Updated: May 19, 2020
According to SANE organization (2016), around 14% of adults are affected by an Anxiety disorder in Australia, in which women are affected more than men, and the numbers keep rising.
Chinese Medicine can play an important role in the treatment for anxiety, depression and other related disorders like insomnia. And prove as an alternative for those who wish to favour alternative therapies rather than pharmaceutical therapy.
In TCM terms, depression and insomnia are closely related to heart and liver pathologies, particularly when heat is present, is often associated with disturbances of the ‘Shen’ (mind), as the Shen resides in the heart. The heart does not want to be hot, only warm and fuzzy.
Insomnia then results from the liver and the heart being out of balance, which allows the spirit to wander and interrupt the normal cycle of sleep.
Mental depression is mostly caused by stagnation, and more specifically of the liver. Liver Qi Stagnation can then affect other organs including the heart, which is a possible etiological factor in this case. Think of it as the liver being the boss, so when it is not functioning properly, it can’t make sure the other organs are doing their jobs correctly.
In TCM we approach this treatment from another perspective, we go to the core of the issue instead of just masking the symptoms. A TCM treatment may involve:
Acupuncture: Manage symptoms such as stress, insomnia, regulate hormonal imbalances, help restore your body and switch off that constant fight and flight response mode.
Herbal medicine: Studies have shown Traditional Chinese Medicine to be effective in the treatment of insomnia and anxiety, with longer lasting results and considerably lesser side effects than Western treatments. We use herbs to balance individual organs and control various symptoms. A typical formula is aimed to sooth that angry liver and make sure its Qi flows as it should.
Meditation/Yoga: Meditation is a great tool to help you navigate life, and make you more tolerable to all stressors that might trigger episodes of anxiety or depression.
Exercise: It’s all about hormones, when your body releases endorphins, they interact with pain receptors reducing your perception of pain. Chronic pain is often associated with depression. And don’t forget it is the feel-good hormone!
Lifestyle changes/Diet: Diet is very important in this cases, a TCM practitioner might recommend a reduction on heating foods if the person has excess heat in the heart. Or some foods to help calm and nourish the liver. Depending on your individual diagnosis, you will receive appropriate recommendations.
Western Medicine approach
In western medicine, counseling and medications like Benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine sedatives and melatonin agonists are the primary treatment for insomnia, followed by antidepressants.
Often, these medications come with side effects, which can range from drowsiness to cognitive impairment and… wait for it… depression is a side effect! As well as creating dependence (Australian Drug Foundation, 2016).
Around 45% of Australians aged 16–85 will experience a common mental health-related condition such as anxiety, depression or a substance use disorder in their lifetime, according to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing; putting mental illness as the fastest growing cause of disability in Australia.
This is a good opportunity for governments to consider providing alternatives to treatment like Acupuncture and herbal medicine, and designating public money towards a preventative health program, that incorporates the same. Like it has been done in countries like Israel and Germany, where people have the right to chose their preferred medical treatment without the financial implications.
We should aim to reduce the already growing number of people suffering from anxiety, and optimistically establishing Chinese Medicine as a reliable preventative method, to avoid more serious consequences.
Australian Drug Foundation. (2016). Alcohol and drug information Fact Sheet. Retrieved from State Government Victoria website: http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/images/benzodiazepines-5may16.pdf
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Mental health services in Australia. Retrieved November 5, 2016, from https://mhsa.aihw.gov.au/home/
Beyond blue. (2013, March). Retrieved from http://resources.beyondblue.org.au/prism/file?token=BL/0504
Cao, H., Pan, X., Li, H., & Liu, J. (2009). Acupuncture for Treatment of Insomnia: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(11), 1171–1186. http://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2009.0041
Chen, J. K., & Chen, T. T. (2009). Chinese herbal formulas and applications: Pharmacological effects & clinical research. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press.
National Institute of Health. (2005).National Institutes of Health State of the Science Conference statement on Manifestations and Management of Chronic Insomnia in Adults. Retrieve from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17308547
SANE Australia. (2016, September 21). Anxiety disorder. Retrieved November 5, 2016, from https://www.sane.org/mental-health-and-illness/facts-and-guides/anxiety-disorder