Psychosomatic symptoms (psyche-mind, soma-body) are symptoms that are caused by the mind but experienced in the body. Many allopathic doctors use this term in a derogatory way, meaning, "it's all in your head, it's not real." Natural or Holistic doctors and practitioners see this as something very real, where what is happening in your head is causing physical symptoms; it is real and you should pay attention it.
In my acupuncture practice I see psychosomatic symptoms frequently, where long held emotions are causing physical pain and dysfunction. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the mind and the body are interconnected, where each internal organ has an emotion that is related to it. The 5 main organs that we look at are Liver, Spleen, Lung, Kidneys and Heart. Each organ has a characteristic emotion. When you feel that emotion it affects that particular organ, and over time the emotion can create an imbalance in that organ, or an imbalanced organ can lead to a particular emotion:
- Liver--Anger, frustration, stress, unfulfilled desires, irritability, feeling emotionally stuck
- Spleen--Overthinking, worrying, ruminating/obsessing, compulsivity, depression where you can't get out of bed due to exhaustion
- Lung--Grief, sadness
- Kidneys--Fear, shock, fright, lack of motivation
- Heart--Feels all the emotions, joy, lack of joy, mania
It is normal, and human, to feel all of these emotions at some point. The problem is when you get stuck in these emotions, and are experiencing them chronically, the long term effects can translate into physical symptoms. Some examples:
- Anger/frustration damaging the Liver: Headaches, migraines, muscle tightness, frequent sighing
- Worrying damaging the Spleen/Stomach: Stomach aches, loose stools, foggy thinking, weakened immunity, fatigue/exhaustion, loss of appetite
- Grief damaging the Lungs: Chronic or recurring bronchitis, asthma, allergies, recurrent sinus infections, frequent colds
- Fear damaging the Kidneys: Lower back ache/instability, knee pain, bone pain, low libido
- Too much Joy or lack of Joy damaging the Heart: Mania, anxiety/panic attacks, having a flat affect, palpitations, unusual sweating
The fatigue that many people are experiencing right now during this pandemic is like a slow leak from a bucket. The constant fear or anxiety, even if it is at a low level, running in the background, is slowly draining your energy, like water leaking from a bucket. Over time, the water level in the bucket drops and you find yourself feeling really tired, even though overtly, nothing has really changed in your life (aside from having to wear a mask, staying away from people and washing your hands constantly). The worry is damaging your Spleen, the grief from missing people (and your pre-COVID life) is damaging your Lungs, the fear is damaging your Kidneys, the frustration is damaging your Liver and the Heart feels, and is affected by, all of the emotions. These are all very real and valid things to be feeling right now. Stepping up your self care is important so that the physical symptoms above don't start to creep in.
- Sleep--getting enough hours of good quality sleep
- Eating high quality, nutritional foods--vary your diet, include plenty of fruits and veggies and high quality protein
- Finding time to relax and recharge-- read a book, watch a movie, draw, paint, dance, be creative, anything that is quiet and allows you to recharge your batteries
- Exercise-- exercise should improve your energy. If you feel more tired after exercising, change things up a bit. Exercise should make you feel better, not worse. Maybe take it easy and just move your body, stretch, breathe, go for a walk. Anything to get out of your head and back into your body.
- Meditation-- even 3 minutes of meditation can improve your mindset and help you feel more centered. Just watch your breath; if your mind wanders, just start again. It's all part of the process.
- Journaling-- a great thing to do before bed. Dump out all of your worries and stressors onto the page so that you don't have them swirling around in your head while you are trying to sleep.
- Acupuncture-- it can help you sleep better, calm your anxiety, clear your foggy head and improve your energy and well-being.
All of these things will repair your leaky bucket and help you feel better in your daily life. Give them a try, let me know how it goes!
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