A hyperactive Spleen Meridian in Five Element Theory is characterized by over-thinking, brooding, worry, anxiety, obsessions, and obsessiveness. Chronic worry causes depletion of the body energy, physical weakness, and stagnation of the ch'i. With the Stomach as its yang partner meridian, Spleen meridian imbalance may present physical symptoms of indigestion, muscular tension, appetite imbalance, weight problems, abdominal pain, or menstrual difficulties. Worry can become an obsession or even a hobby for some.
"When we have a problem, one thing we can always do is worry about it.
Worrying is somehow comforting--perhaps because it feels like we are doing something about our problems when we worry about them.
Worry provides the ILLUSION of useful activity."
-Iona Teeguarden, The Joy of Feeling
In our most recent Five Element Theory blog Anxious Heart, Disturbed Shen, we discussed how anxiety and stage fright cause imbalance in the Heart Meridian. Here in the second series of Five Element Theory, we will be discussing the Earth Element, which corresponds with the Spleen-Pancreas meridian. Our focus will be on the hyperactive emotional state of over-thinking, worry, and obsession, its effects on our bodies, and how that translates in Chinese Medicine.
Brief Five Element Theory Review
The Five Element principle developed upon the concept that the Ch'i energy goes through cyclic transformations and health could be based upon the harmonious balanced cyclic interaction of these Elements within the body and around us. The Chinese believe that everything in life is concordant with these five elements.
Each of the five elements, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood, contain their own specific characteristics and properties. Each element also has a corresponding organ, and when an organ meridian is in an extreme state, being either hyperactive (excessive) or hypoactive (deficient), it may lead a practitioner to examine a bigger picture to determine causes of imbalance in the meridian system.
Taoist philosophy has developed a map to our psyche, as used in acupressure theory, consisting of five inner lands called Shen, I', P'o, Chih and Hun. These five aspects of the psyche represent how we interact with our lives. Each inner land corresponds to a particular element, particular meridians, organs, body fluids, and certain body parts or tissues and is influenced by certain acupuncture points (acupoints). These acupoints release physical or emotional tension and help us connect to our innate self.
The Spleen Meridian
In Chinese physiology, the Spleen and Pancreas are interlinked. "They are nourished by the same meridian and form a functional whole, usually referred to as the "Spleen", and considered to be the primary organ of digestion." Known as the Controller of Transportation and Transformation, the Spleen meridian has an essential role in the "transformation of food into Xue (Blood)" and influences menstruation. "Unless the Spleen activates the process of food transformation, nourishment and Qi are not available for the muscles, so they become weak, and the lips and mouth (associated sense organ) become pale and dry."
As the Spleen governs the muscles and flesh, the color and texture of the lips can be an indication of balance or imbalance. When harmonious, the lips will have color and be moist and smooth. The Spleen also directs ascending movement and has to do with the transformation of liquids, such as in the case of edema, which would be related to the spleen. When the Spleen is rebellious and descends, there may be loose stools.
The Spleen is said to house "Yi" or thought. It's associated with storage of ideas and Ying Qi, the nourishing energy which moves in the meridians and blood vessels. "Harmonious Spleen functioning produces abundant physical and mental energy. Its harmony influences the ability to synthesize and integrate, as well as to feel empathy and sympathy--for ourselves as well as others."
Traditional Spleen Meridian Associations
Deficient symptoms include abdominal bloating or distension, decreased appetite, fatigue, and organ prolapse. Excessive symptoms include abdominal pain, heaviness in body or head, and little or no thirst.
The Hyperactive State of the Spleen Meridian
The Land of I' (Thoughts and Ideas) corresponds to the Spleen-Pancreas meridian. How do the emotional aspects of worry, over-thinking, brooding, anxiety, obsessions, and obsessiveness play into all of this? According to Chinese Medicine, these can create an excessive and hyperactive state in the spleen-pancreas meridian. How does it affect us emotionally, physiologically, and in relation to Five Element Theory?
Over-thinking, worry, and anxiety characterize the hyperactive state of I'. As I' is concerned with our thoughts, when we worry our energy becomes concentrated in our forehead and neck and becomes blocked in the abdomen. This results in constricted breathing patterns and opens the way for an escape up to the head. We tend to occupy ourselves with worrying and brooding about things rather than facing them head on or trying breathing and meditation states to bring the energy through our core into our abdomen where we can breathe easier and find resolve.
Much of today's society is characterized by work, work, and more work. Over-thinking is a very common state of being which wears on us over time. The chronic over-thinker is always trying to "figure things out", which gets in the way of simply being. The over-thinking becomes a habit and the person perseverates on why this happened and what others did and said as the person analyzes the problem from every possible angle and ends up feeling anxious and frustrated.
Over-thinking, worry, brooding and pondering are actually yang, or active, conditions since they are characterized by excessive mental activity. In Five Element Theory, however, the after-effect of chronic worry and over-thinking is energetic depletion. In this case, it causes an excessive, or hyperactive, Spleen meridian and the person feels heavy and weak and may not be able to digest or transform food into nourishment, leading to gut and appetite problems.
Worry and Anxiety
Worry is a distressed, troubled, uneasy state of mind that comes from clinging to concerns, going over and over them until the point of exhaustion. "Chronic worry is a self-imposed mental harassment; it is pondering the problems of life until it seems like life is problems." Making a "mountain out of a molehill", worry becomes an emotional habit and may lead to an exaggeration of distressed feelings like regret, resentment, guilt, jealousy, self-pity, mistrust, and fearfulness.
"Worry is like an itch. Just as itching (another symptom of Spleen hyperactivity) is an irritation of the skin, so worry is an irritation of the psyche. It produces negative thoughts and distressed feelings
which, so to speak, ask to be scratched."
-Iona Teeguarden, The Joy of Feeling
Habitual worry correlates with a high level of anxiety. Both may seek to find some object to focus attention onto, and worry itself creates anxiety. We end up running on nervous energy, but are easily fatigued, which makes us more susceptible to anxiety. This is typical of meridian imbalance in Five Element Theory. A normal active state quickly becomes a hyperactive state with chronic and obsessive emotion or thought, which causes depletion of our emotional, energetic, physical, spiritual, and mental selves. "A lack of reserve energy is, in itself, anxiety-producing to the body.”
Five Element Relationship to Anxiety
Traditional acupressure theory states that when an emotion is expressed persistently, the related organ first becomes hyperactive and then breaks down into "pathological disorder". On the other hand, when we restrain our emotions and suppress our pain, we block the energy in the related meridian and then, like a domino effect, it translates into other parts of our bodymind system.
"We might experience the anxiety as a nervousness throughout the body, a rapid heartbeat, clammy hands, an uncomfortable dryness in the mouth, abdominal pain, or gas, or a "knot in the pit of the stomach." Worry activates defense mechanisms and we may rationalize, intellectualize, universalize, and project onto others, constantly seeking approval and acceptance.
With regards to anxiety and worry and their correlation to other meridians in Five Element Theory, imbalance of Chih, or the Kidney meridian, characterized by fearfulness and apprehension, can also increase our anxiety levels. Imbalance of Hun, or Liver/Gall Bladder meridian, can simulate anxiety, for the associated anger response can be anxiety producing. "The involvement of P'o, or the lungs, may be more direct; suppression of respiration is both a response to acute anxiety and a cause of chronic low-level anxiety.” Restricting the breathing is an immediate, automatic defense against anxiety, whereas worry, or the mental hyperactivity related to I', is a more secondary defense." Anxiety can also cause hyper-function of the pancreas and hypoglycemic, or low blood sugar, reactions because a common response to anxiety is consuming sweets.
Calm a worrisome mind with Spleen meridian points Spleen 3 and Spleen 4
Sp 3, Spleen Source point, or "Supreme Whiteness" is located in the hollow above (proximal to) the junction of the big toe with the first metatarsal bone at the border of the red and white skin, pressing toward the bone.
Sp 4, Spleen Luo point which affects the Spleen & Stomach partner meridians, or "Grandfather-Grandson" is located in the arch (medial side) of the foot in a depression distal and inferior to the base of the first metatarsal bone on the border of the red/white skin, pressing into the muscle and towards the metatarsal. Sp 4 helps adjust general energy balance, abdominal problems, Spleen-Stomach disharmony ad indigestion, hypochondria and worry, tense feet, cold or cramps.