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Falling Off The Wagon - Spring 2017

by Jennifer L Fockler

Falling Off The Wagon - Spring 2017, Jennifer L. Fockler, L.Ac. in Chicago, IL

Spring is in the air and everybody and everything seems to have a bit more pep in their step. Even my cat has spring fever and is demanding (very loudly) to be let outside first thing in the morning.

But me? I'm not feeling it at all. In fact, I have totally fallen off of my self care wagon. I'm not sleeping very well, drinking a ton of coffee, have some low back and neck pain, feeling cold, quick to snap at people, craving junk food, and eating late at night. I'm also craving alcohol, not exercising, and not journaling or meditating.

What is going on here? And what steps can I take to correct the situation, so that I make better choices and feel better both physically and emotionally?

First and foremost, I give myself permission to be human. No one is perfect and no one sticks to their routine 100% of the time. Getting down on yourself can lead to a hamster wheel of negative self talk. This kind of thinking gets out of hand really fast for me, and was in fact, one of my first clues that something is really off right now.

Normally, I tend to listen to my body and let it self correct frequently. I feel like I've got a good handle on things most of the time and recognize that I am always going through cycles. This comes directly from Chinese Medical theory. Nothing is static and the only constant in life is constant change. So, when I started having some real trouble regulating my thoughts and emotions, this is a huge red flag for me. There is no separation between the mind and the body, it's more like a see-saw. When one end goes up, the other must come down. That tells me that the physical end of my see-saw is too high right now and it's pushing my emotional end down to the ground. This situation can keep going for a while before you cognitively recognize what's happening. For me it's been several weeks with symptoms slowly getting more and more intense.

Now that I've identified the problem, let's put my detective skills in motion. It's spring, helllooo!? Well, duh! It's Liver and Gall Bladder season. The liver is in charge of the free flow of qi in the body, regulating it smoothly. So things that are uneven usually signal a liver issue, like sleeping patterns getting off cycle, or bathroom habits changing from one day to the next. A common symptom is alternating diarrhea and constipation that seems to happen no matter what you eat.

The liver has a nickname in Chinese Medicine, it's called the General. Imagine a General marshaling his troops and giving orders to everybody else. I see a crabby and short fused man who is obsessed with order, probably OCD, barking commands  very loudly to anybody within earshot, and heaven forbid you ignore one of his orders because there will be hell to pay. In fact, TCM diagnoses include language of the liver invading other organs.

The liver invading the spleen is a very common pattern that we see in modern society. The spleen is responsible for a lot of functions in the body and gets taxed by overwork, stress, worry, studying too much, not sleeping enough, irregular eating plus many other things. So there is this idea that the liver is a bully and invading the spleen through sheer force, or that the spleen has a weak spot and is worn out which allows the liver to have easy access. This is like everybody, seriously, it just depends on degrees and what your other physical and emotional resources are to mediate the liver. The symptoms of this pattern are irritability, abdominal distention and pain, alternating constipation and diarrhea, gas, and tiredness.

The liver also likes to invade the stomach. Now, the spleen and stomach are like brother and sister, so a lot of the symptoms  will be similar and a lot of the causes can be similar. The difference is a feeling of belching, nausea, sour regurgitation, actual vomiting, sighing, weak limbs and a feeling of oppression in the epigastric region. This is super common as well, in fact acid suppressors are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in America. In addition, you can experience these things at the same time! Anybody who has ever had heartburn can tell you that it can make you poop funny.

By now, we are seeing that the Liver has complex relationships with other organs and channels and this is just the very teeny tiny tip of the iceberg. To keep it simple, I want to explain the most common etiology that creates a bossy Liver. And again, this is like everybody in modern America. It's called liver qi stagnation. One of the main culprits is stress which disrupts the smooth flow and regular rhythm that the liver likes and is in charge of maintaining in the body. Symptoms can include irritability, sighing, mental depression, a lump in the throat, irregular menstrual cycle, PMS, and a stiff neck.

For some folks, if the liver gets stuck it will look to the spleen or the stomach, but for others it will go to the head. This is known as liver yang rising and has a constellation of symptoms that is also very, very common in modern cultures. Liver yang rising means headaches at the temples, eyes or lateral side of the head, dizziness, blurry vision, dry mouth and throat, insomnia, irritability, and a tendency to have outbursts of anger. I think of a mild case of road rage, where a small trigger will set a person off, they get it out of their system, and then it’s gone. But they act like nothing happened. I think we all know someone like this or we have been this person ourselves for a time or two. An important part of this pattern is a yin deficiency component, in which there is not enough heavy substance to anchor the yang and hold it down. It can get academic and is too big of a topic here, but if you’re curious about yin yang theory, check out http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/principles/whatyinyang.html

How do these things connect to my bad habits of late? Alcohol goes straight to the liver and can be used as a guide for other herbs and medicines to reach the liver organ and channel. Alcohol also vigorously moves the liver qi temporarily, but then ends up depleting the body more afterwards. So it feels really good for a short time and can be considered a message that you need to course your qi. But, alcohol can get stuck on a confusing feedback loop, in which you’re short on fluids and yin, and then you have a harder time of naturally moving your qi because there's less substance. Now that the liver qi is off course, everything else gets wacky, as we have talked about above in the previous patterns.

What’s the quickest way to intervene in this vicious cycle? I needle myself, change my herbs or go see my acupuncturist, sometimes it's all of the above. But most people don’t have these tricks up their sleeve, so if you can’t see your acupuncturist, or you want to do things at home to keep the good work going I can give you a few pointers.

My first step is to cut the caffeine. I say this all the time, mostly because it’s something I really struggle with ( I’m a Starbucks junkie). This will help sleep and anxiety and hydration. Next, I turn off the television and read a book or magazine. This has a centering effect on me and helps everything come down a notch. Lastly, go for a walk and do some stretching. I also like to listen to binaural beats and/or write affirmations while doing any of the above, which is a nice layered approach and can be very effective. In addition, I will also load up on the vitamins and minerals for a couple days straight, which clears my mind, helps with stress, and can really help eliminate food cravings.

The moral of the story is that transitions can be hard, whether it's personal, seasonal, or a combination of both. But your body is talking to you all of the time, communicating it’s needs, if you can understand the language, you can do something about it.

If you are experiencing some of these things too, schedule an appointment or give me a call and let's talk about how Chinese Medicine can help you.

Here’s to your smooth start to spring and sending hugs to your liver!

Jennifer L Fockler, L.Ac.