Can Chinese medicine make you happier?
With stress levels and depression statistics continuing to rise in the UK, does Chinese Medicine hold the key to a happier mind?
In Western society, physical and mental health are very separate issues and treated as such. Chinese Medicine is very different. It treats mind and body as a whole and believes that each can affect the other.
Chinese Medicine places huge importance on emotions and their physical effects on the body. In fact, emotions are considered to be one of the primary causes of disease.
This belief is now supported by Western research. For example, an extensive study conducted in 2017 concluded that the chronically anxious, sad or pessimistic have double the risk of disease.
Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) recently stated that: “Helping people manage their upsetting feelings – anger, anxiety, depression, pessimism and loneliness – is a form of disease prevention.”
He concluded: “data shows that the toxicity of these emotions, when chronic, is on a par with smoking cigarettes.’’
Negative Emotion create stress in the body which in turn can create inflammation – directly responsible for many of our modern-day illnesses. Inflammation is crucial for wound healing and a useful mechanism in the body’s defences. It is a totally normal bodily function, generally triggered by the immune system on spotting an invader or damage to tissue that must be kept under control. The immune system stimulates different cells and proteins—like white blood cells—to help eliminate the threat of invasion and repair any damaged tissue. Inflammation is instigated by chemical mediators called cytokines that recruit other parts of the immune system to help with healing. Under chronic stress, the body loses its ability to regulate the inflammatory response.
The role of Chinese medicine
According to Chinese Medicine, it is not natural, healthy, or even desirable to always be happy. An interesting thought given that our culture often aspires to achieve this.
In fact, it believes that all emotions are healthy for us, describing this balance as a part of the tapestry of life. Emotions only become unhealthy when we have them in excess or become stuck in an emotional pattern.
Negative emotions aren’t bad per se, they are just a symptom of imbalance. Just as with mindfulness, it’s healthier to accept how we feel, rather than criticising ourselves for feeling any emotion other than happiness.
Chinese Medicine has always understood that what we feel positive or negative has a huge impact on our bodies. Chinese medical theory holds that all painful emotions must be felt and transformed, or they will eventually manifest into symptoms and disorders.
So, rather than suppressing negative emotion, we should work to transform that emotion into its opposite. For example, tapping into the energy of a stressful situation and turn it into excitement. Stress can be an empowering tool – as long as we learn to harness it and turn it into a positive mentally.
What does research suggest?
Western researchers have discovered that there is a strong link between negative emotional states, brain circuitry, inflammation, and an increased risk of heart disease. Scientists have found that how well someone responds to negative emotions is linked to his or her risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
The relatively new scientific field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) studies the connection between our brains and our nervous, immune and endocrine systems. PNI appears to be proving in Western terms what the Chinese have believed for thousands of years. Namely that our mental state directly influences diseases and healing and that stress and anxiety can make us physically ill.
According to Chinese Medicine, emotional pain is created by the organs and manifests as Qi and blood. This approach enables us to try and resolve emotional pain via the physical body.
This approach has been backed up by studies exploring how the Chinese disciplines of Tai chi and Qi Gong affect the body on a chemical level. For example, Tai chi appeared to reduce inflammation and can help prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.
Researchers at UCLA conducted a five-year randomised clinical trial. The team analysed blood samples from 90 participants before and after they started the Tai chi routine.
Dr Irwin reported on the findings: “We saw that Tai chi reversed cellular inflammation, by producing a down-regulation of the genes that lead to inflammation”.
Adding: “Tai chi is a movement meditation, and we have found that similar anti-inflammatory effects occur when people practice other forms of meditation.”
Many PNI studies have focused on how stress, hostility and depression impact the immune system. Many conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and premature ageing are related to stress and negative emotions.
Evidence suggests that Western society is finally catching up with the traditional methods of Chinese Medicine. Indeed, the two-thousand-year-old Chinese text ‘Internal Medicine Classic’ reads: ‘If one maintains an undisturbed spirit within, no disease will occur’.
Interested in learning more? You can find more information about Chinese Medicine by clicking here .
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