As practitioners of Chinese Medicine, we see everyday how stress impacts the lives and health of our patients. In the short-run, a bit of everyday stress is normal, and for some, can be a motivator. Long-term or overwhelming stress is a problem, causing mental health imbalances, physical symptoms and chronic health disorders.
In our modern world, chronic stress is common. So much so that even before the pandemic, 264 million people worldwide were affected by depression. There is evidence that stressful life events and unremitting stress is causal to the onset of depression. Depression can significantly impair a person's ability to carry out life's activities and affects a person's relationships. After China and India, the United States is one of the most depressed countries in the world. In a given year, 43.8 million adults, or 1 in 5, in the U.S. experience mental illness. With the pandemic, the burdens on mental health have only compounded. The "mental health pandemic” - is not just a consequence of the virus’s impact on our collective social, economic, and physical lives - it’s global climate change, inequality, political polarization, government and corporate accountability, the list goes on. Learning how to heal better from stress is essential as we all face down these challenges.
In Chinese Medicine, understanding how stress impacts the health and overall balance of a person is fundamental. There is no separation between the emotional, mental, and physical well-being. In general, when speaking about stress, Chinese medicine practitioners may refer to it as affecting the “Shen,” or spirit. Shen entails a person’s emotional state and presence of mind. A stressful event may cause what we call a “Shen disturbance,” which may be mild to severe, depending on how troubling or traumatic the event was. In severe and traumatic cases, a “Shen disturbance,” can correlate with emotional shock and long-term neurosis.
Another way that we look at stress is in our most basic understanding of “pathogens,” or factors that affect a person’s health negatively. While viruses, bacteria and other environmental factors such as cold, heat, or damp may attack a person from the exterior, emotions that are repressed, unresolved, stagnated, or out-of-balance are considered “internal pathogens.” Not to demonize emotions - they are a natural, healthy aspect of life. But just as proper flow of Qi and Blood are important to overall health, so is the flow and processing of emotions. In relation to Qi and Blood, it is understood that the Shen is actually housed in the Blood. A fully nourished supply of Blood and a smooth flow of Qi is not only vital to physical functions, it is important to our experience of emotions. When a person is Blood deficient, they may feel distant, less resilient, scattered, forgetful, lacking in motivation, and less able to handle the challenges that come their way. Healthy and robust Qi flow is also essential to the healthy experience of emotions as well. When the flow of Qi is blocked, the emotions can also stagnate, causing a person to feel stuck, irritable and frustrated. If a person is both Qi and Blood deficient - they can be just plain exhausted. Short-term fatigue and tiredness can cause a person to feel more stressed, while long-term physical depletion and/or blockages can lead to more difficult problems with Shen.
When it comes to talking about particular emotions and the organ systems they affect, Chinese medicine’s Five Element Theory gives us even further insight. Ancient observations of the connections in nature, organ systems, and emotions tell us that each organ system is closely related to a certain emotion, and those emotions have a very direct connection to the function and balance of that organ system. For example, the Liver, which is also regarded as a “Manager” in charge of the smooth flow of Qi throughout the entire body, and corresponds to the energy and emotion of anger. Because it is responsible for making sure that the Qi is flowing throughout all the organ systems, the Liver can be easily frustrated and impacted by blockages. On a daily basis, the Liver is dealing with all sorts of things that can cause your Qi to get stuck - getting cut off in traffic, dirty dishes in the sink, the boss who keeps piling up work on your plate. When emotions are repressed, they can impact the flow of Liver Qi, and vice versa. With enough blockages stopping up the internal systems, heat and friction may be generated and cause the eruption of what we call “Liver Fire”...making the person more susceptible to explosive energy and outbursts of anger.
Another example would be the Spleen, the organ system in charge of digestion and the metabolism of nutrients from our food. From a physical standpoint, the Spleen must process what we put into our bodies in terms of food and turn it into energy that is available for every vital function we have. In the mental and emotional sense, it is responsible for processing our lived experiences - integrating and translating them into meaning that is useful to our growth and personal development. This process of thinking and the intellect is governed by the Spleen. Overwhelming thoughts, worry, overthinking or ruminating over and over again can be of a cause as well as a result of a Spleen that is deficient.
Overall, it is not the absence of stress that we promote - it is about balance. And it isn’t as if we are striving for balance as if it were a state of perfection. Creating balance is a constant process of give and take, opening and closing, filling and receding. It’s about noticing and listening to the signals our emotions and our bodies are giving us, taking responsibility to answer to our own needs. Finding more balance can look like different things to different people. For some, it could mean actually getting to sit down and eat breakfast. For others, it could mean meditation, exercise, a walk in nature, fun time with a loved one. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, balance is key to our overall well being - not just balance in our organ systems, but also balance in our activities. Here are some of our top recommendations for what you can do to bring more balance to your organ systems and de-stress:
Acupressure is an empowering therapy you can do yourself and your loved ones, any time, any place. Using firm pressure, you can press or knead points one to two minutes at a time to stimulate their particular actions. Tai Hawkins, co-founder of Olanani and her son, Kai Ola, are huge fans of acupressure. Check out their favorite points below for stress relief!
Spleen 6 (Sanyinjiao, Three Yin Meeting) - The meeting point of the Spleen, Liver and Kidney channels is found on the inner side of the lower leg, located one handbreadth superior to the prominence of the ankle bone, in a depression close to the medial crest of the tibia. Among many other important functions for the body including invigorating Blood circulation in the lower abdomen, this point helps calm the spirit, reduces anxiety, and supports sleep. Note - this point can induce labor and is contraindicated in pregnancy.
Yin Tang (Hall of Impression) - Located at the Third Eye, at the midpoint between the eyebrows. This point calms the Shen and is an important point in addressing symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, and agitation. For when you are feeling out of it - bringing more focus, clarity, and groundedness.
Shen Men (Heavenly Gate) - Located in the upper shell of the ear, at the tip of the triangle-like hollow. Stimulating this point relieves anxiety and promotes emotional resilience. It may be useful to use a mirror to find this point, Apply firm, gentle pressure in a circular motion.
Gall Bladder 21 (Jian Jing, Shoulder Well) - This point is in your shoulder muscle, and the top of the trapezius. You can find it by pinching the muscle with your thumb and middle finger. Stress can cause Qi to rise recklessly as well as stagnate in the shoulders, neck, and head, resulting in pain, tension, soreness, headaches, and sometimes high blood pressure. This point relieves stress, muscles tension, and has a descending action. It can also induce labor (do not use when pregnant).
Our Chillax formula is based on Xiao Yao San, a formula used in Traditional Chinese Medicine that has been used for centuries to treat depression and anxiety. In Chinese medicine theory terms, the formula is soothing to the Liver, smoothing the flow of Liver Qi, nourishing the Blood, and removing stagnation. Also known as “Free and Easy Wanderer,” the formula contains eight commonly used herbs: Bupleurum root, Chinese Angelica Root, White Peony Root, Poria, Atractylodes Rhizome, Ginger, Prepared Licorice Root, and Mint.
In China, where approximately 100 million people suffer from depression, doctors have been using the Chinese herbal formulaXiao Yao San (“Free and Easy Wanderer”) as a treatment for centuries. In an article entitled Chinese Herbal Formula Xiao Yao San for Treatment of Depression: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials (Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2012, Article ID 931636), multiple studies demonstrated Xiao Yao San to be significantly beneficial to patients with depression, with anxiolytic effects and protective mechanisms of the hippocampus.
In addition to the classical ingredients that make up Xiao Yao San, we added our own super power herbs to chill out an agitated and frustrated or pent up soul, including Rose, Lemon Balm, and a very special Mamaki - harvested and specially sourced from the Big Island from a dear friend of Olanani. These super ally herbs all help support the actions of Xiao Yao San to soothe the Heart center, calm the chaos, ad bring a more positive outlook.
In addition to herbal formulas, food is medicine! Here is a recipe for a delicious soup that helps to relieve stress, soothe frustrations, and calm the spirit. You may recognize the main ingredient, our favorite mushroom - Tremella (or Yin Er), which neuroprotective, calms restlessness, and tonifies the Yin of the Lungs and Stomach. Also included are Goji berries (or Gou Qi Zi), which support Liver Blood and Liver and Kidney Yin and Jing - helping to build emotional resilience, willpower, and resolve. Check out the other ingredients to this simple and delicious stress-relieving comfort food!