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What TCM Says About Managing Emotions

Knowing how to regulate your emotions by understanding your body can be the difference between poor and good health. Learn ways to manage your emotions.

Woman with an angry expression runs her fingers through her hair in frustration against a blue background.

The latest findings by the Malaysian Ministry of Health indicate that nearly a third of Malaysians have mental health issues. This translates to mental illness being one of the causes of disability and health loss. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), managing emotions is critical to maintaining good health. Conversely, a healthy vessel makes for a happier self.

Want to know how to do this? Read on to learn about the TCM philosophy and tips for regulating emotions. 

The Relationship Between Emotions and Good Health in TCM

Illustration showing the connection between the five TCM organs (liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidney), the five TCM elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water), and associated emotions.
In TCM, emotions are governed by the five key organs: The Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys.

TCM divides human emotions into seven emotional states or the “seven emotions” (qi qing, 七情): 

  • Anger (ji nu, 激怒) 
  • Joy (xi, 喜) 
  • Overthinking (si, 思) 
  • Worry (you, 忧)
  • Sadness (bei, 悲) 
  • Fear (kong, 恐) 
  • Shock/fright (jing, 惊) 

“These are governed by the five viscera organs, which are the Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys,” explains TCM Physician Ho Li Ying. A healthy balance between emotion and health ensures enough qi circulates throughout your body.

“Out of all the organs, the Liver is most closely related to emotions. It regulates catharsis and the movement of qi throughout the body.”

TCM Physician Ho Li Ying

Liver is related to anger 

If you’re easily irritated, angry, and short-tempered, you likely have what is called a strong Liver Fire.  

Not regulating these emotions worsens the condition, leading to Liver qi imbalance. This imbalance also manifests in symptoms including:  

  • Loss of appetite (especially when Liver qi imbalance also affects the Spleen and stomach) 

Calm your emotions and the Heat with Jiang Huo tea.

Heart is related to joy 

You may think having “too much” joy is impossible. In TCM, although joy is a positive emotion, it can be excessive and lead to overstimulation.

If someone seems too happy, they likely have a Heart qi imbalance. Not regulating this emotion can lead to the following: 

  • Heart palpitations 
  • Insomnia 
  • Dream-disturbed sleep 
  • Confusion 
  • Delirium (abnormal laughing or crying) 

Spleen is related to thought and worry 

Are you an overthinker to the point where it’s getting in the way of your activities? In this case, you may have Spleen Deficiency.

Giving in to excessive thinking can cause Spleen and stomach lesions. Symptoms of Spleen Deficiency include: 

  • Unhealthy weight loss 
  • Loss of appetite 

Try An Shen tea to calm the nerves and anxiety.

Lungs are related to sadness  

If you get sad a little too easily, more so than those around you, you may have Lung Qi DeficiencyRemaining in sadness for too long can potentially damage the Lungs. Symptoms include: 

  • Tightness in the chest 
  • Catching colds and coughs easily 
  • Spontaneous sweating 

Kidneys are related to fear and fright 

When you’re feeling afraid, the Kidneys are involved. Someone with Kidney Qi Deficiency is easily frightened or fearful.

Conversely, by not regulating your fear response, you could damage your Kidneys. You may then experience symptoms such as: 

  • Insomnia 
  • Tinnitus 
  • Dizziness 
  • Confusion  
  • Mental disorders such as mania 
  • Weakness in your legs 
  • Incontinence or frequent urination 

Keep Calm and Circulate 

Physician Ho shares that maintaining a healthy flow of qi is the main TCM solution for managing emotions. Here are some deceptively simple tips to try. 

Warm water soak  

Soak your feet in warm water for about 15 to 20 minutes to help promote the circulation of Liver qi. There’s science behind this. Researchers in Indonesia find warm foot baths effectively reduce blood pressure in elderly folk with hypertension. However, this is not recommended if you are diabetic.

Herbal teas

Cup is filled with herbal flower tea from a pot, with dried herbs in the background.
Herbal tea blends containing herbs like Astragalus root, Albizia flowers, and rose buds help regulate qi, calming emotions.

TCM has specific herbal tea blends to help you regulate your emotions. Try a blend that contains herbs with qi-regulating activity, such as: 

  • Albizia flowers (he huan hua, 合欢花): Nourishes the Heart, calms the spirit, and promotes movement of Liver qi
  • Rose buds (mei gui hua, 玫瑰花): Regulates qi and helps treat Qi Stagnation. 
  • Astragalus root (huang qi, 黄芪): A tonic herb to treat Qi Deficiency by nourishing qi, blood, yin, and yang.  

Research has discovered that certain compounds in Albizia flowers and rose buds, such as quercetin, luteolin, isorhamnetin, gallic acid, hypericin, and kaempferol, contribute to their antidepressant effect. Astragalus is considered an adaptogen, helping the body deal with various stresses, including emotional stress.

Adequate exercise  

One of the best ways to jumpstart the circulation of your qi is to move. Exercise promotes the circulation of qi and blood, soothing the Liver and brightening emotions.

It’s normal to have emotions as we are human after all, but knowing how to manage your emotions is directly related to good health. Meanwhile, sub-optimal health of your internal body can, in turn, affect your emotional health.

Dealing with life stresses and noticing strong emotions welling up? Keep calm and try TCM! 

This is an adaptation of the article “中医的情绪致病理论只是吓唬人的?” which first appeared on the Health123 website.


  1. BJPsych International. 2021. Mental disorders in Malaysia: an increase in lifetime prevalence. [online] [Accessed 23 January 2023]  
  2. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2015. Prescription of Chinese Herbal Medicine in Pattern-Based Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment for Depression: A Systematic Review. [online] [Accessed 23 January 2023] 
  3. Natural Product Communications. 2021. Chinese Pharmacopoeia Revisited: A Review of Anti-Depression Herbal Sources. [online] [Accessed 23 January 2023] 
  4. Midwifery and Nursing Research. 2021. Literature Review: The Application of Soak Feet Warm Water Therapy on Decrease Blood Pressure in Elderly With Hypertension. [online] [Accessed 23 January 2023]  
  5. Greater Good Magazine, University of California-Berkeley. 2016. How Do Our Minds Affect Our Health? [online] [Accessed 23 January 2023]  
  6. Health CMI. Seven Emotions. [online] [Accessed 23 January 2023]  
  7. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Astragalus. [online] [Accessed 23 January 2023]  

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