Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has always recognized that emotional factors play an important role in health and illness and notes seven emotions that particularly affect the body: joy, anger, sadness, grief, pensiveness, fear and fright. These emotions are not by themselves thought to be pathological and all constitute emotional aspects of healthy people. However, if any of these emotions are excessive over a long period of time or arises suddenly with great force, it can generate imbalances and illness.
Many theories of disease causation in TCM are based on inappropriate expression of emotions which leads to physical and mental symptoms. For example, inappropriate expression of anger is thought to affect the Liver. People who feel frustrated or irritable are often not expressing their underlying anger appropriately by talking about it or by creating change in their lives to relieve their frustration. This affects the function of the liver which helps promote the smooth flow of qi, or life energy, in the body. Consequently, this can lead to depression, achiness in the body, constipation, and inappropriate outbursts of anger. If the imbalance persists long enough, western diagnoses such as hypertension or tension headaches may result.
If holding in emotions or expressing them in inappropriate ways can lead to health imbalances which may lead to illness, endeavoring to express our positive and negative emotions in appropriate ways can be as preventive as exercising or eating a balanced diet. In our society, this takes awareness and careful choices of words as the expression of "negative" emotions such as anger or sadness is often discouraged socially. Nonetheless, it is important to be in touch with our feelings and to express them in an authentic way.
One way to appropriately express anger is through the use of "I" messages. Instead of saying "You make me so angry when you...," try instead saying "When you ...., I feel......" This takes ownership for feelings and provokes less defensiveness in the other person.
Learning to be in touch with emotions, expressing ourselves appropriately, and letting things go-it is not easy but produces rewards in enriching our emotional lives and our relationships and connections with others.