Anxiety is a known mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), anxiety is seen as a result of an imbalance in the body’s Qi (pronounced “chee”), which is the vital energy that flows through the body’s meridians. TCM approaches anxiety holistically, considering the person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects.
This article will explore the different ways in which TCM can be used to help manage anxiety.
- Acupuncture is a main component of TCM, and it has been used for 1000 years to treat a broad range of conditions, including anxiety. According to TCM theory, acupuncture works by balancing the body’s Qi, which can become blocked or stagnant and lead to physical or emotional imbalances.
- During an acupuncture session, thin needles are inserted into particular points on the body to stimulate the flow of Qi. The practitioner will choose points based on the individual’s symptoms and underlying imbalances. Acupuncture is usually considered safe and has few side effects, but finding a qualified and licensed practitioner is important.
- Research has shown that acupuncture may be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 70 studies observed that acupuncture was significantly more effective than no treatment or usual care in reducing anxiety symptoms. However, new research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind acupuncture’s effectiveness for anxiety.
Herbal medicine is another key aspect of TCM, and it can be used to help manage anxiety. TCM herbs are chosen based on the individual’s symptoms and underlying imbalances. Some commonly used herbs for anxiety include:
- Ashwagandha: This herb is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine and TCM to help manage anxiety. Ashwagandha is believed to help balance the body’s stress response system and reduce cortisol levels, which can contribute to anxiety.
- Rhodiola: Rhodiola is another herb believed to help balance the body’s stress response system. It is also believed to have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.
- Passionflower: Passionflower is a calming herb traditionally used to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
- Kava: Kava is a plant traditionally used in Polynesian cultures to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. However, there is some concern about the potential for liver damage with long-term use of kava, so it should be used cautiously.
It is essential to note that not all herbs are safe for everyone, and some herbs may interact with medications or other supplements. It is essential to consult with a qualified TCM practitioner before using any herbal remedies.
Diet and Lifestyle
TCM also places a strong emphasis on diet and lifestyle as a way to promote health and balance in the body. In TCM, anxiety is often seen as a result of a weakened Spleen and Kidney, which can be caused by poor diet and lifestyle habits.
Some dietary and lifestyle recommendations for managing anxiety in TCM include:
Eat foods that nourish the heart
In TCM, the heart is considered the seat of the mind and emotions. Therefore, nourishing the heart with the right foods is essential to help manage anxiety. Foods that nourish the heart include:
- Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale, and collard greens are all rich in magnesium, which helps regulate the body’s stress response.
- Fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, and bananas are all high in vitamin C, which helps reduce stress hormones.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all rich in magnesium, which can help reduce anxiety symptoms.
- Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, and oats are complex carbohydrates that provide sustained energy, and help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Avoid foods that exacerbate anxiety
Just as there are foods that nourish the heart, there are foods that can worsen anxiety symptoms. These foods include:
- Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that can high heart rate and exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
- Sugar: Consuming too much can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, triggering anxiety symptoms.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant that can worsen sadness and anxiety.
- Processed foods: Highly processed foods, such as fast food and snack foods, are often high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, negatively impacting mood and energy levels.
Incorporate herbs and spices
In TCM, herbs and spices are often used to support overall health and balance the body’s energy. Some herbs and spices that may help manage anxiety include:
- Chamomile: Chamomile tea is famous for its calming properties and can help reduce anxiety symptoms.
- Lavender: Lavender is often used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce anxiety symptoms.
Mindfulness is a technique that involves concentrating on the present moment and cultivating non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Mindfulness can help reduce anxiety symptoms by promoting relaxation and reducing rumination. Some mindfulness practices that may help manage anxiety include:
- Meditation: Meditation involves sitting quietly and focusing on the breath or a specific sensation. Daily meditation practice can help reduce stress and anxiety symptoms.
- Yoga combines physical postures with breathwork and meditation to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
- Tai Chi: Tai Chi is a pleasant martial arts form involving slow, flowing movements and deep breathing. Tai Chi has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve overall well-being.
Get Regular Exercise
Daily exercise is important for overall health and well-being and can be especially helpful for managing anxiety. Exercise can help decrease stress hormones, increase endorphins (feel-good chemicals), and improve mood. Some types of exercise that may help manage anxiety include:
Aerobic exercises like Running, cycling, and swimming can help reduce anxiety symptoms by increasing heart rate and releasing endorphins.
Strength training involves performing exercises that target specific muscle groups intending to increase muscular strength and endurance. Regular strength training can lead to improved physical performance, increased bone density, and reduced risk of injury.
In conclusion, Chinese medicine approaches anxiety as a result of an imbalance of energy in the body, and treatment involves restoring balance and harmony to the body and mind using various holistic methods such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary therapy, and exercise. While further research is needed, many people have reported positive results from using Chinese medicine for anxiety management.
How TCM Calms Us
NourishDoc: Hello, everyone. Well, all of us have to learn how to calm ourselves and be less anxious post-covid times or, in fact, during the COVID times. We want to talk today about how traditional Chinese medicine can help us manage these uncertain and turbulent times. We have Nicholas; Nicholas is all-in-one traditional Chinese medicine. He is an acupuncturist, a qigong instructor, and a Chinese boxer, and I don’t know what else, but you can explain; thank you so much. He is joining us live from Australia, Queensland Welcome, Nicholas.
Acupuncturist Nicholas: Hello, Amita. Thank you so much for your lovely intro. Okay, so yes, I’m a Chinese medical practitioner; as I briefly discussed, I got into Chinese medicine by practicing Chinese martial arts and the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi, traditionally called Tai Chi Kwan. Tai Chi Kwan, or Tai Chi, is a way of moving.
That way of moving is Qigong, and so as I developed in my training doing Tai Chi and Qigong and martial arts, a lot of the basics of the martial art is striking at acupuncture points to disable and end a fight very quickly. So I decided to use my knowledge for good, not just evil. So I went to enroll in Chinese massage but walked out, enrolled in Chinese medicine acupuncture, and I’ve never looked back.
I earned my pocket money by massaging my father and sister, who were keen on sports people, and of course, mum because she’s mum. So I had a very natural tactile feel of the body. So I enjoyed that ability to help and heal people through touch and using Chinese medicine and acupuncture.
Tai Chi & Qigong benefits for anxiety
NourishDoc: I think it’s beautiful. So let’s talk about how, like most of us, we need clarification during tai chi and Qigong. Let’s understand how Qigong and some of the movement medicine Chinese medicine can help us wait through these turbulent times.
Acupuncturist Nicholas: Yes, not a problem, either. It’s a really interesting conversation, so I like to explain to people if you had a thread that was yoga. People know there are all different types of yoga, ashtanga, and yoga nidra and all these different types of yoga; You can imagine that there is Qigong and lots of different types of Qigong, of which Tai Chi is one type of Qigong and so what Qigong is a movement medicine very similar to the concept of yoga whereby using the body and putting it in a certain position and moving it in certain ways causes the biochemical and the energetic elements of the body to be transformed and to move or to balance.
It’s a way of regulating the body by joining the mind and the body back together through movement. Now one of the most interesting aspects of Qigong is that Qigong is a way of moving. So while yoga is very posture-related, Qigong is very movement related. It goes back to a way that we move that is very primal and is a way of moving that it’s called pandiculation. Now, this is a term that only some people know.
However, pandiculation is how mammals, mammalian species on the planet, learn to move. So young animals use pandiculation to learn hunting skills, defensive skills, or particular movements. So Qigong is a way of pandiculating the body while standing up through specific movements. It has a host of different regulatory effects on the body that can help with anxiety and depression; it has a very neuroplastic effect on the brain, so it can help people deal with a whole.
NourishDoc: I do want to add that I love the way you compared Qigong with yoga because yoga has become very popular all over the world, but Qigong can also be very helpful for seniors because it’s more of a gentle movement when yoga is more like a movement like Downward dogs, upward dogs and all kind of acrobatics right?
Acupuncturist Nicholas: Well, yes and no. So what I am particularly passionate about is helping people understand that Qigong can be a spectrum of intensities, and so while it can be really good for seniors and mature people or people who are very unfit or very unhealthy who want to begin exercise because it has a very light way of programming body movement and beginning to reinitiate the nervous system and grow the nerve into the muscle.
It also has an extremely active and functional aspect that can be used for younger people who want to either program new movement patterns into themselves, heal themselves for injuries, or to help them to relax and soften and rejuvenate the muscles from more rigorous exercises they might be doing so it can be used for a quite a wide and diverse range of people.
But it depends on how you train, and so as I pointed out, I started in the martial arts doing tai chi and Qigong, and that was a very vigor style activity, so the Qigong helped me to learn how to do those very vigorous movements at a slow way like slowing things down. So your body puts all the different elements into place before re-speck it back up so that can be useful for young people but as for the more mature population as well or people who aren’t very fit who need to start at a very easily at a very fundamental level of exercise Qigong can do the same thing.
It can help them to slow down their movement to reprogram their nervous system and their muscles in how to do the more vigor exercise that they plan on getting to or for the very mature population to help them to maintain movement as we know as people get older the body tend to forget it’s not doing the movement so often.
Hence, the body’s nervous system forgets how to do movements. So Qigong can be an excellent way for people to maintain their movement over a long period of their life and keep their balance, coordination, and independence for longer because they retain the ability to do various abstract movements. So, it can benefit a wide range of people.
Postures For Calming Ourselves
NourishDoc: Sure. So, yoga has all these posture names, and most of us have memorized many posture names like downward dog or upward dog. So, talk to us about Qigong and some poses or postures. I don’t know any other words except for posture; for movement, there are no postures that we can do, and as an end user of Qigong to help us calm ourselves, I should say that.
Acupuncturist Nicholas: Yes. One of the main practices in Qigong is called Jan Juang; it is actually what they call static Qigong, which is just standing in a set posture for quite a long time. I like to joke with people that it’s extremely yin-yin yoga because it’s very soft in yin yoga. However, Qigong is like slowing down to just standing still, which can be in a compass to any posture you see in a tai chi form.
So while Zhan Zhuang has very basic style postures of the body in a different position, what we’re looking at more with Qigong is more about the qualities and the principle of how we’re moving. We’re talking about being grounded, being centered, moving from the center, being posted, and moving with Song; these are different qualities of movement that help us engage the mind back with the body.
So in yoga, I’m sometimes a little bit I would not say I like to use the word critical. However, one of the things I like to like about yoga can be quite simple: people can put their bodies into a specific posture, like the downward dog you can see someone do it. You can put your body into that posture. However, with Tai Chi and Qigong, learning how to move and its principles takes a long time.
One of the most important things about this way of moving and why it’s so slow is that it teaches us to relax and soften. One of the big things that Qigong can offer people is that we’re just going a hundred miles an hour in our society today. If you’re not doing something, you’re not achieving it, and many people feel bad. However, Qigong takes us back to a place of slow down. It’s a real skill that people need to re-embody because we’re always racing.
As we know, that’s what anxiety is. It’s living in the future; it’s like, I’ve got, and you have to come back and rest, and depression is a little slow. So Qigong is something like I have a catchphrase: rest your mind on the very edge of the movement. When we do that from a Chinese perspective, we’re bringing our chi into contact with our mind, which is called Shen in Chinese medicine. So the mind, the chi, the body, and the mind merge into one. It allows us to find a deeply restful space.
So while there is a very basic post to learn, they’re less complicated than yoga postures. However, the quality of movement and the way that we must learn to rest and relax in the posture can be very counter to the way we’ve been trained to think or act in our lives, and so what I come across a lot of the time is people can find Qigong or tai chi to be a little bit boring.
At the start, because they’re like, well, what comes next But it’s a very repetitive exercise. The reason this is done is so we can train our mind to slow down and sit at the moment and have gratitude and appreciation for where we are right now and the way that our mind feels in our body and the way we are as opposed to trying to race off to the next posture or to do this or to do that to just come back into ourselves and feel exactly where our body is at any given time.
So yeah, the postures in Tai Chi and Qigong can be quite simple but very intricate because it takes us a while to learn how to embody ourselves within that posture. Does that make sense?
Role of Yoga
NourishDoc: Yeah. I was thinking about it; we as a society are always trying to raise. I’m saying that as a society, we are always in a race to do the next thing, and the same thing in the Western world; yoga has become the same way like; core power yoga is more like a workout rather than you look at the original yoga like the true yoga.
Hence, we change it and always mix it with our spices of the Western world or whatever you want to call it. So if the yoga is high core power and the meditation is still, I rate Qigong in between like a middle kid here sandwiched between the high like a posture pond posture at complete stillness and Qigong is in the middle kid. Does that make sense?
Acupuncturist Nicholas: Yeah, exactly. It does. I talk about that quite a lot, which is why I always try to dance delicately around that conversation with Yogi because Yogi is very like. However, yoga has become a lot like that. One of the interesting things is that our society does tense well. Just look at politics, religion, and everything we do; we do tension and hold tension in our bodies, and people like to have six packs of beautiful muscles and go to the gym. So we do tension very well.
What we could do better is rest and relax and stop. Interestingly I listen to many podcasts about health and neurobiology. From what I’ve heard, our body learns to hold tension or learn to hold frustration and worry stress in our body. It is very hard for us to relax, so that is the entire Qigong process. So yoga has become very fast-paced, and so people can, as I said people could find Qigong very difficult because of that, but once they start to slip into those very relaxed states and start to feel into their body and feel that ground and centredness that are no longer words.
I’m a very centered person. I feel very grounded, but what you learn through Qigong is that it is a body state; it isn’t a state of mind. It’s a physical state of being. So the Zen Buddhists have a term; I can remember it now off the top of my head, oh Mushen. Mushen means not of the mind but of the body’s mind, so Qigong allows us to slow down to get into that space from a Chinese medical perspective; as far as herbs, acupuncture, and moxibustion cupping are concerned, tension is a disease.
Holding all that residual tension, whether it’s physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, in our body causes our muscles, our fascia, and our nervous system to constrict and tie in certain ways, and it is a different skill; people think relaxing is sitting in front of Netflix, having a glass of wine but this is a body’s state through that and what Qigong tries to do is teach you how to delete physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual tension out of you mind-body complex to essentially return to your original shape, how you are meant to be genetically and epigenetically, it’s quite fascinating and I know we don’t have time to go into that.
But through a lot of research and learning that I have been doing, Qigong reprograms our body to come back into a naturally balanced state of being. There’s a Chinese medical text two thousand five years old called the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese medicine. It’s the emperor of China two thousand five hundred years ago talking to his adviser.
Some ascribe writing down their conversation, and they discuss how the ancient people two hundred and five thousand years ago were saying the ancient people how old are; those ancient people But they used to use Qigong to return themselves to a state of balance of yin and yang and a balance between them and the environment and them and the universe and so I believe that Qigong helps you to get in touch with our natural self and our natural animal that we are and to stop us racing ahead in our intellect human way of being.
NourishDoc: That’s beautiful. Here is a quick snip on how Qigong can help all of us to help maintain our balance like you are talking about, and how it is so beautiful and intricate, a movement medicine, right? That’s why we talk about food as medicine. We should also cover movement as medicine, which is so important in today’s day and age. Anything else you like to add before I wrap up supposed to be a quick ten session that we do.
Acupuncturist Nicholas: I urge the listeners to use Qigong and engage with me on one of the social media platforms and begin looking at the wisdom within Qigong. It embodies a message that is so important for the tur times we live in to teach people how to come back into themselves to create space around themselves and to get back to their original self to begin healing their mind and body and re them others. So engage in some qigong and try it out, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
NourishDoc: Well, thank you so much. I’m going to try that out for sure I do yoga every day, but I’ve done Qigong, but I will surely check out your social handle and try it out. Thank you so much, Nicholas, for being with us.