Many people look towards the spring with a sense of hope. After wintertime, as the earth comes alive again, we often attempt to re-evaluate and renew our lives as well. It can be a good period for “spring cleaning,” making dietary changes, starting an exercise regimen, setting goals, and planning ahead for the rest of the year. It is no coincidence that in Chinese medicine, the liver, an organ known for removing toxins from the body, is specifically connected with this season of revival. So-called detoxification diets and associated products have become very trendy of late, and are especially popular in springtime. Many claim to be able to thoroughly rid the body of waste and restore health. As I have written before and as I explain to my patients, there is no real evidence that any such radical cleanse does that. Furthermore, the body is constantly detoxifying itself in many ways. It is an ongoing process. But I personally feel that a ritual “periodic cleanse” is a nice way to jumpstart healthier habits and to help motivate you to take better care of your body. (By cleanse, I don’t mean fasting or consuming only juice for a month! I mean eating a clean diet: as much organic as possible, with no processed foods or sugar, caffeine, dairy, alcohol and so forth for a set period of time. Certain supplements for liver support and colon health might also be a nice addition during such a phase. Again, this is not a magical cure, it is more of an assist, and one that might help you to rethink and change your daily habits.)
With all this hype about spring detoxification, it is easy to forget that no matter how healthy your diet is, or how many green juices you drink, or how fit you are, if you are emotionally and spiritually unhealthy, your overall well-being and physical condition will eventually suffer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, emotional stability is absolutely integrated into the health and harmony of the patient. There IS no distinction between emotional and physical health- it is a truly holistic approach to medicine. Emotions serve a valuable purpose, but in excess, they are considered a pathogen and can cause a myriad of problems ranging from fatigue to madness and everything in between. This excerpt from a TCM text book explains the concept: if “sudden, violent or long-term persistent emotional stimuli occur beyond the adaptability and endurance of the body, they will cause the functional disorder and derangement of …organs and qi, and the emotional stimuli will then become pathogenic factors.” Therefore, intense prolonged emotions are considered just as harmful to the body and overall health of a person as any other pathogen such as a virus, for instance.
I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective and in my practice, I notice how many patients claim that when stressed out, they feel more physical pain than at times of relative peace. I have also noticed what effects prolonged grief, or emotional turmoil can bring about in a patient’s pulse and in their symptoms later on, seemingly as a consequence. Chinese medicine emphasizes moderation in all things, including the emotions. That is not to say that experiencing intense joy or grief over a loss, or even anger when appropriate is wrong- these are healthy responses to specific life events. But prolonged emotional states that put the body through chronic duress may have grave consequences. Take resentment for example. This stems from anger- usually a result of an incident or event that triggers other long held issues, causing a person to replay the scenario and feel angry all over again, even though the trigger has past in real time. This toxic state will interfere with enjoyment and engagement in other things in life- spending time with friends, engaging in a hobby, etc. Even sleep is affected by feelings of anger and resentment in cases like these, and thus ends up poisoning the mind of the sufferer. This, like prolonged grief, contributes to the congestion in the sufferer’s body and may lead to physical symptoms like high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, muscle tension, headaches and so forth.
So, as you take stock of your life and your health this spring, the season of rebirth, think about your emotional landscape and ask yourself key questions: are you resentful towards anyone? Are you grieving a loss? Are you depressed or anxious? Do you feel stressed out? Do you currently have any relationships that are interfering with your quality of life? If the answer is yes to any of these, are you aware of how deeply it affects you? What are you willing to do to address it? Writing thoughts and feelings down may be a good way to start. If you think that you’ve become emotionally stuck and cannot reach a resolution on your own, consider seeking help from a licensed mental health professional. This may help you understand and process your feelings. I encourage you to make a concerted effort to have balance in your life in all things- with diet, exercise, work, sleep and emotional stability. Because ALL of it feeds directly into your well-being.