Worry can teach us a great deal about ourselves, but it can also undermine our health. Worry in East Asian Medicine is the emotion of the earth organ pair, the spleen and stomach. These organs are considered the central pivot of health, since they start the digestive process.
How does worry impact our health?
Worry will knot up our stomach, sometimes make us feel queasy or nauseated, and can reduce our appetite. Worry often keeps us awake at night as we ruminate over our concerns. According to acupuncture theory, chronic, daily worry negatively impacts the stomach, spleen, and pancreas. It can inhibit proper production of stomach acid, and enzymes, which will lead to absorbing less nutrition from the food you eat. It will also cause your appetite to slowly disappear or alternate between not having an appetite and feeling ravenous.
What can you do about worry?
First, whenever you realize that you are worrying about something ask yourself this set of questions.
- What am I worried about?
- Is the act of worrying serving me?
- Can the reason why I’m worrying teach me anything?
- Do I have any control over the situation?
- If yes, then follow up with, ‘What can I change/do to improve the situation?’
- If no, then ask ‘What can I do to improve my feelings about the situation?’
As you go through these questions, it may prove insightful to learn the underlying reason for worrying. These reasons can range from feeling personally or emotionally unsafe, or concerns for loved ones that you may not have any control over. This gives us information and can be valuable. However, if you have no control over the situation and worry is keeping you up at night and negatively impacting digestion/appetite, then the worry is harming you.
It is important to learn tools to overcome worry after it has taught us something. Action plans about how to improve the situation, or how to change perspective are very useful in overcoming worry. It can be extra useful to write down an outline of action plans.
If it truly is something that is beyond your control and there is no action plan, then looking at using mindfulness breathing techniques, meditation, and/or exercises that require strong focus are integral in helping you break the circular thinking pattern of worry. If you need more information on breathing techniques and meditation, check out our blog on the subject here.
Good exercises that require strong focus and will arrest the worry cycle are:
- weight lifting (counting reps, and paying attention to form take all of your focus)
- tai qi or qi gong
- rock climbing in a gym or outdoors
Remember worry can either teach us something about our lives or ourselves that is no longer serving us. In that instance it can be a powerful tool for growth. But if we end up trapped in the cycle of worry, we are actually harming ourselves. Here’s to recognizing what we can change, and learning how to maintain our health when times are challenging by working with and growing out of worry.
Lindsey Thompson is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves growing vegetables, raising chickens, and striving to get the most out of life. Practicing medicine and help people find ways to improve their health at home is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her career.