EMOTIONS AND IMMUNITY
Why How You Feel Can Impact Your Immunity
Your emotions are powerful. They don’t just affect how you feel–they also impact your body and health.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), normal emotions don’t have a long-lasting effect on your health and wellness. But really strong emotions that stick with you for a long time definitely do. In fact, they can even cause illnesses!
That’s because when our emotions fester and we don’t deal with them in a healthy way, they start to take their toll on the body as well as the mind. In particular, unchecked emotions can have a big impact on your immune system.
Here’s what you need to stay happy and healthy, in body and mind.
TCM and Emotions
TCM is a type of holistic medicine. That means it treats the whole person–body and mind. According to TCM theory, your mental and physical health are interrelated.
In TCM, there are 5 primary emotions:
- Worry or Pensiveness
And each of these five emotions is connected to a particular organ. Joy is connected with the Heart, anger is related to the Liver, sadness is in the Lungs, worry impacts the Spleen, and fear lives in the Kidneys.
Ideally, we feel an emotion and process it. That might mean crying when you’re sad, reaching out for a loved one when you’re afraid, or venting when you’re angry. But if you feel way too much of an emotion or don’t process it by pushing it down and pretending it doesn’t exist, you affect the delicate mind/body balance.
Your emotions affect your organs, and vice versa. So for example, if you’re feeling a lot of rage that you just keep ignoring, your Liver might become imbalanced. And on the other hand, a problem with your Lungs might manifest in feelings of sadness. According to TCM, these kinds of imbalances can be the root cause of illnesses and disease, so it’s very important to take them seriously.
Feelings and Immunity
In TCM theory, the immune system is known as Wei Qi. It’s a kind of Qi energy that defends us from attack by outside illnesses and contaminants. Eating fresh, seasonal food, exercising, and keeping our emotions balanced are the 3 keys to a strong Wei Qi.
In particular, there’s 2 emotions that can affect our immune system: sadness and worry. Here’s why, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In TCM, sadness is related to the Lungs. That’s why sometimes when we’re really sad, our chest feels tight and it can be difficult to catch your breath. But according to TCM theory, the Lungs do more than just help us breath. They also create and distribute Qi and help maintain a strong Wei Qi.
So when we spend a lot of our time feeling sad but don’t properly process the emotion, the Lungs start to weaken. We can’t create as much Qi and our immune system starts to falter. Here are some symptoms you might notice:
- A tight feeling in your chest
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing problems like asthma or allergies
- Low immunity and frequent illness
- Dry skin
- Not being able to sleep between 3 and 5 am
- Crying often
If you complained to your TCM practitioner about sadness or depression along with breathing problems, they would probably prescribe you one of two herbal formulas: sheng mai san or xiao yao wan.
Sheng mai san is made up of Ginseng Radix, Ophiopogonis Radix and Schisandrae Fructus. Researchers have found that Ginseng can help with anxiety and depression, Ophiopogonis root is anti-inflammatory, and Schisandrae Fructus has antioxidant, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties, too. Ginseng and Schisandra are adaptogenic herbs which are known for balancing your adrenals, immune system and hormones. However, your TCM practitioner might modify some of the ingredients to sheng mai san better suited for your specific needs.
Xiao yao wan, on the other hand, is more suited for those with low Liver Qi (which can cause many of the same problems as sadness-induced Lung issues). It contains
- Dong quai
- White peony root
- White atractylodes
- Quick fried ginger root, and
- Licorice root.
Researchers have found that this formula helps treat people with depression, possibly because of the positive impact it has on gut health. It can even help antidepressants work better. Plus, it’s good for lowering stress and indigestion.
Sadness isn’t the only emotion that packs a punch to our immune system. Worry, sometimes called pensiveness in TCM, has a big impact on our immunity if it gets out of hand.
That’s because worry is connected to the Spleen. According to TCM theory, the Spleen has a big role in our immune system, filtering blood and removing toxins from the body. But it also has other important jobs, like extracting nutrients from the food we eat and creating blood and Qi.
So when we start to worry too much, focusing on the past or what’s yet to come instead of living in the moment, your Spleen and Qi can become weaker. If that happens, you might notice some of these symptoms:
- No appetite
- Pale lips
- Increased bruising and bleeding
- Scalloped edges on tongue
There are plenty of TCM herbs that can help deal with feelings of anxiety and worry, like Banxia Houpu and Ginkgo Biloba. Banxia Houpu is an herbal formula that has Banxia (Pinellia ternata), Poria, Magnolia, Beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens), and ginger in it. Thought to stimulate your Qi, Banxia Houpu is scientifically proven to help lower anxiety just as much as Prozac! Apparently, it can help with depression, too. Ginkgo Biloba is a superfood that has loads of benefits, including improving brain function, nixing anxiety symptoms, and lowering depression.
If you talk to your TCM practitioner about health issues related to too much sadness and worry, there’s a good chance they’ll prescribe one of these herbal formulas or create a custom one just for you.
But at the end of the day, these feelings–and the resulting issues with your immune system–are just going to keep coming back if you don’t deal with the root of the problem. It’s important to feel and process our emotions, but at the same time we can’t let them take over. So whether you’re pushing your feelings down or letting them control your life, your health and body are going to keep suffering until you make a change. So as things open back up and post-COVID life goes back to normal, remember to keep an eye on your emotions in order to protect your immune system.