The Seven Emotions in traditional Chinese medicine are closely associated with the TCM organs liver, heart, lungs, spleen and kidneys. There is a two-way relationship between emotional and physical health; harboring a strong negative emotion can result a disharmony in its related organs, while a physiological imbalance in a particular organ can cause a person to experience negative feelings.
Excessive or prolonged feelings of anger can cause problems with the liver. This may be explosive anger such as flying into a rage, as well as carrying a grudge, bitterness, frustration, irritation or resentment. Anger causes the Qi, or vital energy, to rise, often leading to symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, red eyes, confusion, tinnitus and high blood pressure. While it is primarily associated with the liver, anger can also create problems with other organs, such as heart palpitations and digestive problems.
The emotion of grief is connected to the lungs. Normal expression of grief and working through the grieving process involves crying or sobbing, which helps to release it. Suppressed, unresolved grief can lead to respiratory problems including shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. Unexpressed grief can also affect the kidneys.
Pensiveness or Worry
Pensiveness means over-thinking, brooding, running over and over the same thoughts, obsessing or worrying. It primarily affects the spleen and can cause digestive disorders. Some of the symptoms may be poor digestion, loose stools, tiredness and difficulty concentrating. Constant worry can also affect the heart and lungs, leading to shortness of breath or anxiety.
It may seem odd to include joy as a negative emotion, but in TCM joy can be understood to mean an extended state of overexcitement or agitation, such as mania, and may manifest as inappropriate laughter or hysteria. Joy is associated with the heart. An excess of joy can bring about heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, or in extreme cases, mental illness.
Sorrow or Sadness
Sorrow may not necessarily be caused by bereavement as in the case of grief, but may manifest as feelings of regret or depression. Like grief, sorrow has a negative affect on the lungs, depleting lung Qi and causing symptoms of fatigue, breathlessness, crying, weakness, and a feeling of tightness or oppression in the chest.
Fear affects the kidneys and adrenals and causes the kidney Qi to descend, which is why intense fear can cause loss of bladder control. Chronic fear due to living in an unsafe environment or experiencing feelings of anxiety and paranoia without apparent cause can lead to frequent urination, bladder infections, incontinence, or bedwetting, especially in children. Fear also damages the heart.
Fright is different than fear; it is a sudden emotion more akin to shock, arising from an unexpected event. Fright scatters the Qi and damages the heart, and can cause insomnia, shortness of breath, dizziness and palpitations. The kidneys can also be affected, with symptoms of incontinence and night sweats.
Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Crossing Press, 2003.