The word Anxiety refers to both men and women but actually it is a different syndrome in each one of the genders. What is unique about anxiety in women?
Between puberty and the age of 50, a woman would be prone to suffer from an anxiety disorder twice as much as man. Differences in brain chemistry could be part of that reason. The mechanism of the Fight-or- Flight response is more freely activated and stays in an active state for longer periods of time in women than in men, partly due to the actions of Estrogen and Progesterone. A woman's emotional state changes often according to the hormonal changes in the body and therefor anxiety or any extreme emotional state will present itself differently in man and women. These differences would reflect in the diagnosis and treatment of male vs female patients. Both men and women share the same building blocks: Qi, Blood Yin and Jing. The main difference will be the existence of a womb and more importantly, the fact that that womb is connected to the Heart via the Bao- Mai. Another difference will be in the way the substances flow between the organs. From a Chinese Medicine point of view anxiety is basically a disharmony between the Heart-Kidney relationships. In this article I would like to emphasize the crucial role that the womb plays in this relationship and the leading roles the Heart and the Womb play in the pulsating rhythm of change.
Our emotional state is balanced by three centers. I like to call those centers - Wisdoms: the Wisdom of the Brain, the Wisdom of the Heat and the Wisdom of the Womb. Qi, Blood and emotions flow through these 3 bases and carry a life of their own. They are influenced by gathering information, external interactions and movements, and have the ability to learn and choose their way to health or disease. All three Wisdoms are connected to each other thus sustaining the subtle balance. When these wisdoms are not well connected - anxiety occurs.
The Wisdom of the Brain
This wisdom is basically our intelligence. The brain is our connection to the world, receiving information, processing that information and then moving it inward to the inner systems. Sitting in a classroom all day or in front of a computer for hours stimulates the brain but neglects the rest of the body - thus causing a disconnection between the brain and the other organs.
Today, our brain is stimulated by infinite number of stimulus. This may cause an overload that result in hyperactivity or apathy depending on the person. The media overwhelms the viewer with information and opinions, interviews, rating, competition and would not rest until the viewer is provoked to get emotional. The more we are exposed, the more we are likely to become afraid. Long term fear weakens the Kidneys and therefore weakens the Womb.
Our brain is an extraordinary organ of a Yin quality in the sense that it is receiving and internalizing information, and of a Yang quality in the sense that it is processing and executing information. This process disperses the Yang and annihilates the Yin. The growing gap between Yin and Yang is a long process that begins at the brain and ends at the womb. The balance of the Wisdom of the brain may be achieved by minimizing external influences. Meditation or "emptying the brain" is recommended. Martial Arts or any other activity that would guide the actions rather than thoughts is also recommended.
The Wisdom of the Heart
This wisdom is basically the emotional center of our body. Situated between the brain and the internal organs, the Heart plays a crucial role in regulating information back and forth. The outcome of the rational processing of the Brain goes to the Heart and receives its emotional signature. The Heart must be quiet and calm in order to receive the information from the Brain and transfer it to the organs including the Womb. The proper processing of the Wisdom of the Brain doesn’t suffice. The Wisdom of the Heart must be soothed and balanced or the transmission will not go through.
The Heart, being the Emperor, is in charge of timing and pace. It makes sure that everything happens when it is supposed to happen. Being the center of the body, every substance goes through the Heart on its way to the rest of the body. The Brain sends hormonal signals to the Womb. The hormones go to the heart with the blood stream making the Heart in charge of the rhythm of movement of the hormones from the Brain to the Womb. Wisdom of the Heart is the center of our feelings, the connection between what I see and what I feel. The more we depend of the Wisdom of the Brain - the Wisdom of the Heart withers.
Wisdom of the Heart has a strong affiliation to music. Drum beats, singing, melodies, voices all open the Heart. Therefore the wisdom of the Heart can be balanced and nurtured by words, songs or talking to one another or even talking to oneself.
Wisdom of the Womb
This wisdom is basically our earthly intuition. Of all the Wisdoms it is the most primal and instinctive. The Womb is the lower base to where the Brain sends its transmissions via the Heart. Being situated on the lower part of the body it acts as an anchor to the other Wisdoms. If the Brain is considered in charge of our thoughts, and the Heart is considered in charge of our feelings, the Womb is considered in charge of one’s faith in its qualities. The brain sends thoughts to the Womb. The Heart sends feeling to the Womb. But it is up to the Womb decide if and how to act upon these inputs.
Movement is the way to balance the Womb. In the past, movement had much more significant part in daily routines. People were hunting and harvesting and cultivating the earth - all activities with strong movement affiliation. Along the years our basic maneuvers of survival are less and less movement dependent. We move less. And we think more. As we move less the Womb doesn’t receive its balance which causes stagnation and cold in the Womb. A cold stagnant Womb can’t relate to the Heart or the Brain properly resulting in stagnation in our basic survival force. Once the basic survival force is compromised we begin to lose faith in ourselves allowing fear and anxiety to come right in. Disharmony between the three Wisdoms may result in Anxiety. Anxiety can be evoked due to overwhelming magnitude of information governed by the Wisdom of the Brain. Anxiety can be evoked due to unbalanced emotions governed by the Wisdom of the Heart. Anxiety can be evoked due to weak survival instincts or poor intuition governed by the Wisdom of the Womb. The status quo between the Wisdoms is achieved by counter balance between those three Wisdoms. When my survival instincts are strong (Womb) I can tackle any obstacle that comes my way. Whatever happens I will overcome. When my thoughts (Brain) are in balance with my feelings (Heart) I will be able to stay focused whatever diversions the outside world has to offer. When the balance between these three wisdoms is maintained I feel I can overcome whatever comes my way - and there is no room for anxiety or fear.
The Kidneys hold a big part of achieving and maintaining this balance. When the Kidneys are strong the Zhi, the will power, will nourish the Brain and Womb, maintaining the gentle balance of Yin, Yang, Jing and Blood in the body and the smooth flow of these substances between these two organs.
Maintaining this balance ensures both hormonal and emotional balance. Strengthening the Kidneys with acupuncture and herbs would not suffice. Internal cultivation and movement is crucial. External information with no pelvic movement will result in a Heart that is incapable of regulating emotions between the Brain and the Womb, which will result in anxiety and this is the main reason for anxiety in modern times.
Being a Chinese medical practitioner treating women, I believe that an overall treatment should be constructed of the following building blocks:
- A Passive treatment - The patient is passively receiving treatment: Acupuncture, Shiatzu, Tuina etc.
- An Active treatment: the patient is actively moving: Dancing, Martial arts etc.
- An emotional treatment: Meditation, Walks in nature, Singing out loud, Talks
- Nutritional instructions
The exact balance between these building blocks is individually modified for each patient. It is only the balance between the Heart, Brain and Womb that will achieve the best results in the treatment.
I don’t know of any magic acupuncture points or herbs that deal with anxiety specifically. The magic lies in finding the balance between the three Wisdoms.
*Yael Saslove is a TCM Practitioner specializing in gynecology and infertility, writer, lecturer and teaches gynecology and Chinese medical herbs since 1997. Yael has specialized in gynecology in Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and post graduate studies taught by Prof Yu Ning Wu. She has practiced complementary medicine in Tel Hashomer and Ichilov hospitals in Israel. Yael is also one of the founders of Dao collage of TCM in Ramat Yohanan, where she manages the Chinese herb department and the first women's community clinic in Israel.
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