Staying Healthy in a Stressful World –
The Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach
Today we are bombarded with warnings about dangerous new viruses. We witness daily reports about our polluted environment. Even the quality of our food and water is questioned. It is hardly surprising that many of us feel growing anxiety about the state of our well-being. Should we worry? Or does concern about the state of our health just cause further damage to our bodies?
For thousands of years the Chinese have known that good health and balance within the body are synonymous. Imbalance in any of our sophisticated systems can spring from both internal and external forces. Stresses caused by a toxic environment and/or a traumatizing lifestyle can result in illness.
In my practice, I’m seeing a growing number of patients suffering from stress-related illness. Headache, stiff neck, fatigue, aches, and pains are commonplace today. People worry about their health and the environment in which they live. Sometimes their health complaints develop into more serious ailments such as insomnia, digestive disorder or respiratory illness.
“The process of living is the process of reacting to stress” says Dr. Stanley J. Sarnoff, a physiologist at the National Institute of Health.
I see evidence of stress every day in my clinical practice. Recently a middle-aged man came to me complaining of lethargy and depression. He worked in a small industrial town and was embarrassed to think that his problem was mental. After examination, it turned out, much to his relief, that the root of his problem was caused by the toxic conditions in which he worked and lived. By treating him with herbs including cassia seed (Cassia tora) to clean the liver, and moutan bark (Paeonia suffruticosa) to expel toxins from the blood, I was able to cure not only his physical ailments but also the resulting depression.
Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners look at the whole picture of the patient, including lifestyle and all external factors. Another patient of mine, a business-woman, complained of severe digestive problems and an irritating case of eczema. Her condition persisted even though she was extremely cautious about her diet and she lived a relatively healthy lifestyle. It didn’t take long to determine that her problem was caused primarily by stress. She had just lost her father, her husband had left, and she was looking after her grieving mother.
Anxiety was clearly the root cause of this patient’s condition. Therapeutic massage helped relieve the stress and a specifically designed herbal prescription remedied her physical ailments. The medicine included wax gourd seed (Dianthus Superbus) to help relieve stress, and broom cypress fruit (Kochia Scoparia) to detoxify the skin. She was soon back to good physical health and in shape to handle her problems.
In our rapidly changing world we worry about the harmful impact of new technologies, radiation, and pollutants. We fret over personal finances, economics, terrorism, and personal privacy. But we mustn’t let external forces like these influence the state of harmony within us. In many of my patients, problems stem from stress caused by things they can do little about. Last year, a young female patient complained to me of severe stomach cramps. After examination, I discovered that the cause of her problem was over-concern about SARS. She showed none of the symptoms of the disease, but her compassion for victims she saw on television caused needless fear that upset her entire digestive system. Reassurance, therapeutic massage and prescription herbs solved her problem. Now she is a regular ‘preventative treatment’ patient.
We must all try to live a healthy lifestyle, and we certainly should be concerned about the quality of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. But we must not let our concern get to the point where it causes stress. In other words, the confidence that comes from an informed attitude can protect us from illness. So just take sensible, timely, preventative care of yourself and go out and enjoy life. Happiness and optimism can be powerful healing tools.