Associate Professor Heidi Most describes how, from a Chinese medicine perspective, “depression and anxiety can be understood as a disturbance to the shen, roughly translated as our spirit.” Most explains in this interview how acupuncture, herbs, dietary therapy, qi gong, and tai chi are all useful for treating depression and anxiety.
Broadly speaking, how can Chinese medicine help address issues related to depression and anxiety?
From a Chinese medicine perspective, depression and anxiety can be understood as a disturbance to the shen, roughly translated as our spirit. When the shen is disturbed, manifestations might include a feeling of lack of meaning in one’s life, an inability to connect to other people, feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing, lack of energy, and feeling inauthentic, among other things. Also, if qi/energy is stuck in the body, not moving smoothly, the emotions may also get stuck, in fear, or anger, or grief for instance. Chinese medicine treats these conditions by reconnecting the spirit with the deepest sense of our self, and with something larger than our selves. And it can guide the qi to move more smoothly, alleviating feelings of being stuck emotionally or spiritually.
What Chinese medicine therapies are most beneficial for those with depression and anxiety?
Acupuncture, herbs, dietary therapy, qi gong, and tai chi are all useful for treating depression and anxiety. No matter if you choose acupuncture or herbs, or use them both, one should always be eating healthfully and exercising. Chinese dietary therapy can help identify the best foods for a particular constitution. Qi gong and tai chi are gentle ways to learn how to move energy in your own body. Another concept in Chinese medicine is the importance of opening our sensory orifices, the portals of perception, so we can see and taste and hear the world in a different and healthier way. In this case, one can use incense, chanting, voice therapy, sound therapy, and visualizations to help move out of depression or anxiety.
What acupuncture point or herbs would a practitioner generally recommend to a patient with depression and anxiety?
Chinese medicine always treats the individual and not the disease. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that there are no set point formulas or herbal prescriptions…the treatment is really based on the individual. It’s like making a beautiful meal: the points and herbs work synergistically to create something that is larger than the individual ingredients.
Having said that, there are particular points and herbs that might be very useful. For instance, there are a group of points on the upper chest called the Kidney transport points. Each of these points deals with an emotional or spiritual aspect that relates to one of the five elements. For instance, if I am stuck in grief, I might use the point that is associated with metal to help acknowledge and move beyond that emotion. There are herbs that are used for wound healing which are very useful in treating anxiety and depression. The thought is that the spirit can be wounded just like the physical body. There are points and herbs that can help open our eyes so we see the world differently and that can help calm our fears, or give us the will to face the world.
How long might it take for someone to notice results?
People are often helped during the first session by the powerful language of Chinese medicine to describe disturbances of the spirit. But like many complicated conditions, it takes the dedication of patient and practitioner working together to make the necessary changes in one’s body, mind and spirit. Length of treatment very much depends on the severity of the condition. Anxiety can often be addressed quickly. Long term, debilitating depression can be a much longer process. But during the process, the patient can see progress, in small and large ways. This is another important concept in Chinese medicine: there is always the possibility for healing, no matter how intractable the disease.