loss throughout our lives. Learning from the past can help us grow emotionally and spiritually. While loss can be painful, it can also provide us with a life experience that allows for compassion and understanding of other people's plights.
The Experience of Grief
One must actually experience each stage of grief in order to move on with a healthy and happy life. Simply avoiding the process will in effect lengthen the amount of time that is necessary to grieve.
Experience the Pain
Chinese medicine holds that pain of grief must be felt and processed, or it will manifest in to physical diseases and disorders. Grief is part of the Metal element, so many of these symptoms will occur in the organs associated with the Metal Element including the Lungs, sinuses, skin, and Large Intestine.
Forgive Yourself and Others
Forgiveness is a powerful tool of growth. Forgive yourself and others for all the things you think you should have said or done. Even forgive yourself for the anger and guilt you experienced while grieving. In Chinese medicine this is often related to both the Metal Element aspect of the Large Intestine energetic organ system and the Wood Element Liver aspect of forgiveness by resolving anger and Liver congestion.
Take Care of Yourself
It is easy to neglect yourself while grieving. Eating a balanced diet and exercise will help you work through the pain of grief more quickly. Take naps, listen to upbeat music, watch a movie, and indulge yourself in pleasant activities.
Take Active Steps to Create a New Life for Yourself
Give yourself time to grieve, and then look for new life patterns and new things to do. Volunteer, join social groups, join a recreational sports team, learn to paint, or start looking for a new job.
Vitlic, A., Khanfer, R., Lord, J.M. et al. Bereavement reduces neutrophil oxidative burst only in older adults: role of the HPA axis and immunesenescence. Immun Ageing 11, 13 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-4933-11-13
Shear, M. K., Simon, N., Wall, M., Zisook, S., Neimeyer, R., Duan, N., Reynolds, C., Lebowitz, B., Sung, S., Ghesquiere, A., Gorscak, B., Clayton, P., Ito, M., Nakajima, S., Konishi, T., Melhem, N., Meert, K., Schiff, M., O'Connor, M. F., First, M., … Keshaviah, A. (2011). Complicated grief and related bereavement issues for DSM-5. Depression and anxiety, 28(2), 103–117. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20780
Dr. Browne's Shared Insights and Experiences
Over the decades many of my regular patients would show up after suffering an emotional shock after suffering an unexpected loss. Typically this would be from the loss of an elderly parent, break up of a relationship, or similar common occurrence. These patients would be experiencing mental anguish often sobbing as they recount the events leading to this suffering. By the end of the treatment, all had regained their composure. Typically, at the next treatment they would have moved on to other stages of grief reporting that they had not felt the severe anguish after the treatment.
I had long ago learned to use the first three points listed above. These are all on the wrist and work together to protect one from outside attacks and emotional hurts. Pericardium 7 is the source point of the channel that is also called the Heart Protector; it acts as a gate that opens to accept love and closes to protect the Heart from emotional insults. Heart 7 is the source point for the Heart which is said to be the seat of all emotion and suffers the most with the initial shock of loss. Lung 9 is the source point for the Lung energetic organ system which is most vulnerable to grief and loss.