How Emotions Impact Your Health According to TCM


Most of us have a sense that our emotions play into our overall well-being. However, sometimes it can be hard to see a connection between emotions and physical or mental ailments. One of the many components of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) includes emotional patterns and tendencies and the corresponding element or meridian(s). Emotions are a healthy part of the human existence and are tools that we can use to help navigate and respond to ourselves and the world. Pathology occurs in the body and mind when emotions become long-term, excessive, or frequent in nature. This article explores the basics regarding emotional states, which meridians/elements they link with and possible symptoms.

Worry & Rumination – the Earth Element

A tendency to worry and ruminate, often showing up as forms of anxiety, links with the meridians of Spleen and Stomach. Chronic worry or pensiveness over the course of a lifetime or spending significant time “in your head” or with “the hamster wheel spinning” may contribute to a long-term or chronic deficiency in this elemental system. This can show up with symptom manifestations of (but not limited to): disharmony in the gut system, memory/concentration/focus issues, sleep disturbances, anxiety related symptoms, fatigue or lethargy, vision disturbances, dizziness, menstrual issues, tendency to be cold, muscle weakness and more.

Grief & Sadness – the Metal Element

A tendency toward sadness, long-term or unresolved grief links with the meridians of Lung and Large Intestine. This can show up with symptom manifestations of (but not limited to): shortness of breath, asthma, chest pain or tightness, fatigue or lethargy, perspiration irregularities, overall dryness, skin issues, depression, allergy symptoms, constipation, pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen, circulation issues and more.

Fear & Shock – the Water Element

A tendency toward being fearful or having a shocking, unanticipated experience links with the meridians of Kidneys and Urinary Bladder. This can show up with symptom manifestations of (but not limited to): any type of urination/bladder issue, low back/knee/ankle pain, ringing in the ears, fatigue or lethargy, numbness or tingling in the body, tension headaches occurring in the neck and into the back of the head, tendency to be warm or cold, fertility/menstruation/libido issues, dry skin, graying or loss of hair and more.

Anger & Irritability – the Wood Element

A tendency toward anger, irritability and frustration links with the meridians of Liver and Gallbladder. This can show up with symptom manifestations of (but not limited to): high blood pressure, headaches/migraines, pain/tension in the musculoskeletal system, menstrual issues, ringing in the ears, tendency to be warm or hot, glaucoma or vision disturbances, easy to tears, muscle cramping or twitching, sleep disturbances, circulation issues and more.

Over Stimulation & Over Joy – the Fire Element

A tendency toward over stimulation and elation links with the meridians of Heart, Pericardium (the heart protector), Small Intestine and San Jiao (also known as the Triple Warmer/Heater/Burner). This can show up with symptom manifestations of (but not limited to): difficulty with focus/attention/concentration, irregular heart rhythm, palpitations or heart flutters, circulation issues, emotional ups/manic behavior, tendency to be hot or warm, perspiration irregularities, sleep disturbances, menopausal issues, fatigue or lethargy, burning urination and more.

A few additional notes on this topic:

TCM vs. Western patterns and diagnoses

It is important to remember that TCM has a unique lens in which it looks at meridians and organ systems. There is overlap with western diagnoses and patterns but it is not exact and has additional components and manifestations specific to Chinese Medicine’s viewpoint.

Humans are complicated and multi-faceted

Often times, we have multiple imbalances going on and therefore patterns, symptoms and presentations vary. The above mentioned symptoms are basic and there are many more patterns, symptoms and diagnostic tools utilized by your acupuncturist during your treatments.

The range of human emotion is vast

The emotions termed above are general and can encompass a gamut of other related emotions. For example, the Wood element pairs with anger and irritability. Other emotions that can be linked under that element include jealousy, envy, resentment, bitterness, etc.

Emotions are just a piece of the puzzle

Although emotions are often heavily involved in the root cause of issues, it is only a piece of the whole and a deeper understanding of the entire picture is necessary in TCM.

Awareness around emotions

A metaphor that I constantly use in my practice is this; when my emotions try to drive my car, I throw them in the back seat. Don’t let your emotional state rule your life, but let them be part of it. Utilize emotions as information and insight to better understand the overall picture for you, at that current time. It is important for each person to consider what healthy vs. unhealthy emotions look like on a day-to-day basis in your own life – not someone else’s.

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