Derangement by Metal: Grieving and Anxiety in Chinese Medicine

Every acupuncturist has at least one kind of illness pattern they have a hard time treating. For some, the chronic Earth deficiency, with its frequent love of sweets and ability to obsess on anything, is difficult. For others, it’s Liver Fire, with its tendency to be constantly irritable. For me, it’s severe Metal imbalances that affect the psyche. The pain this imbalance creates is hard to watch, especially since the people stuck in this pattern often have difficulty believing their perceptions are unclear.

Metal element deals with the Lung and Large Intestine, and deals with the emotions of memory and nostalgia, grieving, and letting go of anything that no longer serves you. It is also the system that deals with boundaries (a la the immune system) and as such plays a part in the metaphorical “boxes” a person uses to keep things organized and sorted in their mind. The season of autumn is a time when the Metal element has more say-so in the workings of the environment than any other time of year. Many people notice a tendency towards nostalgia in the autumn, and pull out old picture books to remember old times. Others notice more of a tendency to think of past losses, or a desire to clear out clutter and re-evaluate the things you spend your time on in life.

For someone whose Metal element, or Lung and Large Intestine energy, is severely out of balance, this process goes awry, sometimes to the point of becoming irrational. The organizational and boundary aspects of Metal can become hyper-sensitive, making a person a perfectionist, or overly detailed oriented. The boundary-setting function can falter, making a person either too lenient with those around them, or, more often in dealing with Metal, too strict. The person becomes so convinced of their own opinions on a matter that they cannot see the faults in their thinking, and become overly uptight and even paranoid. When these problems occur, a person can suffer from symptoms as mild as being too picky about how the dishwasher is loaded to a full mental disorder, such as eating disorder, debilitating phobias, panic disorders, and other forms of irrationality.

While serious, life-altering disorders will usually require greater intervention from medical sources, there are ways to help your Lung and Large Intestine energies regain balance. In the continuum of Chinese energetics, the Metal element is nourished by Earth, controlled by Wood, and feeds Water. Keeping these three systems in balance will help normalize the Metal element.

Since a tendency to over-control is considered an excess state of Metal in Chinese medicine, one way to decrease its influence is to minimize Earth element. This process is tricky, because the Earth element is responsible for digestions, and has some weakness in most people. So keeping food easy to digest is key. Rather than eating raw or processed food, eat warm, well-cooked food, such as soups, mildly sweet vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes, and unprocessed grains. Raw food is too difficult for most people to break down easily, especially in cold weather. Warm foods relax your entire digestive system. It also helps relax the muscles in your torso, allowing qi to more easily flow from your chest to your abdomen, linking your Metal and Earth energy.

Another problem comes when the Metal Element “over-controls” Wood energy, which represents the liver and gallbladder functions in Chinese medicine. ¬†Wood is repsonsible for enforcing the boundaries that the Metal element creates, as well as supplying active creative energy for things like art, organizing, and business. When Wood is out of balance, people either become listless and lacking ambition and ability to take action. Alternatively, a person with Wood unbalanced can become aggressive in asserting herself. Often this form of imbalance is predominate in the more irrational forms of Metal imbalance. The Metal element virtually enslaves the Wood energy and uses it to fight the encroachment of reality on the opinions of the person out-of-balance.

To soothe the Wood element, and bring it out of Metal’s abusive orbit, you use small amounts of sour foods and plenty of green foods. These foods help Wood energy to “unstick” itself. And stuck energy is a big issue in the particularly severe Metal overbalances. Getting that energy to move allows a person to release their sometimes irrational thoughts and allow other people to help them.

Finally, Water element, which is the Kidney and Bladder meridians in people and animals, is nourished by Metal. Often this energy is weak in the person with an unbalanced Metal energy because the energy gets stuck and refuses to nourish Water. Alternatively, it pushes so much energy into the Water element that its function of providing the oomph for willpower becomes overpronounced, and the poor person cannot allow anyone or anything, including objective reality, to circumvent his or her own will. Grounding the Water element and using the other tips here allow willpower to move to appropriate self-care instead of sometimes arbitrarily strict rules in diet, cleanliness, or other behaviors.

Strengthening Water element can be done by adding small amounts of sea salt or elements from the ocean. Fish, seaweeds, or adding sea or other unprocessed salt to your food can help. Giving yourself plenty of downtime to meditate, daydream, and have unstructured thought is also important. Water element has the most connection to the subconscious mind in Chinese medicine. As such, it deals with the underlying fears and emotions that stir problems in all the elements, including Metal. Nourishing it gives your body the reserves and feeling of grounding you need to improve any emotional or physical condition.

Severe unbalance in any system should be addressed by as many modalities and professionals as you need to restore harmony in your life. In the case of severe Metal element disturbance, you may need to find someone you trust to define your reality if you are having irrational thoughts. Seek emergency care if a disturbed mental process is affecting your life to a great extent, or you have thoughts of harming yourself or others.

Balance is key to all of Chinese medicine. For more information on dealing with your health imbalances, please call or email today.

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