Doctors and psychologists see it all the time: people who have substantial debts are highly stressed and often in ill health. They can suffer from an inability to focus, lowered performance, depression, relationship problems, frequent colds, poor sleep, overeating, digestive disorders, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. Although the problem is widespread, medecine doesn’t understand it very well, mostly because of the difficulty in designing appropriate tests. But perhaps a bit of ancient Chinese wisdom can shed some light on the mechanisms involved—and provide a few tips on how to stay healthy in spite of debt and other long-term stressors.
Central to all ancient Chinese sciences, including Chinese medicine, is a view of nature called the Law of 5 elements. It’s a way of classifying things according to their main characteristics and describes how they interact. Things that have the same characteristics reinforce each other. Things that are different influence each other along specific energy patterns.
Being in serious debt is a situation that causes a lot of worry and anxiety. Because it usually goes on for a long time, chances are that the ongoing attack will eventually affect our health. While the pattern is the same for everybody, the exact symptoms vary from person to person, depending on our individual strengths and weaknesses.
Directly affected is the digestive system. It belongs to the same group as worry and anxiety. When we worry, we increase the energy of the digestive system; eventually, digestion becomes overstimulated. It works harder than it should, which can trigger all kinds of digestive problems.
Indirectly affected is the heart. It’s responsible for physical and mental activity, for joy and happiness, and provides energy to the digestive system. But when the digestive system is overstimulated, it drains energy from the heart. Our overall energy goes down, our activity diminishes, we can’t focus or produce, we feel down, even depressed. And, of course, we’re at greater risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In addition, low heart energy can easily upset our sleeping and make us gain weight.
These are the most common symptoms, but by no means are they the only possible ones. The excessively high energy of the digestive system increases lung energy and diminishes kidney and liver energy, all of which have their own associations, illnesses and symptoms. Both Chinese and Western medicine agree that stress can cause or trigger all kinds of health problems. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to protect our health in times of great stress, in addition to stress management and other coping systems.
- Worry and anxiety can be diminished with anger and grief. Sad books and movies, stories about injustices and hitting a sand bag are all useful.
- Sweet foods and drinks, beef, fruits, dairy products and eggs increase the energy of the digestive system. It’s best to reduce them as much as possible, but without eliminating them completely.
- Bitter foods, such as coffee, cabbage, broccoli, etc., provide energy to the heart, but it’s likely to be drawn into the digestive system. It’s better to eat vegetables (particularly leafy greens) and sour foods: these nourish the liver, which not only provides energy to the heart but also diminishes the energy in the digestive system.
- Spices and pungent foods can draw energy away from the digestive system.
- Fish, seafood, tofu and other soy products, summer vegetables (cucumbers, etc.) and, if allowed, some salty foods, all help restore energy to the kidneys.
It’s best to experiment with these suggestions and adjust them as needed. Listen to your body; use what works and feels good and eliminate what doesn’t. And with a bit of luck, you’ll be able to weather the stress until the debt problem is solved.
- In Over Your Head? Ask Your Body (Washington Post)