Anxiety and depressive disorders often manifest together, however, distinct differences can still be seen between a diagnosis of anxiety and one of depression.
Depressive disorders commonly lead to symptoms such as anger, despair, hopelessness, and very low levels of energy. People suffering from depression may feel overwhelmed by personal relationships and day-to-day tasks. They may experience feelings of worthlessness and emptiness, may feel fatigue, suffer from possible insomnia, and have very low interest in most activities. Hopelessness takes over when depression is at its worst, and for those with serious depressive disorders, suicidal ideations might set in
With regards to generalized anxiety disorder, symptoms might include being easily startles, problems falling asleep and/or remaining asleep, problems concentrating, headaches, muscle tension, irritability, edginess, restlessness, an unrealistic view of problems, and excessive tension and worry.
Besides that, generalized anxiety individuals often also suffer from other anxiety disorders including phobias, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and panic disorder.
There are about 19.1 million people with anxiety disorder problems in the United States and around 18.8 million adults who suffer from clinical depression based on statistics gathered by the National Institute of Mental Health.
The NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is a branch of the NIH (National Institutes for Health) that sponsors research studies in different kinds of holistic treatments. A study of women patients with depression symptoms showed that in 70% of those patients around half of them experienced an improvement of symptoms. The study was the first ever double-blind, controlled, randomized study done in the US and it demonstrated acupuncture’s ability to treat depression. The study concluded that acupuncture modifies brain chemistry by altering in a good way the release of neurohormones and neurotransmitters.
A sample study conducted by researchers at Stanford with 61 pregnant women as participants showed that those who were administered with acupuncture treatments experienced vast improvements in depression symptoms. The conclusion of the researchers was that acupuncture was a promising treatment for pregnancy-related depression and can be used as a long term treatment for the disorder. Another study, done in Australia showed that in patients suffering from pain and anxiety, 65% experienced symptomatic relief while almost a quarter claimed that it helped.
Other studies reveal that when used along with Western pharmaceutical therapy for anxiety and depression, TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine produced better results than when either mode of treatment was used as a standalone treatment.
The Viewpoint of Chinese Medicine
It’s important to see how Chinese medicine views anxiety and depression with such promising statistics from research studies dealing with Chinese Medicine.
For over 2,000 years, TCM has already figured out that a connection between mind, spirit, and body, exists. According to TCM, since the mind and body are closely linked with each other, a health condition can affect both of them. Therefore physical symptoms have related emotional disturbances and, conversely, emotional responses can result in physical disorders.
The TCM practitioner’s primary objective is to establish a link between the symptoms manifested by a patient in order to determine what is known as a “pattern of disharmony”. The objective of the treatment is to bring back harmony and balance to the body. TCM always takes into account a person’s physical, mental and emotional aspects. Theoretical factors such as the Five Phases, Body and Blood Fluids, Qi, Internal Organs, and Yin Yang are used to establish the patterns of disharmony of TCM.
Anxiety and Depression – The Patterns of Disharmony
The most important thing to note is that in Chinese medicine the organs of the body are not the same as that of the western anatomical paradigm when looking at Patterns of Disharmony. A person showing a Pattern of Disharmony that affects his Heart Yin or Liver Qi, will have nothing to do with what is wrong with your heart or liver in Western medicine.
When it comes to anxiety and depression the patterns may include:
1. Heart and/or Liver fire: The consequence of prolonged Liver qi stagnation is fire. The emotional symptoms will include anger, frustration, and irritability while the physical symptoms will include possible insomnia, belching, rib-side pain premenstrual symptoms, bloating and nausea. Sufferers of this pattern may also have a quick temper, red face, red eyes, mouth sores, dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), headaches, and a bitter taste in the mouth.
2. Liver Qi stagnation: Emotional stress weakens the liver. Emotional and physical symptoms are the same as Heart and/or Liver fire pattern.
3. Phlegm: Emotional symptoms include experiencing dullness of thought, feeling cloudy and depression. Physical symptoms may include a swollen tongue, fatigue, dizziness, congestion, feeling weighted down, and obesity.
4. Heart Yin deficiency: Menopausal women usually suffer from Yin deficiency. Emotional symptoms include irritability and sensitivity. Physical symptoms can include a red tongue with little coating, tinnitus, heat sensations in the body, dryness, low back soreness, dizziness, and absentmindedness.
5. Spleen and Heart Qi deficiency: Emotional symptoms include and feeling timid and excessive worry. Physical symptoms may include a pale tongue, weak digestion, fatigue, weak appetite, poor memory, insomnia, and palpitations.
At any given time, patients usually show around three to eight patterns. Patterns of disharmony often do not exist on their own. This implies that a customized type of treatment is required. When diagnosing each patient, the practitioner should take into account a patient’s unique patterns of disharmony and constitution.
A frail old women, for example, with a diagnosis of depression manifests sadness, low energy, and a pale tongue. The person suffers from a deficiency and is prescribed with certain herbs and administered with acupuncture to strengthen and boost his Qi. In contrast, if a man who is overweight and suffering from depression, a heavily coated tongue, bad temper, headaches, and a red face is probably suffering from excess and treated with acupuncture and herbs clear her heat and phlegm. The woman’s symptoms may have worsened had she been treated in the same manner as the man.
Herbal treatment and acupuncture results usually are cumulative, and gets better within weeks. The patient starts with one or two sessions a week and they decrease as the symptoms improve.
Besides being safe, when used with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs, herbs and acupuncture are quite effective. To a lot of patients these drugs are not enough to help treat the symptoms completely. Patients would rather take the drugs in lower dosages to help lessen their side effects. Herbs and acupuncture are sought after by patients for several reasons but mostly because they are extremely effective and safe to use.
Amy-SuiQun Lui, L.Ac.
Asian Health Center
27059 Grand Army of the Republic Hwy
Cleveland, OH 44143
Tel: (440) 833-0983