Chinese medicine is a holistic medicine that views the mind, and its accompanying emotional states, as having physical residence in the body. Classical five elemental thinking gave rise to the categorization of the 5 zang, or Yin organs, as housing the emotional conditions of joy, anger, pensiveness/melancholy, sadness, and fear—corresponding to the elements fire, wood, earth, metal and water, respectively. Modern day psychology also recognizes that this is an artificial dualism that plays out in the diagnosis of various mental disorders, separating mental from physical health. During the month of May, Mental Health Month, we have an opportunity to focus on a subject that is, at times, hard for us to confront.
Approximately 1 in 5 people suffer a mental illness of some kind, with about 7% of Americans living with depression, and 18% living with anxiety disorders. The most pronounced sign of depression is a lack of interest or pleasure, along with increased or reduced appetite, and—at its extremes with Major Depressive Disorder—suicide. Estimates are that up to 20% of Americans will experience a major depression in their lifetime. Anxiety’s unique symptoms include muscular tension, difficulty functioning in social situations and restlessness. These disorders share the symptoms of irritability, decreased energy, insomnia and poor concentration. As one might expect, anxiety and depression often coexist, with their most common cause being overwhelming daily, social stressors. According to the World Health Organization, poor mental health is associated with socio-economic pressures, as well as “rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, risks of violence, [and] physical ill-health.”
A major depressive episode is much more than the typical sensation of feeling down for a little bit throughout the day, only to have your spirits lifted again when you come home from work; depression is something that endures for months and sometimes years. During this time, it has been found that s/he who suffers from major depression has elevated levels of glucocorticoids, hormones associated with stress responses. This affects the body by altering sleep patterns, restricting motor functions by inhibiting the musculoskeletal system, creating imbalance in the digestive system, and of course inhibiting the immune system. And as much as emotions affect physical processes, we also see this happen in the reverse: chronic pain, for instance, will cause one to suffer emotionally, plunging someone into depression as s/he is incapable of seeing a way out, with the potential to feel that s/he does not deserve to get better.
Social stigma typically dictates that we come together in happiness, only to suffer alone. It is for this reason that building a sense of community with others remains an important part of human existence. This can be done by sharing physical activities, enjoying food by learning how to cook healthier and tastier cuisine, or cultivating the mind in meditation groups. Mental health is inseparable from physical health, and it is important to maintain both regularly through daily exercise, including Qigong, Tai Chi, and meditation. Research has shown that regular Tai Chi practice has significant effects upon mood, reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have also been shown to be equally beneficial. So, however you choose to maintain mental health, doing something that brings you together with others—so that you may build on the common goal of treating both the mind and body as a whole—will help you live a wiser and more fulfilled life.
Tao of Wellness offers personalized Qi Gong classes for our patients. To schedule your private session please talk to our receptionist at the front desk.