What is Anxiety? Insights from East & West

What is Anxiety? Insights from East & West

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the US.
Despite very different medical terminology used by Eastern and Western practitioners, there are significant overlaps in the understanding of how anxiety disorders can arise and play out in the body.

For example, the heart plays a central role in Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) understanding of anxiety. Emotional problems are considered a disturbance of one’s Shen, the Heart energy. This is not so far off from the Western view when we consider that the shen is also defined as the mind, and therefore related to brain activity, including thinking, consciousness, and emotional regulation.

Western understanding describes an imbalance between the Pre- Frontal Cortex (PFC) and the emotional center of the brain. Individuals with an anxiety disorder show heightened activity in the brain’s emotional center. It’s the job of the PFC to inhibit these signals as needed. Our emotional centers are always on the lookout for threats so we can react quickly in a dangerous situation. In anxiety disorders, the emotional processing center becomes hypersensitive and the balance with the PFC weakens, causing a heightened and prolonged state of alert and alarm.

Giovanni Maccioca, one of the most highly respected practitioners of Chinese Medicine, views the Shen as vital in the executive function that needs to control the other aspects of spirit. In other words, the Shen, as the most conscious aspect of our spirit, correlates with the Pre-Frontal Cortex in its responsibility to manage our emotions, which Western medicine attributes to structures in the center of the brain and Chinese medicine recognizes as less
localized energies of various organs. It is interesting to note that while TCM sees the spirit of the heart as the main focus in understanding anxiety, the physical organ of the heart also has a direct relationship with our emotional experience. Emotional stress is often felt as a physical sensation in our chest and research has found a statistical correlation between anxiety and cardiovascular disease.

In TCM terms, Heart pathology can be congenital, result from direct injury to the heart energy or can stem from other organ imbalances which disrupt the Heart.

In discussing anxiety, many experienced acupuncturists would be quick to point out the relationship between the heart and the kidneys. Kidneys relate to our sense of feeling safe & secure in the world. The emotion of fear is held in the kidneys and needs to be regulated by the conscious mind of the heart in order to be used appropriately.

Western biomedicine is aware of the relationship between the health of the kidneys and our emotional well-being. Research estimates as many as 12-52% of people with end stage kidney disease have an anxiety disorder at some point. Likewise, stress-related high blood pressure and high blood sugar can place a tremendous strain on the kidneys over time.

Additional risk factors for anxiety disorders laid out by Western medical research point to other anxiety-related organ patterns described by TCM. For example, gastrointestinal disorders are associated with anxiety. As worry is the emotion of the spleen (considered a digestive organ in TCM), this is of course worth mentioning. In one study, 44% of people with IBS (Irritable Bowel
Syndrome) had an anxiety disorder compared to only 8% of people without IBS. Both Eastern and Western medicine will also consider lung function in relation to anxiety. Anxiety is often accompanied by depression, and TCM ascribes sadness to the lungs. Shortness of breath is a typical symptom of anxiety according to both Eastern and Western diagnosis. Western research
also points out chronic disturbances in breathing patterns in patients with panic disorders.

Finally, we can’t get away without giving proper respect to liver function. The liver in Chinese medicine plays a role in almost every disease process as it is the liver’s job to move the qi of the body. Alleviating stagnation is a main focus of the acupuncturist and therefore the liver gets a lot of attention. Physically, the health of the organ itself gets mentioned in Western medicine’s review of risk for anxiety as well. Anxiety was found to be significantly higher in patients with fatty liver disease.

Anxiety can be looked at as simply a brain imbalance but even Western perspectives recognize a much more holistic picture when looking at the various risk factors involving different organ systems, reminding us that health is a dynamic balance. Chinese Medicine can offer much needed support in that balancing act so call today to schedule your next treatment! (520) 979-7078

Can Acupuncture Help My Seasonal Allergies?

Can Acupuncture Help My Seasonal Allergies?

Allergies, seasonal or year round, are an ongoing problem for many  individuals.  Seasonal allergies typically affect people during a particular season or time of year.  They are also referred to as outdoor allergies and are generally triggered by tree, grass and weed pollens or outdoor mold spores.  Year round allergies also known as indoor allergies are typically brought on by animal dander, dust mites, mold spores or insect allergens.  There are also food allergies, which occur as a result of eating a culprit food, and can also create physical and/or emotional symptoms such as body hives, swelling, itching or redness of the skin, depression and/or moodiness. No matter what kind of allergy you suffer from, environmental or food related, acupuncture can provide needed relief. While medications (over-the-counter or prescribed) often come with unwanted side-effects, acupuncture does not. This makes acupuncture an appealing option for people looking for a new way to combat allergies.

According to Chinese medical theory, the symptoms and signs that indicate a Western diagnosis of allergies relate to imbalances in the meridian and Organ Systems of the body. These imbalances may stem from a variety of causes, including stress, poor diet, foods that don’t agree with your body, constitutional weakness, pollutants and environmental toxins.


Over time, if imbalances remain within the body, they will affect the functions of the Organ Systems. Some of these Organ Systems are involved in the production of Wei Qi (pronounced “way chee”). According to the theories of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, it is important to have the correct quality and quantity of Wei Qi circulating around the body in order to stay healthy.

What is Wei Qi? The Chinese concept of Wei Qi is similar to the Western concept of the immune system. Wei Qi functions to protect and defend the body against foreign substances, that if not caught can lead to allergies. When Wei Qi is strong and abundant, we remain healthy. When the supply of Wei Qi becomes deficient, health is compromised and we become vulnerable to foreign invaders such as dust, mold, animal dander, bacteria, viruses and pollen. People who have a Wei Qi deficiency are prone to allergies and frequent colds.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine support and strengthen the systems of the body that are involved in the production of Wei Qi. By building up the supply of Wei Qi, and facilitating the smooth and free flow of it through the body, symptoms and signs related to allergies could be greatly reduced or eliminated. What will an acupuncturist do? An acupuncturist will conduct a thorough exam, taking a complete health history. He/She will then develop a unique treatment plan that will address your specific concerns. The goals of the treatment plan will be to eliminate visible symptoms and signs, while addressing the root cause(s) and underlying imbalances affecting the quality and quantity of Wei Qi.

Acupuncture treatments may be combined with herbs, dietary changes, massage (tuina), or exercise. These therapies accelerate the healing process in order to balance, build, and support the health and functioning of your body’s systems. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are a drug-free, safe, natural and effective way to eliminate hay fever, allergies or the common cold.

Seasonal allergy tips:
Flush your nose with a Neti pot.
Add spicy foods and omega-3’s to your diet.
Keep your windows closed during allergy season to prevent dust and pollen from entering.
Put on a dust mask when you are doing yard or house work.
Do not hang your clothes out to dry in the sun, as they will gather dust, mold and pollen.
Come in for an acupuncture tune-up.
If you suffer from food allergies:
See an allergist and get tested for a proper diagnosis of a food allergy.
Avoid the foods that cause your reaction.
Peanuts, the proteins in cow’s milk, shellfish, tree nuts, fish, eggs, gluten, wheat and soy are the
most common food allergens.
It is possible to outgrow some food allergies.
Ask about ingredients at restaurants or when eating food prepared by another person.
Read food labels carefully.
Allergies according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be due to a variety of factors. Below are some of the more common TCM diagnoses that your acupuncturist may discover and treat.
Wei Qi deficiency
Spleen weakness
Kidney deficiency
Lung deficiency

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