By now, we all know that stress can have negative effects on our physical well-being, but did you know that all of our emotions can play a part in our physical functioning? Chinese medicine recognizes these connections, and can help explain why addressing emotional health is so vital to caring for our bodies. The following describes five primary emotions and how they relate to our internal organs.


The Liver is associated with this emotion. You may have heard us mention the words “Liver Qi Stagnation,” which generally refers to internalized feelings of anger or frustration that “stagnate” and cause blockages in our bodies. Some women will relate to this just before their period begins when they feel irritable, and have cramps and breast tenderness. These blockages can cause other body aches and pains, particularly beneath the ribs, or tightness in the chest. Chronically internalizing anger can also lead to frequent nosebleeds, headaches, muscle tightness, and high blood pressure. Controlled breathing techniques with a focus on loosening the area just under the rib cage can help to release some of this stagnation. Those who actively hold in their frustration also frequently experience constipation, as this ‘holding in’ pattern transcends to the physical body.


This is the Spleen’s emotion. I often relate this emotion to the spleen in that, when we worry, we tend to ‘digest’ a thought over and over again- never resolving or letting go of it. This can have a direct impact on our digestion, and anyone who has been diagnosed with IBS would agree. The Spleen is meant to digest (having a thought), extract nutrients (taking inventory of the experience or what can be done), and then moving forward to elimination through the bowels (letting go of the thought or taking action). When we get stuck in worry-mode, it means we are not getting anything out of it and we are continuing to hold on and ‘digest’ the thought instead of letting it go or doing something about it. Of course, there are many situations that do not have a simple answer, or perhaps doing something about it is not an option at this point. Still, we can’t ignore the physical impact worry has on our bodies. Because all of your energy goes into ‘digesting’ your thoughts, there is little Qi left to digest your meals. Indigestion, loose stools, bloating, and malnourishment are some of the ways that chronic worry can show up in the body. I recommend journaling or making lists to get these worrying thoughts out of your head and to facilitate the process of letting go or taking action.


Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why would joy be a pathogenic emotion? Isn’t joy a good thing? Well, yes it is. All emotions are good in the sense that they are natural and can be expressed in healthy ways which allow us to grow and develop our inner selves. When we talk about joy, we aren’t talking about the peace you feel when you watch a tropical sunset, or the fullness in your heart when you hug your loved ones. The joy I’m referring to is that which often feels manic and obsessive, and can stem from over-stimulation of exciting events. It may feel good in the short term, but over time this emotion is very draining on the heart. Those experiencing physical effects of this type of joy may be very talkative, unfocused, excitable, and will often suffer from insomnia. The heart is happiest with calm and quiet, so meditation, qi-gong, and yoga would all be good choices for dealing with abundance of joy.


This is the emotion of the lungs. Holding onto grief weakens the lung and this means weakening our immune system. Those who are subject to chronic feelings of grief may find that they are catching colds more often, or they get that cough that seems to linger endlessly. While everyone deals with grief differently, it may be helpful to incorporate breathing techniques into your daily routine to strengthen the lungs. Deep breaths in through the nose, deep down into the belly, and exhaling out the mouth can help to counteract the shallow breathing we tend to do when we are upset or sad.


This emotion is primarily related to the kidneys.  Chronic fear, anxiety, and general feelings of being unsafe or ‘ungrounded ‘are taxing on our vital Qi. Our bodies are meant to react to fear with an immediate response. We are not meant to live in this state of emotion, and anyone who has experienced adrenal fatigue can tell you that. We know that the adrenal glands are physically adjacent to the kidneys, and in Chinese medicine they are essentially one and the same. When we hold onto feelings of fear, and keep ourselves in ‘emergency’ mode, it affects nearly every system in our bodies, but especially our adrenals. We often see this expressing as lethargy, weakness, changes in fertility, weight gain, and short term memory loss, among many other issues. Practices in gratitude can help to remind us of the solid and reliable things in our lives. Try making a list of things you are grateful for. Again, meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques could also be helpful in this situation.

It’s important for us to recognize that all of these emotions are normal aspects of our lives and we should not avoid experiencing them. However, getting stuck in any one of these emotions can exacerbate physical illness, and is difficult to treat without addressing the emotional component. We must also take into consideration whether these emotions come from an external source- for example, the loss of a loved one, a confrontation with a friend, issues with finances, or a new relationship. Or, are we stuck in an emotion because we are being too hard on ourselves? We can keep ourselves locked in grief because we feel like we are honoring someone we lost. We might internalize fear because we don’t want to look weak. Whichever the case may be, we have the tools to turn ourselves around and become happier, healthier individuals.  Let’s start by showing ourselves tolerance and unconditional love, and then we can ride the waves of emotion instead of living under the surface.


Sarah Hennessy is one of the amazing practitioners we have onboard The Pagoda Tree team.  She loves looking at both the physical and emotional aspect of health and understands how they both impact our wellbeing.  If you feel like your emotional wellbeing is in need of some TLC or you are simply feeling ‘stuck’ as Sarah explains above, come in and see us – Sarah and the team would be delighted to help you.