TCM and Fear

“There is no illusion greater than fear”. Lau Tzu

Traditional Chinese Medicine and FearFear is my “F word”.

Some background: My father was a NYC policeman, then detective, and it was his belief that he prepare his daughter for a very dangerous world.  Never once did I leave the house being prepared for the worst: a flat tire, a car accident, meeting up with an escaped killer/rapist/ kidnapper/thief. Having “mad money stuck in my shoe was never enough; I needed a Plan B, C, and D in order to satisfy him. I was forbidden to accept food or drink from strangers; I was not allowed to have that ultimate sign of teenage coolness when I was a teenager – a gold name necklace with two tiny pearls on either side – because my father believe it would give the prospective kidnapper a means to disarm me – why wouldn’t I go toward someone who knew my first name?

Many scholarly articles have been written how children raised by men and women who are in the police force grow into adults with a drastically different view of life from adults raised by non-police parents. My father loved me; he did the best he could as he knew how. And when I hit college, I dropped many of his cautions – yet to this day, many of them stay with me. More and more of them, as I get older, tend to shriek inside my head, rather than whisper. Somehow, his attempt to instill a healthy respect for danger has evolved into what some psychologists call “catastrophic thinking”. (Think Eyeore.)

I still don’t carry a shoulder bag (easier for a knife to cut off from my body). I still don’t wear dangling earrings (easier to rip out of my ear before an unknown assailant then rips my bag from my hand). I find I am traveling less and limiting activities because of “what may happen”. In fact, I really don’t have to leave my home: I live in a city where everything – from cleaning products, to groceries, to alcohol can be delivered. And if I don’t want to cook, UBER Eats, Grub Hub and Delivery Dudes can fulfill any craving.

But, truly, that’s not a good thing. Life is meant to be lived, not feared. Roads are meant to be traveled, not bypassed because of “what may happen”.

I never realized just how much fear – which over the years nuanced itself into obsession and worry – had taken over my life until I met my acupuncturist. He is such a “glass 1/2 full” kind of person that it became readily clear to me that I wasn’t even a “glass ½ empty” type. I worried about the glass. I didn’t want a glass; it may tip over and break. Best to use a paper cup – and worry, since the cup was opaque – if there was any water inside – and then begin thinking of alternative ways to get some water.

Ironically, this adaptive skill of looking at the big picture, of identifying what may happen and be ready for the worst case scenario with an alternate plan, served me very well in my position as the director of a large Student Services Department, overseeing some 25 counselors, registrars and clerical personnel.

I never realized what havoc such ingrained fear – and its sister, fright – could wreak on my body until my acupuncturist began treating me for kidney stagnation. Apparently, continually believing in potential doom is more than just a character trait; it is indeed dangerous to ones’ health.

Google will tell you that in TCM “the basic principles of the seven emotions is explained in the Suwen (The Book of Plain Questions) which says, “The five yin-organs of the human body produce five kinds of essential qi, which brings forth joy, anger, grief, worry and fear.” TCM also believes that certain organs are related to emotional activities, that is, the heart is related to joy, the liver to anger, the spleen to pensiveness, the lungs to anxiety and the kidneys to fear.”

I know from my acupuncturist that emotions are considered the major internal causes of disease in TCM. Emotional activity is normal – it is an internal physiological response to stimuli from the external environment. However, “when emotions become so powerful that they become uncontrollable and overwhelm or possess a person, then they can cause serious injury to the internal organs and open the door to disease. It is not the intensity as much as the prolonged duration or an extreme emotion, which causes damage. Western physicians tend to stress the psychological aspects of psychosomatic ailments, but the pathological damage to the internal organs is very real indeed and is of primary concern of the TCM practitioner.”

And concerned he was. So concerned, that after each treatment he sent me home with a new reading list, Chinese herbs and suggestions on how to bring my kidneys back to optimum health.

TCM World writes, According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidney is the powerhouse of the body, supplying reserve energy to any organ running low on Qi. Its partner organ is the Bladder.

If the kidney is tired, so will the patient; so it’s especially important for the patient to slow down and conserve energy by getting more rest! The kidney stores reserve energy called “pre-natal Qi” inherited from your parents. When another organ is low on energy, the Kidney sends it an extra Qi boost from this inheritance. The ears are the sensory organs related to the kidney. Any ear problems, such as deafness, tinnitus, vertigo or ear infections are a signal from your body that the Kidney’s energy needs extra support. The bone is the tissue associated with the kidney. If the kidney’s energy is low, you may have symptoms such as osteoporosis, dental issues, or developmental issues.”

As many of you know, I am a great believer of the mind/body connection, but as I read what the kidney is responsible for – and reviewed my health issues from the past two years – where low energy, vertigo, dental issues and arthritis have each played a major role, it would be a crime not to do what I need to do to first strengthen and then keep my kidneys healthy.

First and foremost, there is acupuncture. “Because the kidney system involves not just the physical kidneys, but the adrenals and the bladder as well, the acupuncture meridians can be stimulated to lessen any internal energy balances. One of the biggest things that acupuncture for kidneys will do is help with the blood flow to the treated area.”

Because my acupuncturist has diagnosed what far too many Western practitioners have either dismissed or ignored in the past, I know I can gratefully check that off my list. I can also check off the recommended Chinese herbs, since my acupuncturist has an herbal pharmacy on site.

What I need to address is what I need to do – food-wise, movement-wise and thought-wise. If I have learned anything from TCM these past two years, it is that I, as the patient, play a very active role in my health care.

I am going to drink water with the same necessity as if it is medicine. I am going to eat more seafood, black beans, kidney beans, asparagus, bone broth and foods high in minerals. I am going to add celery, parsley, ginger and cucumbers to my daily meals. I am putting a halt to energy drains – whether it be social obligations or staying up past 2 AM “to just finish one more chapter”. Sleep, like food, is also medicine.

There is a simple TCM exercise to support kidney health: “Stomp your feet, slowly and with flat feet, for about 5 minutes a day. This stimulates your Kidney’s energy as the feet are associated with the Kidney and Bladder meridians, which run through the heel and to the sole of the foot.”

Another item checked off: this is easily added into my morning stretching routine.

TCM World also writes about acupressure for kidney health: “Rub the acupressure point called “Yongquan” or “Gushing Spring” which stimulates a key point on the Kidney channel. It may be sore, but this means you’re hitting the right spot to stimulate your body’s energy foundation and relieve symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, tinnitus, hypertension, insomnia, anxiety, and headaches. The yongquan is located at the exact center of the bottom of each foot. Starting with your left foot, massage this point as deeply as comfortable using your thumb or even a tennis ball—anything you have on hand.”

 Another check: I have a tennis ball; I can do this.

And lastly – there are my thoughts. I now know that fear, dread and anxiety suppress my kidney function making me even more afraid and more anxious. As my kidneys become stronger, I suspect I will become further empowered to simply say, “Bring it on” to what Life is going to throw at me. Just knowing this is an achievable goal is empowering in itself.

Yes, some of you may find this excessive – and yes, some may see this as downright goofy- but if this “E” word and the “G” word can keep the “F word in place, I’m going for it!

Who knows – perhaps soon I’ll buy a pair of dangling earrings!



  • Dr. Landon Agoado, Care Wellness Center