10 ways to look after your mental health

Deep in Thought

Chinese medicine teaches that our mental health is determined by the health of five different aspects to our mental/emotional functioning. These are called the Hun, Shen, Yi, Po and Zhi. You can look after your own mental health by nurturing your Hun, Shen, Yi, Po and Zhi.

What your Hun does

Your Hun enables you to process emotion when you dream, to see a future for yourself, to experience hope, and to move towards your goals. It also enables you to experience and express anger. Depression with a sense of being ‘stuck’ and hopeless often results when your Hun is out of balance. You may also have problems with anger or find that your dreams disturb your sleep.

How to look after your Hun

Exercise: The quickest and easiest way to give your Hun a boost is to exercise – and Western medical studies show that exercise can be an effective anti-depressant!

Set goals: You can feed your Hun by finding a sense of purpose and setting goals for yourself. For example, you could get involved in a cause that matters to you, sign up to run a marathon, or work towards a career change.

What's the point?

I often use an acupuncture point called Hun Gate when treating people who struggle with depression. This point restores optimism and provides the courage to conquer depression.

What your Shen does

Your Shen lets you feel at peace in yourself, gives you insight, underpins your short-term memory, and enables you to connect with other people. When your Shen is out of balance, you may feel very anxious, your short-term memory may be poor, you may feel vulnerable to rejection and unable to really connect with those you love, or you may lack insight into how your behaviour affects others.

How to look after your Shen

Laugh: The Shen is fuelled by joy and the warmth of human company. Laughter with good friends is the ultimate Shen tonic.

Live in the moment: Inner peace stems from our ability to live in the present moment: to know that, right now, all is well. Mindfulness classes are a wonderful way to learn how to be at peace with where you are at this moment.

What's the point?

Shen Gate is one of the most commonly used acupuncture points for mental/emotional problems. It encourages feelings of peacefulness and joy, and is indicated for people who struggle with insomnia, poor memory, sadness, and the sort of anxiety that makes your heart race.

What your Yi does

Your aptitude for logic and reason is determined by your Yi. It relates to the part of your brain that takes in and processes new information, looks for logical solutions to problems, and does mental arithmetic. When your Yi goes into overdrive, the same nagging problems go round and round in your head, and you begin to worry excessively.

How to look after your Yi

Experience nature: Modern life, with its constant requirement to take in and process information, puts your Yi under strain. Set aside one day a week when you specifically avoid information (from Facebook, TV, radio, books, emails, etc.). Go outside and experience nature instead.

Do maths: When you find yourself worrying, do some mental arithmetic. Your Yi can only do one thing at a time. So, if the mental arithmetic is challenging enough, you won’t be able to worry at the same time.

What's the point?

Middle Cavity is one of my favourite acupuncture points for those whose worry causes digestive problems and nausea. It calms the mind and banishes the butterflies.

What your Po does

Through your senses, your Po connects you to and protects you from the world around you. When your Po is out of balance, you become more sensitive. Sounds and smells grate on your nerves, and you feel vulnerable to ‘negative vibes’ from others. Just as the Po enables you to feel pain through your sense of touch, so it enables you to feel the emotional pain of grief. When your Po is out of balance, you may experience stronger or more enduring grief.

How to look after your Po

Breathe: The Po is closely tied to the act of breathing, so breathing exercises can be particularly soothing if you are grieving.

Appreciate beauty: If you find yourself feeling sensitive to the world around you, go easy on your Po by going somewhere beautiful and quiet, being still, and breathing the beauty in.

What's the point?

Cloud Gate is a wonderful acupuncture point for those who are living beneath the grey skies of grief. It seems to lift you a little above your grief, giving glimpses of sunlight beyond the clouds.

What your Zhi does

Your Zhi is the basis of your will power and your desire to live. Its main function is to protect you from death by enabling you to feel fear and assess risk. When your Zhi is out of balance, you may feel overwhelmingly apathetic, as if you simply can’t muster the will to get anything done. You may also put yourself in dangerous situations, or experience too much fear and constantly imagine the worst case scenario.

How to look after your Zhi

Get enough rest: The Zhi is replenished through deep rest and sleep. Going to bed earlier can help, as can listening to a deep relaxation CD or attending a Yoga Nidra class.

Assess risk realistically: If your fear has gone too far, make a conscious effort to think about the most likely outcome of any situation, instead of dwelling on the worst possible outcome alone.

What's the point?

There is a remarkable acupuncture point called Great Bell, indicated for those who experience a combination of fear, unhappiness and apathy. It is the perfect point for those who want to just close the door and stay at home.

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