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-regulate 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.
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.
Modern research on the effects of systemic violence tells us that people who are exposed to many emotionally difficult/traumatic experiences tend to develop a predictable set of health problems. These can range from increased risk of heart disease and diabetes to chronic pain, anxiety, depression and even schizophrenia. In the never-ending debate about nature vs nurture, it is becoming increasingly clear that people’s life experience has a strong impact on their health.
This is important on an individual level, of course
If you are a person who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and your daily life requires you to navigate highly stressful interactions due to racism or sexism, your path toward recovery from PTSD is going to be more challenging than it otherwise would. Collectively, though, it is easy to see how this dynamic would create barriers in a community’s ability to advocate for itself effectively and improve its circumstances.
Organizing anything in a community, whether a bingo night or a get-out-the-vote effort, requires a high tolerance for stress and interpersonal conflict. This reality can become a damaging cycle for earnest activists who want to bring people together, but find that their health suffers whenever they reach into the forge to create something. People burn out and get sick, others step into the fire, and then the same thing occurs.
This cycle itself becomes a barrier to collective liberation, as people’s individual symptoms become a block toward creating and maintaining community cohesion.
If you are unable to leave your house then you can’t show up for other people as easily. If you are always having to self-medicate to get through the day then the difficult work of conflict resolution becomes even harder. People fall through the cracks, lose touch with their friends and families, and their brilliance and light become inwardly-focused out of necessity. There is no need to victim-blame here, as everyone’s decisions make personal sense, but collectively the presence of containers where people can enjoy and rely on one another can become quite challenging to maintain under such conditions.
Watching this dynamic play out, both in my life and in the lives of those around me, is part of what lead me to choose a career in Chinese medicine. I began my journey as a patient seeking help for my asthma, which improved dramatically, but I stayed for help with my anxiety and depression. As I walked the path of treatment I noticed my tolerance for difficult situations, and my ability to re-center myself after volatile emotional experiences, growing. I became more effective, as well as happier and more balanced.
It occurred to me that this medicine could be incredibly helpful for my queer and trans community, where people often struggle to access any kind of care, much less affirming medicine that improves their lives in the measurable ways that I had seen my own improve.
A medicine that is tailored to every individual, and which can treat myriad emotional and physical problems without drugs, can be an incredible asset to people who have historically been all but barred from recieving medical care. Moreover, I believe strongly that individual health translates to collective health in a ways that mirrors the process of illness and burnout described above. As we heal ourselves we are more able to see another, hold complexity, and stay in connection with people even under stressful circumstances.
We become conduits for work that needs doing, both internally and externally.
One of my favorite teachers at NUNM often says “illness is oppression”. This seemingly-simple statement encapsulates everything that it took me three paragraphs to say so far in this article. It is a profound way to understand the connection between personal health and collective wellbeing. The corollary to this is that healing is liberation. This, in essence, is my treatment philosophy, and what I am excited to share with every patient I have the privilege of working with.