The Chinese have a saying that the emotions are the cause of 100 diseases. In the case of depression, they’re right on the money. I have worked with many patients who suffer from depression, and while they differ widely in their histories, they all have one thing in common: lack of emotional flow.
Chinese medicine is all about flow, whether it’s the flow of digestion, blood, energy, or emotions. When that flow is blocked for one reason or another, symptoms arise. We practitioners of Chinese medicine consider that lack of flow a kind of stagnation, much like a dam on a moving river. Behind the dam, water backs up and creates a lake. However, down river, there’s only a trickle of water getting past the dam. In your body, stagnation works in much the same way, in which a blockage creates a backup, but can ultimately create depletion.
In Chinese medicine, depression is caused by emotions gone wild, including anger, grief, excessive worry, frustration, or anxiety. It’s important to note that some people have depression caused by chemical imbalances, traumatic life events, and even medications they’re taking. However, I have found that people I have treated who suffer from depression experience a large difference between the way they would like their life to be and the way that their life actually is. These strong emotions ultimately affect the physical body and can cause symptoms such as poor digestion, insomnia, a lump in the throat, a sensation of heat, aches and pains, and fatigue.
Early on, depression is usually characterized by stagnation. This means that your blockage of emotional energy is strongest during this time and most likely to cause symptoms associated with stagnation. Symptoms include feeling despondent, frequent sighing, feeling full, pain under your ribs, and chest pain. If there is some heat involved, you may also experience irritability, impatience, a dry mouth, thirst, a bitter taste in your mouth, and constipation.
Sometimes the blockage feels like a lump or something stuck in your throat. The Chinese call this Plum Pit Qi and believe that it is the physical manifestation of a situation that is figuratively too difficult to swallow.
Over time, if your depression is unresolved, it will begin to act like the trickle of water below the dam, in that you may cry easily, experience a lack of energy or motivation, poor appetite, restlessness and constant worry. At this point, your depression is zapping your energy.
Treating depression in Chinese medicine can be very effective and involves the use of acupuncture to calm your spirit and to unblock energetic and emotional stagnation. The use of Chinese herbs is extremely helpful for depression, and there are several formulas that can be used based on your particular symptoms.
There are also some things that you can do at home to help relieve depression, including:
-Stay flexible, both literally and figuratively. Some gentle stretching feels good and is relaxing. Emotional flexibility is also crucial to overcoming depression. Making friends with your life as it is or making changes to improve your personal situation will help your mental outlook. Also, flexibility in terms of an open mind will arm you through future upsets or disappointments.
-Get moving. Again, this is both literal and figurative. Movement, in the form of physical activity, will help improve your mood through the production of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in your brain. Research studies are clear on this: physical activity is an effective way to relieve depression—in some cases as effective as medications. Emotional movement in terms of trying something new or a new solution is also a way to rise above your depression.
-Get enough sleep. While insomnia may be a component of depression, do everything you can to get a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep will only make you feel worse.
-Eat well. Healthy foods that you can easily digest will help combat lethargy and fatigue. Eat a good breakfast to maintain your energy; and eat lost of well-cooked vegetables, fruits, whole grains and a little protein at each meal.
-Keep a gratitude journal. Research has shown that just writing down a couple of things each day for which you are thankful can in some instances be as effective as antidepressant medications. Remembering those positive things and people in your life helps you will shift your thinking from your glass being half empty to being half full.