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Most of us have, at some point, gone through a period of feeling physically unwell (chronic pain, constant digestive problems, and so on) which, over time, gave way to depression, anxiety, anger, or frustration. The opposite experience is also common: Chronic depression or anxiety can be clearly linked with stomach problems like IBS, random aches and pains that appear to have no cause, constant headaches, or frequent colds.

Depression

One of the the first things we would want to know is how a person’s depression manifests. Many of us just think of sadness as the main symptom of depression, but in reality, depression can show up in a lot of different ways. In addition to feeling sad or weepy, depressed people might say they feel angry, frustrated, “stuck”, anxious, exhausted, “low”, irritable, unmotivated, or hopeless.

It is important to listen carefully to the words someone uses to describe the way they feel because, from a Chinese medicine standpoint, each of these words suggests something a little bit different about the person’s depression. A depressed person who feels “frustrated” probably has a different cause of depression than someone who feels “weepy”; understanding these differences allows the acupuncturist to design a treatment that is appropriate for that person’s symptoms.

One of the major causes of depression in Chinese medicine is stagnation of qi (energy). This is a broad category that has a few different subcategories, but the general idea here is that the person’s vital energy and blood is not flowing or circulating properly. This can give rise to sensations of internal heat in the torso, or to hands and feet that are always cold. This person may feel angry or aggressive, and describe themselves as “moody”. Women may have severe PMS or irregular periods. In cases of qi stagnation, we need to move qi and blood, and this can be done using acupuncture and herbs that specifically focus on the movement of these vital substances.

Another Chinese medicine explanation for depression may be the deficiency of a vital substance, such as yin, yang, qi or blood. Each of these substances plays an important role in the maintenance of optimum health, both physical and mental. If one of these substance becomes deficient (as a result of overwork, poor diet, prolonged grief, chronic illness, excessive drug use, or some other factor that has damaged the body’s normal functioning), then there may be changes in physical and mental health. In this case, the acupuncturist’s goal will be to increase or “supplement” the deficient substance using acupuncture and herbs. There may be dietary changes that can increase these substances as well.

Just as there may be too little of some substance in the body, there can also be too much. In these cases, there is an excess of qi, yin, dampness, or phlegm. These excesses can cause a clouding of the spirit. This is something we have all observed in others at some point: people with such excess may appear disengaged from their environment, fuzzy or foggy in their interactions with others, confused or withdrawn, exhausted, or “lacking in spirit”. When someone has an excess of some substance causing these kinds of symptoms, the acupuncturist will try to gently clear away these substance, again using acupuncture, herbs, and dietary changes.

Depression may also be caused by an excess of heat or an excess of yang. These people tend to be easily agitated, angry, restless, and irritable. They may even be red in the face or have red eyes much of the time. This type of depression can result from long-term emotional stress and frustration, a diet of greasy and fatty foods, excessive alcohol consumption, and a lifetime of overthinking and worry. When someone presents with this kind of depression, the acupuncturist’s goal is usually to clear heat from the body and calm the person’s spirit.

Again, these are very broad and general explanations of depression in Chinese medicine. Everyone has a unique constitution and presentation of depression symptoms; the beauty of this medicine is that someone seeking help for depression can get a customized treatment that takes into account the causes and manifestations of specific symptoms. Acupuncture point prescriptions will be designed for each visit, taking into account changes since the last treatment, and herbal formulas can be created and modified as the condition changes.

For information about the treatment of depression with acupuncture, you can check out these research articles, abstracts, and summaries:

Most importantly, please remember that depression is a highly treatable condition, whether you choose to use Chinese medicine, western medicine, other forms of medicine, or a combination. If you are suffering from depression, there are many treatments that can help you. If you would like to discuss how acupuncture and herbs can help you, please feel free to contact us.

 

Acupuncture – An Alternative Treatment for Depression?

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