Humans have always faced some level of anxiety, and this has been integral to our survival as a species. Though it would seem that our removal from deadly predators and abundant access to food, clean water, and shelter would dial down our feelings of anxiety, the opposite is actually true. Modern life generates its own kinds of stressors and pressures, which can affect our mental health in myriad ways.
Globally, the World Health Organisation estimates that anxiety disorders increased 14.9 per cent and depressive disorders increased 18.9 per cent from 2005 to 2015. While it’s impossible to pinpoint a single reason for the increased prevalence of anxiety, strong evidence points to many modern societal phenomena, including materialism, lack of community values and connections, air pollution, social media usage, poor sleep quality, and social isolation.
Though prescription medications can help to alleviate some anxiety symptoms, they often cause undesirable side effects and don’t generally treat the root cause of anxiety, which often returns — or worsens — as soon as the medication is discontinued. Fortunately, if you’re seeking to treat anxiety holistically, or to use a holistic approach to supplement your medication, there are many effective alternative treatments that can help you reduce your symptoms and increase your sense of ease and self-confidence.
How does Chinese medicine view anxiety?
Chinese medicine understands anxiety (known as Shan You Si) as a disturbance to one’s true nature (known as Shen, or spirit), which is caused by an interruption of the free flow of Qi throughout the mind and body. Qi can become excessive, depleted, or stagnant for a multitude of reasons, including overstimulation, unsatisfying relationships, inadequate sleep, dehydration, and lack of fresh air.
Classical Chinese medicine (CCM) understands emotions and physical health interdependently and holistically. As such, CCM classifies and treats the cause of anxiety according to how much each of the five yang organs are imbalanced, which is evident through differences in anxiety symptoms (e.g., heart palpitations are a Heart Qi imbalance whilst shortness of breath is a Lung Qi imbalance). All forms of CCM treatments aim to rid the body and mind of imbalance, restoring the free flow of Qi and mental and physical health and harmony.
Chinese medicine for anxiety
Chinese medicine focuses on treating the individual, not the disease. As such, each one of the following modalities can be precisely customised to address your unique experience, symptoms, and needs.
Acupuncture aims to alleviate symptoms and treat a variety of conditions by stimulating specific points on the skin with very fine needles, with the goal of influencing psychological and physiological health. Though the needles are too thin to cause discomfort, your body still responds to their presence by increasing Qi (i.e., localised circulation and immune function). Acupuncture also helps reduce pain, elevate mood, and promote self-healing by stimulating the release of certain neuropeptides and neurotransmitters (including endorphins and serotonin) and downregulating the fight-or-flight response. Routine acupuncture treatment by a licensed and qualified professional has demonstrated the ability to reduce the symptoms of multiple conditions, including anxiety, depression, chronic pain, insomnia, and migraines.
Chinese herbs aim to encourage mental clarity and tranquillity by addressing signs of physical imbalances and supporting and strengthening the body’s organ systems. Though a certified and qualified Chinese medicine practitioner will always customise herbals supplements to the individual’s unique situation and needs, some clinically proven remedies for anxiety, depression, and insomnia include ginkgo Biloba, Bupleurum (thorow wax), and Suan Zao Ren (seed of the Chinese jujube).
Tui Na massage
Like acupuncture, Tui Na massage aims to stimulate the free flow of Qi by applying pressure to specific points on the body and mobilising the muscles, joints, and connective tissue. Tui Na massage uses several techniques that are common to reflexology, acupressure, myofascial release, Swedish massage, osteopathy, and chiropractic. As a form of therapeutic massage, Tui Na can activate the body’s built-in relaxation response and help reduce symptoms of anxiety, worry, stress, insomnia, depression, and pain.
Chinese medicine acknowledges the interconnected nature of all things, including how lifestyle choices impact physical and psychological health and wellbeing. What we now call self-care, Chinese medicine has been addressing for centuries. Chinese medicine practitioners will similarly recommend nutritious foods, high-quality sleep, routine exercise, stress management, and the avoidance of pollutants and toxins.
Like the other four pillars of Chinese medicine, Qigong aims to restore the free flow of Qi throughout the entire body for optimum physical and mental wellbeing. In addition to promoting cardiovascular health, bone density, balance, strength, and increased mobility, Qigong can help you support your mental wellbeing by reducing stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and mood disturbances.
White Tiger Qigong for Anxiety
Once learned, White Tiger Qigong exercises can help you experience optimal wellbeing as a standalone program or supplement to conventional or holistic wellness treatments and modalities. You can start experiencing the benefits of Qigong today by practising the simple, yet highly effective exercise below.
Crane Flaps Its Wings (Pericardium Meridian)
The pericardium physically encloses, protects, and lubricates the heart whilst holding it in place within your chest. In Chinese medicine, the pericardium is also believed to protect the heart from excessive emotional energies generated from other organs. Chinese medicine also acknowledges that the heart is always involved in or impacted by stress and anxiety.
As with all Crane Qigongs from the 5 Animal Qigong system, Crane Flaps Its Wings Qigong stimulates the pericardium meridian and promotes calm, contentment, and focus through balance, targeted upper body movements, and an attitude of finding satisfaction and joy in the moment.
How to: Start in standing, with your knees softly bent. Then, with your arms by your sides, gently press your middle fingers toward your palms and flex your wrists so your palms move slightly closer to your inner forearms. Inhale as you raise your left leg up toward your waist, gently bending your left knee whilst pointing your toes toward the ground. At the same time, raise both of your hands to the height of your head as you flex your elbows to a 60-degree angle. Exhale as you simultaneously lower your left foot to the ground and your arms by your sides. As your arms come down, extend your wrists so the backs of your hands move closer to the top of your forearms. Repeat this sequence on the opposite side for one full repetition, completing 6-10 reps total. With each sequence, practice coordinating the movement of your upper and lower body as you walk forward with control, confidence, and grace. Feel as if you are flapping your wings, landing lightly with each step.
Chinese medicine and Medical Qigong are highly personalised forms of self-care that can help you reduce anxiety and increase your mental wellbeing from the inside out and outside in. Expand your knowledge of the self-care and mental wellbeing benefits of Qigong on our blog, or take your learning to the next level through our of our transformative ebooks or online courses.