The Holistic Healthcare Proven to Boost Your Mental Health

Taking care of your mental health is equally important as caring for your physical health. From the East to the West, there are many different forms of medication but none is more ancient than Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Its techniques have existed since the age of time and are known to optimize your mental well-being. But what exactly is traditional Chinese medicine and should you practice it?

At a Glance

Like Western medicine, TCM offers different methods to treat mood issues and improve mental well-being. You probably have heard of popular TCM methods like meditation or feng shui and may have incorporated them into your daily wellness routine. But there are other methods, from herbal medicine to acupuncture, that can treat anxiety and stress-related disorders.

What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a holistic system of healthcare that has been practiced for thousands of years in China and other parts of Asia. It views the body and mind as interconnected and influenced by the flow of vital energy (Qi) along pathways known as ‘meridians’. TCM uses a combination of methods to identify and treat deficiencies and imbalances in the body.

Dr. Tedi Fisher, RAc, a kinesiologist and owner of The Nest Clinic, a wellness clinic that practices TCM, says that Western medicine believes in regulating hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol to help balance the nervous system and bring a person out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest.”

A TCM perspective, in comparison, looks at each organ system—the Qi and blood and the yin and the yang—to help bring the body back into balance, so a person can feel their optimal self. 

For example, anger often comes up when there is a TCM diagnosis of liver Qi stagnation or liver yang hyperactivity. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can move the liver Qi, clear the hyperactive yang Qi, and calm the anger. 

Dr. Danielle Baert, BSc, RAc, adds that in TCM, the patient’s health history and symptoms need to be known before the practitioner can determine the TCM diagnosis. A person’s TCM treatment is unique and customized to their needs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Approaches to Mental Health

TCM does more than “boost mental health,” explains Dr. Baert. It helps treat specific mood issues including frustration, being quick to anger, moodiness, grief, depression, fearfulness, and anxiety. 

She adds that TCM can treat mood issues, no matter how they came to be. For example, say you’re experiencing moodiness from pre-menstrual syndrome or depression from the death of a friend. TCM can treat these symptoms equally, despite their different causes.

Herbal Medicine

TCM utilizes a wide range of herbal formulas tailored to individual needs that can help improve mood, reduce stress, and enhance overall mental well-being.

Michelle Oravitz, AP, LAc, the owner and founder of the Wholesome Lotus, a fertility acupuncture wellness clinic, says the herbal formula prescribed to an individual is based on patterns. Different patterns dictate which herbal medicine can improve their mental and emotional well-being. For example, most liver and heart patterns are connected to one’s emotions. To improve issues like depression or moodiness, one would take herbal medicine designed to improve liver and heart function.

“We often use herbal formulas to support the heart Qi and heart blood, which impact the mind, according to TCM,” explains Oravitz. “This can not only impact the way a person feels by lowering anxiety, but it can also impact a person’s sleep because it can calm the mind.”

Tatiana Rivera Cruz, MSW, LCSW, says some common herbs used in TCM include Red Ginseng root, Codonopsis root, Astragalus root, and more. These herbs help restore energy balance and help with opposing forces of energy.

Acupuncture 

Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate energy flow (Qi) and promote balance within the body.

Oravitz explains that acupuncture can support overall well-being through the release of stagnation. Acupuncture can help regulate the nervous system by stimulating deep relaxation during treatments. Some auricular points—the external anatomy of an ear—can stimulate the vagus nerve, which calms the body and supports the digestive system.

“Acupuncture by itself is often powerful enough to greatly influence mood, but some patients may need Chinese herbal medicine as well depending upon their TCM diagnosis,” says Dr. Baert.

Acupressure

Acupressure involves applying pressure to specific points on the body. These points correspond to the same meridians, the channels through which our Qi flows, used in acupuncture. By stimulating these points, acupressure aims to promote balance and improve the flow of energy within the body.

During an acupressure session, pressure is typically applied using fingers, thumbs, palms, or specialized tools. The pressure may be gentle or firm, depending on the individual’s tolerance and the specific condition being treated.

Moxibustion

Moxibustion involves burning dried mugwort leaves over specific acupuncture points to stimulate circulation and promote healing, says Dr. Baert. It can help alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression by promoting relaxation and reducing tension. Some practitioners perform moxibustion in the clinic, while others teach patients how to do it at home.

Qi Gong

Qi Gong consists of gentle movements, breathing exercises, and meditation techniques aimed at cultivating and balancing Qi in the body. Regular practice of Qi Gong can help calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote emotional stability.

Tai Chi

Similar to Qi Gong, Tai Chi is a mind-body practice that combines slow, flowing movements with deep breathing and mental focus. Practicing Tai Chi can help promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, improve mood, and enhance cognitive function.

Dietary Therapy

According to TCM principles, certain foods can have a significant impact on mental health. Eating a balanced diet that includes nourishing foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support emotional well-being.

Tuina Massage 

Tuina is a form of Chinese therapeutic massage that focuses on stimulating acupressure points and manipulating the body’s energy channels. Tuina massage can help release tension, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve insomnia and sleep quality.

Feng Shui 

Feng Shui is the practice of arranging your environment to promote harmony and balance. Creating a supportive and harmonious living or working space can positively influence mental health and emotional well-being, according to TCM principles.

Mindfulness and Meditation

TCM emphasizes the importance of mindfulness and meditation practices to create inner peace and mental clarity. Engaging in mindfulness meditation regularly can help reduce stress, enhance self-awareness, and improve emotional resilience.

Integrating Chinese Medicine with Western Approaches to Mental Health

Dr. Baert says that many TCM patients use Chinese medicine in combination with Western medication to manage their mood issues. She adds that some patients stay on their medication while getting TCM treatment and then gradually taper off (under the guidance of their physician) once their mood is more stable. Other patients prefer to stay on Western medication but use TCM to treat any side effects or help them reduce the dosage so that the side effects are less bothersome. Either approach is fine.

Oravtiz recommends using Western and Chinese medicines in tandem, as she believes “all medicines have their strengths” and that both approaches can “help improve certain conditions.”

If you’re looking to explore TCM therapies, Dr. Fisher suggests finding a practitioner you connect with. Practitioners have different ways of looking at health, philosophy, medicine, and the world. Be sure to go with one that is professionally licensed and registered in the specific modality they are providing.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP

Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia’s healthcare system.

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