Your emotions may be contributing to your health issue, here’s what you can do about it (Part 1)

Are you angry or stressed and have high blood pressure?  Is your heart aching and you suffer upper back or neck pain?

I see patients with many different health complaints – back pain, neck pain, tight jaw, migraine, high blood pressure, poor digestion, delayed periods, and so on.  Often their emotions, either current, or from an event in the past, contribute to the issue.

Let me share an example. A woman came to me with neck and upper back pain.  I started working on her back with acupuncture and I perceived waves of grief and heartache stuck in the tight knots in her back.  It felt to me that the emotional pain was causing the tension and pain in her body.  I raised what I was feeling with her, whilst continuing to needle to facilitate the flow of Qi through her back.  She shared that she had been going through a tough time and our exchange enabled an opening. She felt held, safe and able to acknowledge the emotional pain – this allowed it to begin to open and flow.

Excessive anger, prolonged sadness, constant worry, fear, intense chaotic excitement or the opposite – repressing emotions such as anger, can all be damaging to our health through blocking the free flow of Qi and exhausting our vital energy. We often feel it, when we get worked up or stressed, we’ll tighten up.

Chinese medicine theory, as influenced by Daoist, Confucian and Buddhist teachings, discusses at length how unmoderated emotions cause harm to the body.  Chinese medicine teaches how different emotions affect different organs of the body and how we can recognise and address health issues with an emotional component.  Further, we can cultivate a harmonious internal state through meditation, Qigong and Tai Qi practices to promote longevity.

Modern scientific research is slowly catching up with ancient knowledge

Modern scientific research is now identifying and reporting on the link between harmful emotions and health – consistent with knowledge recorded in the Chinese medicine classics from over 2000 years ago.

Research has shown that anger is a risk factor for stroke.  Studies have shown that anger was the most commonly reported event to occur in the two-hour period before a stroke [1]. In addition, men who are habitually angry were twice as likely to have a stroke as others [2].

It has also been shown that adults who habitually feel angry are more likely to have high blood pressure or develop heart or blood vessel disease [3,4,5].

Repressing emotions is equally damaging.  Emotions come and go as a normal response to life. However, repressing or holding on to emotions when an event has passed, upsets a healthy balance.  Those suffering from chronic headaches and migraine are more likely to repress anger than non-sufferers and, more than any other factor, repressed anger is the greatest predictor of headache [6,7].

Similarly, research is emerging about the health effects of other emotions, including excessive anxiety, worry, fear and grief.

So what is a desirable mental and emotional state?

Chinese medicine teaches that moderation and harmony are the keys to health.  We are encouraged to allow our Qi and blood to flow unhindered by avoiding excess and not repressing emotions.

The Chinese medical classics speak about cultivating a peaceful inner state.  The state of the sage (or advanced meditator) who cultivates stillness of the mind is expressed as an ideal.

In the words of a Chinese medical classic:

“Next there were the sages. They lived in harmony with heaven and earth… they accommodated their cravings and their desires… and their heart knew no anger.  They made every effort to achieve peaceful relaxation and they considered self-realisation a success. Their physical body did not deteriorate and their essence and their spirit did not dissipate.  They, too, could reach a number of one hundred [years].”  Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, 2nd century BCE. [8]

We can all relate to this from experience. When life is going well and you’re in a ‘good place’ mentally and emotionally, you feel energised, awake, calm.  You feel good in your body.  This is experience can be cultivated as in the sages.

What causes an unhealthy state of mind and emotions, and what can you do about it?

Read on to Part 2….


(1) Koton S et al. (2004). “Triggering risk factors for ischemic stroke: A case-crossover study”, Neurology, vol 63 (11), pp 2006-10.

(2) Everson SA et al. (1999). “Anger expression and incident stroke: Prospective evidence from the Kuopio eschemic heart disease study”, Stroke, vol 30 (3), pp 523-8.

(3) Chang PP et al. (2002). “Anger in young men and subsequent premature cardiovascular disease: The precursors study”, Archives of Internal Medicine, vol 162, pp 901-6.

(4) Player MS et al. (2007). “Pscyhosocial factors and progression from prehypertension to hypertension or coronary heart disease”, Annals of Family Medicine, vol 5, pp403-11.

(5) Williams JE et al. (2000). “Anger proneness predicts coronary heart disease risk: Prospective analysis from the atherosclerosis risk in communities (ARIC) study”, Circulation , vol 101 (17), pp 2034-9.

(6) Nicholson RA et al. (2003). “Differences in anger expression between individuals with and without headaches after controlling for depression and anxiety”, Headache, vol 43 (6), pp 651-63.

(7) Abbate-Daga G et al. (2007). “Anger, depression and personality dimensions in patients with migraine without aura”, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, vol 76 (2), pp 122-8.

[8] Unschuld P (2011). Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.