What remedy is best for anxiety?

Anxiety is probably one of the top 3 things that we deal with in the clinic. Definitely top 5. Not top 5 as in “hurray, more anxiety, our favourite, let’s have a pizza party!” but top 5 as in if you’ve come in to work on something, there is at LEAST a 1 in 5 chance that anxiety is at the root of it – whether you know it or not. 

Now, I’ve already talked about how to tell if what you’re experiencing is anxiety (check that out HERE if you don’t know – it’s the tiger-in-the-coffee-shop example), which is also one of the places where I talked about the value and purpose of anxiety (because make no mistake, it DOES have a purpose).  Dana even did a couple of YouTube videos about ways he uses and recommends as a go-to remedy for anxiety. 

So we all have brains and nervous systems that tell us that anxiety can help us survive. Which is excellent – I’m a big fan of survival! What if you need an interrupt, though, because your brain seems to be stuck in anxiety mode for no reason? 

Let’s look at it from a TCM perspective and an Integral Medicine perspective. 

From a TCM perspective, there are as many different possibilities as there are people, because you are your own unique self. Generally, however, most – or at least a good portion of –  anxiety comes from your (TCM) heart, your (TCM) gallbladder, (TCM) liver or (TCM) kidneys. No, this is not a trademark. Your allopathic heart beats and moves blood around and keeps us alive. Please see above note on survival as to why I’m a big fan of that. Your Traditional Chinese Medicine heart, though, agrees with those but also has a few more jobs on the job board. 

For instance, just SOME of your TCM heart’s particulars are: it strengthens earth / the spleen to help digestion; it controls the blood vessels, it controls sweating, it opens to the tongue and controls speech, and it is the psychological and emotional centre for the body – your Shen (roughly translates as “spirit”) is housed in the heart. 

Or more accurately, your Shen lives in the blood vessels (which are controlled by the heart) and it bops around your body all day, giving you a spirited life, then at night it heads to the heart to sleep. 

So, if your (TCM) blood is deficiency, it can’t nourish your spirit (Shen). If you have ‘hot’ organs (things like liver fire, where you’re angry or depressed a lot), it can agitate the spirit. And if your (TCM) heart is low on blood or has heart fire, then at night, when your Shen is looking to be tucked into bed in your heart sleeping quietly? Well, it doesn’t – and neither do you. If it’s agitated during the day, you feel anxious. If it’s agitated at night, you can’t fall asleep. When you do sleep, you might have crazy dreams, or terrible nightmares. So if you have heart yin deficiency, then the remedy for anxiety for you might be Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan. If you have heart qi deficiency, with anxiety and palpitations, you’d aim for something like Zhi Gan Can Tang, because it gooses your energy and calms your mind with ginseng while it uses a form of licorice (Gan Cao) and cinnamon (Gui Zhi) to help the heart and the blood. 

Now,  maybe your TCM gallbladder and heart are dancing a jig at night – which is a lot of what we think of as classic anxiety. This can happen after you’ve had some sort of shock to the system. Little things set you off for this syndrome, you’re apprehensive a lot of the time, and you wake up through the night or early in the morning and can’t fall back asleep (suuuuper fun, if you’ve ever had it happen).  In that case, you’d take something more like An Shen Ding Zhi Wan, to chill out your heart and get your gallbladder happy to be in charge again. 

Or maybe it’s Liver Qi Stagnation with liver blood deficiency. That fun blend of anxiety kicks in with headaches, bloating, palpitations, irritability, depression – and a bottle of Xiao Yao San becomes the friend you want hanging out with you allll the time. 

Have some bones aches, sore heels, lower back pain, poor memory, and thirst at night along with that fun day-time anxiety? That’s probably your kidney yin asking for a bit of support, and doing a polite “ahem”, asking for some Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan.

I can think of about 3 dozen TCM reasons why you might be experiencing anxiety, and they all have at least one (or 3 or 6) standard formulas that can help, plus lovely little tweaks and shifts to make them something unique to you. 

This is why people get confused with TCM sometimes. They want to walk in and say “I have anxiety” and have someone look very sage and go hmmm, and hand them a bottle of TCM Anxiety-Be-Gone. It sort of works that way, but it sort of doesn’t. 

Then you throw in the Integral Medicine, where we check in with your whole system and ask what’s up, what’s got you agitated and feeling like you’ve got to prepare for the worst (whether or not you’re hoping for the best)?  Well. It depends. Some peoples’ nervous system are revving high because they ‘forgot’ they’re allowed to down-regulate. Some people never quite got over an old bug they caught ages ago. Some people had something hard happen to them, and now they’re hyper-vigilant and aware that anything could happen. Some people will fight tooth and nail to inform you that they are NOT anxious, they’re just prepared, because something bad happened at some point, and might happen again, so they’re ready (which is absolutely why the system learns to be anxious: to make sure that bad things don’t happen again. Which would be great if we would focus and will bad things not to happen, but…so far, humaning doesn’t seem to work that way). All of that can be reset.

The down side is that there is no one-size-fits-all thing to take to help nudge your system out of anxiety mode. The up side is that there is no one-size-fits-all thing to take to nudge your system out of anxiety mode. Your system got revved up for a really good reason at some point in time, and it wants you to listen to it, and to give it what it needs to calm back down: not just anything, but the best thing, the thing it’s asking for.  And really, isn’t that what we all want? To be able to listen to ourselves, to have someone else listen to us so, so closely that our own personal anxiety-causers get calmed down, chilled out, realize we’re safe, and head off to get themselves a cup of coffee in a tiger-free coffee shop? 

I used to feel a lot of anxiety, and now when it takes up residence in my head, my first thought is usually “oh, anxiety, I remember this.” My second thought is usually “yeah, and I don’t like it.”  My third, close on their heels, is “let’s do something about this.” Because you can.

We’re not supposed to like anxiety. We get to love it, for doing its best to help us. We get to listen to it, and use it to keep ourselves safe.  And we most certainly get to follow the bread-crumb trail to figure out the best way to thank it and send it on its way again, ready to do its survival work when it’s actually truly needed.

Ps I know you know this, but I’m not telling you you’re anxious, nor am I telling you that you should take An Shen Wan or anything else – these are just little illustrative stories with hypothetically-prescribed remedies for a little hypothetical TCM fun.   

Photo credit: Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

Posted in TCM and Acupuncture, Uncategorized.

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