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Emotions are mental stimuli which influence our effective life.  Under normal circumstances, they are not a cause of disease.  Hardly any human being can avoid being angry, sad, aggrieved, worried, of afraid at some time in his of her life.  For example, the death of a relative provokes a very natural feeling of grief.  However, we should not identify our mental and spiritual life with our emotional life.  It is perfectly possible to be alive and lively without being overburdened by excessive emotions which disturb the mind. 

Emotions become causes of disease only when they are excessive of prolonged of both.  For example, hardly anyone can avoid being angry sometimes, but a temporary state of anger does not lead to disease.  However, if a person is constantly angry about a certain situation in life for many years, the emotion will definitely disturb the Mind and cause disease. 

Although emotions are a definite cause of disease, they also have a healthy counterpart.  The same mental energy which produces and “nurtures” excessive emotions, can be used a directed towards creative and fulfilling aims.  Emotions are not something that comes from outside then internal organs to attack them; the internal organs already have a positive mental energy which turns into negative emotions only when triggered by certain external circumstances.  For example, why does anger affect the Liver?  If one considers the Liver’s characteristics of free-going, easy and quick movement, its tendency for its Qi to rise, its correspondence to Spring when the powerful Yang energy bursts upwards and its correspondence to Wood with its expansive movement, it is easy to understand that the Liver would by affected by anger.  This emotion, with its quick outburst, the rising of blood to the head that one feels when angry, the destructive, expansive quality of rage, mimics, on an affective level.  In Chinese medicine, emotions are mental stimuli which disturb the Mind and the Spirit, through these, alter the balance of the internal organs and the harmony of Qi and blood.  For this reason, emotional stress is an internal cause of disease which injures the internal organs directly.  On the other hand, and this is a very important feature of Chinese medicine, the state of the internal organs affects our emotional state. 

The following are the seven emotions and their affecting relevant organs:  

Anger affecting the Liver 

Joy affecting the Heart 

Worry affecting the Lungs and Spleen 

Pensiveness affecting the Spleen 

Sadness affecting the Lungs and Heart 

Fear affecting the Kidneys 

Shock affecting the Kidneys and Heart 

Let’s now briefly discuss the effects of each emotion individually and their healthy counterparts: 



The term “anger”, perhaps more than any other emotion, should be interpreted very broadly to include several other allied emotional states, such as resentment, repressed anger, feeling aggrieved, frustration, irritation, rage, indignation, animosity, or bitterness. Any of these emotional states can affect the Liver, if they persist for a long time, causing stagnation of Liver Qi or Blood, rising of Liver Yang or Liver Fire blazing. Anger makes Qi rise and many of the symptoms and signs will manifest n the head and neck, such as headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, red blotches on the front part of neck, a red face, thirst, a Red tongue with red sides and a bitter taste. 

The counterpart of anger in terms of mental energies is power, dynamism, creativity and generosity (kindness, forgiveness).  The same energy which is dissipated in outbursts of anger can be harnessed to achieve one’s goals in life. 



What is meant by “joy” as a cause of disease is obviously not a state of healthy contentment but one of excessive excitement and craving which injure the Heart, makes the Heart larger. This leads to excessive stimulation of the Heart, which, in time may lead to Heart-related symptoms and signs.  The main manifestations would be palpations, over-excitability, insomnia, restlessness, talking a lot and a red tip of the tongue.  The pulse would typically be slow, slightly Over-flowing but Empty on the left Front position. 



Worry is one of the most common emotional causes of disease in our society. Worry knots Qi, which means that it causes stagnation of Qi, and it affects both Lungs and Spleen. The symptoms and signs caused by worry will vary according to whether they affect the Lungs or Spleen.  If worry affects the Lungs it will cause an uncomfortable feeling of the chest, slight breathless, tensing of shoulders, sometimes pale complexion and dry cough, the right Front pulse position may feel slightly Tight or Wiry.  If worry affects the Spleen it may cause poor appetite, a slight epigastric discomfort, some abdominal pain and distention, tiredness, the right pulse slightly Tight but Weak. 

Worry is the emotional counterpart of the Spleen’s mental energy which is responsible for concentration and memorization.  



Pensiveness is very similar to worry in its character and effect.  It consists in brooding, constantly thinking about certain events or people, generally thinking intensely about life rather than living it.  Pensiveness affects the Spleen and, like worry, it knots Qi.  It will therefore cause similar symptoms as outlined above. 

The positive mental energy corresponding to pensiveness is obviously quiet contemplation and meditation. 



Sadness and grief include the emotion of regret, affect the Lungs and Heart.  These emotions deplete Qi and therefore lead to deficiency of Qi, they may also, after a long time, lead to stagnation of Qi, because the deficient Lung-Qi and Heart Qi fail to circulate properly in the chest. 

The balanced emotions are inspiration and hope. 



Fear includes both a chronic state of fear and anxiety and a sudden fright.  Fear depletes Kidney-Qi and it makes Qi descend.  Examples of Qi descending are nocturnal enuresis in children and incontinence of urine of diarrhea in adults, following a sudden fright.  There are other causes of fear, not related to Kidneys.  Liver-Blood deficiency and a Gall-bladder deficiency can also make the person fearful. 

The positive counterpart of fear within the mental energies of the Kidneys is flexibility, yielding in the face of adversity and quiet endurance of hardship. 



Mental shock scatters Qi and affects Heart and Kidneys.  It causes a sudden depletion of the Heart-Qi, makes the Heart smaller and may lead to palpitation, breathlessness and insomnia.  Shock also affects the Kidneys because the body draws on the Kidneys-Essence to supplement the sudden depletion of Qi.  For this reason, shock can cause such symptoms as night sweating, a dry mouth, dizziness, or tinnitus. 


The effect of each emotion on a relevant organ should not be interpreted too restrictively.  The effect of an emotion will also depend on the constitutional traits of a person.  Furthermore, all emotions, besides affecting the relevant organ directly, affect the Heart indirectly because the Heart house the Mind.  It alone, being responsible for consciousness and cognition, can recognize and feel the effect of emotional tension.  The best way of dealing with emotions (as causes of disease) is neither to ignore them nor suppress them, but to recognize them, look at them and try to use the same mental energy for productive aims. 

 Blog Written by Richard Zhang RAc


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