Sheng Mai San: Chinese Medicine and Chronic Anxiety

If you have ever suffered from anxiety, you know that your anxiety is not the same as other peoples’.

There are many common experiences that folks with anxiety have, such as feelings of worry and fear, and possibly increased heart rate. However, there are also real differences in people’s manifestations of anxiety. Some people get palpitations while others get sweaty palms or nausea. In Chinese medicine we acknowledge many types of anxiety, each with their own particular causes and treatments. In this short article I will describe one of these specific anxiety types: chest yin deficiency.

Yin deficiency is a Chinese medical diagnosis that describes a tissue state and an energetic state.

Every part of our body has an ideal temperature and moisture level, and our body’s ability to self-chinese medicine yin deficiency anxiety dry cracked earthregulate relies on having enough warming, cooling, moistening and drying energies available. Over time, however, stressful life events and/or illness can deplete these energies. Yin is a term that describes all of the energies and substances in the body that are cooling and moistening. Tears are yin, mucus membranes are yin, and many aspects of the blood are yin. If we endure a hot process of some kind, say a fever, the yin substances in our body are taxed and eventually damaged in the fever goes on for too long.

Anxiety is generally a hot process, which depletes Yin over time.

It can be caused by a single event that leaves a lasting imprint on someone, like a car accident, or by an ongoing situation such as a stressful job. Anxiety can effect different organs, depending on the person’s constitution and their health status. When it effects all of the organs in the chest (the heart, pericardium and lungs) and burns up their yin, then chest yin deficiency in the result.

What might this look like for an actual person? Oftentimes people with this pattern have heart palpitations that came and go with stress, their chest often feels hot subjectively, they have a dry cough and/or sore throat that are mild but lingering, and they have intense anxiety that they feel emanating from their chest. They also generally will experience sleep issues, such as inability to fall asleep and/or frequent waking. This state can be temporary and resolve on its own over time, but it can also become chronic and require direct treatment.

One useful way to think about diagnostic patterns in Chinese medicine is to use herbal formulas as representations.

This enables practitioners to talk about complex presentations in short-hand, rather than describing all of the patient’s symptoms or diagnoses individually. The formula that represents chest Yin deficiency is called Sheng Mai San (pronounced Shung My Sahn). This herbal formula contains Ginseng, Ophiopogon Tuber (a relative of Asparagus), and Schisandra berry. The name Sheng Mai San translates roughly as “generate the pulse powder”, so named because people with chest yin deficiency tends to have rapid but weak or thin pulses. Sheng Mai San moistens and nourishes the Yin and blood of the chest organs, helping to calm anxiety and relieve the other various symptoms described above.

chinese herbs anxiety yin deficiency
(Not Shengmai san :))

Herbal treatment is almost always paired with acupuncture in Chinese medicine.

We can stimulate the channels of the associated organs (in this case the Lung, heart and pericardium channels) to clear heat, nourish Yin and blood, and settle the mind. The length of treatment depends on how long the person has been experiencing symptoms, but generally within a few months most symptoms will completely resolve.

This article is not intended to help you diagnose yourself or your friends, but simply to shed light on how Chinese medicine understands and treats emotional distress. Your particular anxiety may or may not fit this Chinese medical pattern, which is why finding a qualified practitioner who can diagnose and treat your condition is important.

If these ideas resonate and you would like to see how Chinese medicine treatment could help you with your symptoms of anxiety – press the orange button below this article to be taken to the convenient online scheduler. I look forward to learning more about you & helping you find greater balance – and less discomfort – in your life.

Written by Rowan Everard


I discovered Chinese medicine shortly after moving to Portland to complete my undergraduate studies. I began my journey as a patient, but after several years of being an increasingly curious patient I found myself drawn into the formal study of this medicine. In Chinese medicine, I found tools that helped me to transform myself, and which I have seen lead to dramatic positive shifts in patients.