Anxiety is excessive feelings of fear, panic and worry that are accompanied by physical symptoms that result from stress or worry about a real or imaginary threat, conscious or subconscious. Fear is a natural emotion, which usually arises in the face of an immediate threat or danger. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a negative emotion and appears in the face of a future danger that may occur and does not appear to be related to any external stimulus.

The instance of anxiety differs from person to person. Depending on a person's personality, hereditary factors and developmental factors, all of these affect the different intensities and forms of anxiety.

Common symptoms of anxiety are a feeling of fear, panic, excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, tremor, diarrhoea and headache. Anxiety is sometimes accompanied by depression, fatigue, indigestion and decreased ability to concentrate, difficulty sleeping, disturbing preoccupation or constant fear of a specific illness, fear of losing control, fear of going crazy or fear of dying.

Pharmacology and psychotherapy stand for the conventional treatment for anxiety disorders but these present limited efficacy, especially in the case of chronic anxiety, with high relapse rates and often causing adverse side effects. Clinical research studies render acupuncture as a valid treatment therapy for anxiety disorders without significant adverse effects.

According to Chinese medicine, a person experiences a whole range of emotions. Just as it is natural to feel happy when something makes us happy, so it is natural to feel fear when something frightens us. In a balanced state a person can go through and experience the whole range of emotions and experience them all in a harmonious way. When a certain emotion takes over you, the harmonic flow is impaired, which will be reflected in both mind and body.

Stress, cortisol and the adrenal gland

When we are under pressure or stress the central nervous system goes into action and triggers a “fight or flight” response. The issue is turning that response down once the danger had passed. In modern life, due to ongoing stress we tend to operate in a chronic fight or flight state.  In this condition, the adrenal gland secretes cortisol, and increases the secretion of adrenaline into the blood; these hormones can create a feeling of restlessness, disrupt the mechanism of fulness and hunger, and interfere with relaxation and natural healing processes of the body.

According to Chinese medicine anxiety results from an energetic imbalance of the Heart. Some possible patterns that cause anxiety include:

  • Weakness of the Heart Qi: Heart energy is weakened by grief and depression or overall constitutional weakness. In addition, excessive consumption of coffee, increased sweating due to illness accompanied by heat, hot weather or increased fluid loss will impair the energy of the Heart.

  • Heart Blood depletion: According to the Chinese, extreme and prolonged emotions cause a decrease in Blood production by the Spleen or Liver and lead to Blood depletion in the Heart. Excessive blood loss, especially in uterine bleeding, can also cause Heart Blood depletion.

  • Kidneys and Heart Yin weakness: according to Chinese medicine, the Kidneys maintain the Yin energy balance to prevent the Heart Fire from running too hot. It is important to maintain the balance between these two organs spheres Heart Fire and Kidney Water. On the mental level, the Heart and Kidneys are interdependent to maintain a balanced mental state.

  • Heart and Gallbladder Qi weakness: frightening or violent situation especially that occur in childhood can weaken the Gallbladder energy. A person may be perceived as shy or lack courage. A prolonged imbalance in the energetic function of the Gallbladder may eventually weaken Heart Qi and manifest as anxiety.

  • Dampness and Heat: these pathogens usually indicate a weakness in Spleen function. This may be caused by excessive consumption of rich, fatty, sweet or spicy food and/or alcohol. Accumulation of Dampness in the body will cause heat, drying up the body’s fluids and affecting the organ balance. Heart, being the Fire element, is specifically sensitive to heat and can cause an agitated sensation.

Chinese medicine treatment of anxiety

Chinese medicine traces the root of the problem that caused the patient's imbalance using traditional diagnostic methods: checking the pulse, tongue and detailed questioning of physical and mental symptoms. The treatment plan is then determined, which can be based on acupuncture, the provision of herbs and lifestyle guidelines.


It is important to maintain a balanced and healthy diet: reduce or avoid caffeine, simple sugars (an unbalanced level of blood sugar can cause anxiety) and alcohol. It is advisable to engage in relaxing activities that relieve stress, such as physical activity, meditation or creative activities such as painting, sculpture and other art work. These recommendations can sometimes improve the situation immeasurably. Find the things that nourish you both physically and emotionally and take time to focus on your wellbeing.