The Upside to Feeling Down: A Chinese Medicine Perspective on Depression (Part 1 of 6)

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Do you ever feel like you’ve lost your joyful, optimistic personality? Or perhaps you’ve been dealing with fatigue or insomnia, and just lacking motivation or feeling apathetic. If you can relate to any of these feelings, it’s likely you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing a state of depression.

Fortunately, Chinese Medicine can provide an understanding of the root causes of depression and empower you to bring motivation and joy back into your life.

What May Be Causing Your Depression

Depression has many causes. Some cases are purely from physical depletion as in postpartum depression. Other forms of depression can be from a longterm overwork and sustained stress that leads to physical and mental exhaustion.

Cyclical hormonal changes that come with aging, including menopause in women and andropause in men, can also lead to depression. This form of depression is related to exhaustion of the Kidney’s Essence, known as Jing.

Giving birth, working, raising a child, sustained stress of life, lack of proper sleep for recovery, and constitutional depletion as a result of the aging process, are some of the leading factors that can cause depression.

It’s no wonder that some statistics show that one in six individuals will suffer from depression at some point in their life and taking anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications seem to be a standard part of the American diet. And many become dependent on these medications just trying to get through each day.

Chronic stress, depression and anxiety can lead to dependency on other substances as well. Some people become addicted to mood altering substances such as marijuana, CBD or cocaine to offset feeling down. Today there is a rise in the use of methamphetamines (known as Speed) to offset chronic depression. Alcohol, even though it is a depressant, is a popular drug of choice to numb difficult feelings. Caffeine is another common addictive substance, particularly among young adults looking to cope with the unhealthy stresses they face each day.

With educational demands on children and young adults so much greater than in years past, it’s easy to see why so many are suffering from depression and nervous disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Though the use of mood altering drugs may be suitable for short-term support when feeling acutely out of sorts, long term dependency on these substances can cause major problems. Both prescription or over-the-counter drugs can be useful to suppress symptoms but won’t lead to longterm resolution of the depression. Furthermore, on a physical level, drugs create toxic residues which stagnate the circulation of blood throughout the body—especially in the main organ of detoxification, the liver.

According to Chinese Medicine, the more stagnant your blood is, the more you’ll be stuck in your emotional traumas. A key indication of blood stagnation can be seen by observing the underside of the tongue. If the two bilateral veins are dark, there is blood stagnation in the body and we can assume there are stagnant emotional issues as well.

It’s therefore clear that using drugs to suppress the symptoms of anxiety and depression does not allow for the resolution of your emotional issues.

According to Chinese Medicine, to resolve the root of your emotional disturbances, you must cleanse your blood in order to release the deep withheld traumas in your body .

Furthermore, according to Chinese Medicine, suppressive substances such as marijuana, CBD or the prescription anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drugs, lead to the development of Cold inside the body. This Cold energy impairs the warming, vitalizing power of the internal Kidney Yang energy therefore keeping you feeling stuck.

Over time, because of this taxation on the inner power source of the Kidneys, it’s not uncommon that greater dependence on these suppressive substances eventually leads to the loss of willpower to overcome difficult circumstances and worst of all can lead to the loss of hope.


This Can Help

The good news is that Chinese Medicine offers solutions to offset the side effects of mood-altering substances and revitalize the core energy to restore your zest for life.

Chinese Medicine offers a comprehensive approach to address the multitude of factors underlying chronic depression and anxiety.

It can take months of treatment for recovery if a person is severely burned out or has a lot of internal toxicity and blood stagnation. However, everyone is different and I’ve seen older individuals reverse a downward emotional and physical spiral of deep exhaustion, depression and anxiety within a few short months.

Downtime to rest and recuperate is critical and deep restful sleep is fundamental to the process of recovery.

The more time you have to build and consolidate your energy without further burning yourself out with stress and work, the easier it will be to regain a feeling of well being.

The process to reverse this downward cycle of apathy, depression, anxiety and exhaustion can be understood clearly through the lens of Chinese Medicine, in particular the Five Element model.

In Part Two of this series, we’ll explore how the Metal Element and treatment of the Lungs is involved with resolving depression.

Please add your comments and questions in the comments below so we can continue to gain a greater understanding of the development and process of healing depression together.

In the meantime, you can get some extra support by checking out a previous article by Dr. Moafi called Why It’s OK to Not Always Feel OK.