By Nichole Santoro, LAc


heart selfIn Chinese Medicine we always strive to uncover and treat the root imbalance causing a disease.  So, in thinking about treating an emotion like anxiety it is important to view the whole health picture of the person to establish if anxiety is the byproduct of a different disease or deeper emotion or – or if it is, in fact, a primary problem.

Anxiety can manifest for anyone at anytime for a plethora of reasons. We can all relate to that internal continuum between ease and anxiety.  In some cases though, anxiety is a main issue. In extreme cases, anxiety symptoms as intense as heart palpitations, ringing in the ears and a feeling of doom can be debilitating.

Chinese Medicine recognizes the heart as the primary organ out of balance. There are many patterns of disharmony that could result in the same symptom picture that is known as anxiety, but we mainly see two types in our clinic.

The two majors patterns of disharmony that produce anxiety can be generalized into an excess or a deficient pattern:

Heart Blood Deficiency

This deficient type of anxiety is accompanied by other symptoms such as low energy, poor memory and focus, excessive worry or thinking, difficulty falling asleep and poor digestion. These people often tend to feel cold and have a pale tongue.

Traditional Chinese doctors talk about the blood being able to anchor the spirit. What is meant by this, is that when the blood is replete in vitamins and minerals- because digestion is up to par and the diet is good- the nutrition in the blood literally has a calming effect on the mind and spirit. Good quality fats, B-vitamins and iron are especially nourishing  and grounding when present in plentiful quantitiy for our tissues to use. It is like firing on all cylinders!


Treatment principle:  Nourish the Blood and Tonify the Qi to Calm the Spirit.

Addressing the digestion for optimizing absorption of nutrients and building the blood with herbs and good food choices is the key to treating this type of anxiety. Acupuncture and moxibustion are used to energize the organs of digestion, plus calm the nerves and settle the mind.


Heart Fire

Heat fireThis excess type of anxiety is more charged with other strong emotions such as anger and frustration. People suffering from this anxiety are usually also stressed or have very demanding lives/careers. They also may feel warmer, have a red tongue, vivid dreams and wake frequently or early in the morning.

Treatment for this pattern of anxiety should be focused more on stress reduction, lifestyle adjustments, meditation, deep breathing and optimizing sleep patterns. Acupuncture and Herbs are used to clear heat and calm the nerves

When anxiety can be understood not so much as a mental illness, but more of a physical or lifestyle imbalance that disturbes the spirit causing an extreme feeling of mental unease, it makes it easier to tackle and start addressing the source of the problem. It also takes the stigma out of it as a mental condition. Our physical body and its general state of health absolutely has an effect on our mind and personality! The hormones running through our veins, the quality of food we eat, the amount of love and fun we have – all makes a difference in the makeup of our blood and has an effect on how grounded we feel and how comfortable we are in our own skin. As with any symptom, anxiety is a clue that there is something out of balance with the life we are living. We should view all symptoms as formal invitations to examine ourselves and find our way back to health and back to our destiny path.

 Nichole Santoro is the co-founder of Alpine Integrated Medicine, and specializes in Acupuncture, Massage, Herbs, and other elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine.