Ask Grand Master Lu: Anxiety

Question: I feel a great deal of anxiety all the time. How does TCM view anxiety, and can it relieve this kind of condition? 

Answer: TCM sees anxiety as the mind creating the “wrong” thinking. Your mind receives information from the outside and then you “cook” it, based on what you know from your past. You try to analyze what will happen in the future and your limited knowledge and narrowed vision cause you to see something you don’t want to see. You create this anxiety because your vision of the future doesn’t match your wish. That’s the whole idea. There’s a difference between how you want to see things and what actually is.

There are different approaches to treating anxiety. The first level treats the symptoms. The second treats the root cause of the problem. When you treat just the symptoms, the person doesn’t have to change. There’s a traditional saying, “You still walk your old path, constantly buying new shoes!” You still retain your old thinking.

Anxiety, itself, is invisible. It is something we create. The basic cause is not the same because each person receives and processes information differently. Therefore, the response to the information is different. Anxiety is of the mind—it’s not tangible. It only shows up in the symptoms. For instance, high blood pressure is a possible outcome of anxiety, it is not anxiety itself.

The first level of TCM treatment is to use acupuncture and herbs to support the physical body. The goal is to increase the person’s energy, so the body can process the symptoms caused by anxiety. TCM understands that the organ systems must function in harmony in order to achieve balance in the body. The Liver is responsible for processing the flow of energy and emotion. In addition, the Kidney—related to fear—and the Spleen—related to over-thinking and worry—are tied to anxiety. By treating these three organs together, the body is strengthened and can more easily deal with anxiety symptoms. TCM practitioners use acupuncture and herbs to accomplish this.

However, to get at the root cause—the second level of treatment—the individual has to be willing to change from the inside-out. The person has to change the way he sees things, the way he reacts to things. That requires meditation, a vision change, a change in perspective, so that he can see things in a different way: Good things are not always good; bad things are not always bad. Nothing’s all black or all white. Unless the person can change in this way, he will always suffer anxiety.

By meditating every day, you will grow deeper. You will change your mind; you will calm your mind. You will get closer to your soul. So little by little, you will change from the inside. That is the only way to treat the root cause of anxiety.