Question: About 6 months ago I lost my sister to a fatal car accident. Since then I’ve been depressed, I have no energy, and I cannot sleep well. I don’t want to take pharmaceutical medications for depression. Is there anything acupuncture can do to help me cope with how I am feeling?
Answer: To a degree, grief and sadness following a loss is normal and healthy. We shouldn’t be afraid to feel sadness, even deep mourning and grief. It is natural and part of the process of healing and acceptance.
But, when the grieving process (or any strong emotion) goes on too intensely or for too long, it can cause an imbalance that not only disrupts your life, but also your vital life energy. In Oriental Medicine, the body, mind, and spirit are inseparable, such that one cannot experience an imbalance in one area without affecting the others.
Just as the word itself literally says “e-motion” or “Energy in Motion”, emotions are meant to move freely through the body and mind, be experienced, and then released. But when emotions don’t move freely, for any number of reasons, they can become “stuck” in the mind and body, making it difficult to let go and accept our loss. Eventually this stagnant energy affects the body in negative ways.
The emotion of grief, in Oriental Medicine, is known to most directly affect the energy of the Lungs. Many people have experienced catching a cold or contracting bronchitis simultaneous to a deep sense of grief. The most extreme examples of this are some of the cases of “unexplained” lung cancer that we hear about in the news, including the sudden death of Christopher Reeves’ wife after his passing; her overwhelming grief so disrupted the energy of her lungs that she developed cancer.
This is certainly not to say that all grieving people will eventually develop lung cancer; it is only to point out that our emotions are inextricably linked to the energies of our physical bodies.
It is in this realm that Oriental Medicine is helpful. Acupuncture helps to move energy in the body that has become stagnant, encouraging it to flow freely again. It also helps to nourish energy where it is deficient, which helps to strengthen the Lung and Heart energy.
After an acupuncture treatment for emotional release, you might feel lighter and freer, as though a burden has been lifted. Or you might feel the emotion come to the surface, to be fully experienced before then being released. It is important that this process not be stifled; breathing deeply will assist the energy in flowing freely.
Chinese herbal formulas can also be helpful with releasing stagnant energy, nourishing the Lung and Heart energy, and abating the symptoms common to grief such as insomnia, anxiety, heart palpitations, appetite changes, digestive disturbances, tension, nervousness, and low energy.
Lastly, because of the connection between the flow of energy and breath, and between the emotion of grief and the Lung, engaging in mindful breathing techniques and/or getting some light form of aerobic exercise daily can be of great benefit.