Are Physical and Mental Pain Separate?

By Isabel Meijering, DACM, L.Ac – October 1, 2022

In the world of Chinese medicine, physical and mental pain exist together. In fact, it’s difficult to completely separate the two. 

The organs of the body are split between the yin and yang organs, which work closely together. Each of these pairs is also categorized by the Chinese medicine elements, which have an attached emotion that manifests in the organs if not processed fully. If any emotion stays stagnant for too long, it manifests physically as well as emotionally.

Here are some elements and common emotions and symptomology associated with them.

Metal // Grief

The organs associated are the lung (yin) and large intestine (yang). If you’ve experienced grief, have you noticed how it impacts your breathing? And even further, those who have a hard time letting things go may see symptomology in their large intestines including irregular bowel movements/constipation or pain. Many people experience chest pain or heaviness when grief is unprocessed. The body wants you to process grief. Grief and/or a metal element out of balance may also manifest as skin rashes or issues.

Water // Fear

The organs here are the yin kidneys and the yang bladder. Have you ever been so afraid you peed yourself a little bit? Fear has the capability to keep us in fight or flight and can tax our adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys. When a lot of fear is present or hasn’t been processed over a period of time, many people report back pain and weakness around the lumbar or sacral spine and back of the bladder and kidneys. People who have adrenal fatigue or a long-standing water element out of balance may also experience hair loss. 

Wood // Anger or Frustration

This element houses the yin liver and the yang gall bladder organs. When people have too much alcohol, a substance directly affecting the liver, anger is the most common emotion that comes out. Many people with unprocessed anger are drawn toward substances like alcohol because it moves liver qi (energy). The problem is that people indulge too much and behavior gets out of hand. There are many other ways to move liver qi including exercising, herbal medicine and eating liver-soothing foods like green vegetables, dandelion, bamboo, fennel and goji berries. Over time, unprocessed anger can wreak havoc on a person. The emotion of being so hot and bothered leads to headaches, vision problems, liver pathologies and a chronically over-activated nervous system, which taxes your health in numerous ways including slowing down natural healing processes, digestive upset (un-digestible anger), jaw pain (un-chewable anger at the energetic level), and sleep disorders. 

Thoughtful stressed young man with a mess in his head.

Fire // Joy or Anxiety

The two main organs are the yin heart and the yang small intestine. Unbalanced fire energy manifests as mania or anxiety, or both. Many people who experience anxiety have racing thoughts, heart palpitations and loose stools. Have you ever been so anxious you had diarrhea? Since the small intestine is the yin/yang pair of the heart, the heart asks for help when it has too much energy and is out of balance. So, if you’re anxious while eating, there’s a good chance your food won’t be digested well and it’ll go right through you. Your body doesn’t have the bandwidth to digest food — it’s focusing on the heart! If you have long-standing anxiety, your chest may feel constricted and your digestion may develop into a chronic issue. These are typical presentations for people with their fire element out of balance. You’ll want to be careful about long-term effects and strain on the heart. Stuttering also manifests from the fire elements as well as inappropriate sweating. 

Earth // Worry

The earth organs are the yin spleen and the yang stomach. Worrying affects your digestion. The earth element is in the core of your body and when the core isn’t taken care of over time, it leads to many imbalances. If you’re chronically worried, your body cannot properly nourish your muscles, leading to feeling chronically fatigued both physically and mentally. 

This is only a fragment of how your body communicates both physically and energetically. There are many other modalities that add to this concept and help you start seeing your body as a whole instead of separate systems. Everything is connected and sending you messages. Know that there isn’t one way to look at the body, and if you experience symptomology, there’s an explanation, even if it’s not through a “traditional” lens. Cheers to you processing your emotions and balancing the elements!


About the Author

Isabel Meijering.

Isabel Meijering is an acupuncturist in Austin and is the owner of Admiring You Wellness. She has her doctorate in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine and specializes in cupping therapy, pain management, psycho-emotional support, menstruation support and allergies. She also has a B.S. in biomedical sciences with a minor in psychology and has a deep love for both Eastern and Western medicine.


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