In our daily lives, we react to different situations with a wide range of emotions, each person being affected in theit own individual way. For example, what makes one person happy could make another person very sad or angry. These different emotions are the natural responses of the mind to the outside environment. But if we are emotionally upset for a very long time, or go through very sudden or severe emotional trauma, the mind finds it difficult to adjust to these mental disturbances. Significant emotional Stress will result in changes in our body, such as Yin and Yang imbalance, Qi and Blood disharmony, or dysfunctions of the organs or meridians, allowing disease to occur.

Traditional Chinese medicine distinguishes seven types of human emotion: joy, anger, anxiety, worry, grief, fear and fright. These emotions are the main causes of internal disease and, especially when they become excessive and pathogenic, they will directly influence the internal organs and cause disease. In traditional Chinese medicine, a person’s mental activities are closely related to the condition of his internal organs. Healthy and productive functioning of the visceral organs will provide the blood and essences necessary to nourish the mind and enable it to think and react to the stimulants from the outside world. Each of the internal organs is associated with one of the seven emotions. The emotion of the liver is anger, that of the heart is joy and that of the spleen is worry. The emotions of the lungs are both anxiety and grief, and the emotions of the kidneys include both fear and fright.

Because of the relationship between our feelings and our organs, excessive emotion can become pathogenic and cause disharmonies in the related organ. For example, excess anger will damage  and hurt  the liver,  worry and excessive contemplation will hurt and damage the spleen, and fear will hurt and damage the kidneys. These emotions can affect the internal organs because they can damage the vital mechanism of the organ, disturbing the normal mechanism of Qi and creating an adverse flow of energy in the body. For example, when we get angry, we often experience the sensation of feeling flushed and our eyes and face become red. This is because anger causes the Qi to go upwards to the head and face, and the blood rushes up with it. Another example is the saying “he almost wet his pants” when describing a person who was scared. This is actually true, because fear causes the Qi to drop downwards and brings on urination or diarrhoea. When doing work that is mentally very taxing, our appetite often decreases. This is because excessive deliberation and contemplation causes the spleen Qi to stagnate and our appetite reduces with the stagnation. This shows not only that different emotions affect different organs, but also that the organs will be affected or damaged in different ways. Generally speaking, anger will cause the Qi to accelerate upwards, joy will slow down the flow of Qi, grief will dis- sipate the Qi, fear will send Qi downwards, fear will disturb the Qi and anxiety will cause Qi to stagnate.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the heart is the governing organ of all the other organs, and is also in charge of the mind. Although the seven different emotions will specifically affect their related organs, it is the heart that will first register the emotions before influencing the related organs. Because of this, no matter what emotions we experience, they primarily affect the functions of the heart and thereby affect the other organs only because of their relationship with the heart. The special influence that emotions have on the heart is reflected in the many colloquial expressions that mention the heart.

While emotional factors can affect the organs in our body by influencing their vital functions, the reverse is also true. The dysfunctions of our organs could also influence or alter our mentality,  causing  emotional disturbances. It is not uncommon for someone to experience emotional changes after recovering from a sickness, especially after a long, chronic illness. Typical emotional changes include becoming short- tempered, depressed or listless.


Diseases induced by prolonged or sudden emotional stimulants usually occur because of damage to the body’s internal organs. Each organ has its own physiology, functions and vital mechanisms, and each organ also manifests specific symptoms when it’s damaged. In general, emotional factors tend to influence, and more often cause, problems of the heart, liver and spleen. For example, emotional distress affecting the functions of the heart can disturb the heart’s ability to govern the mind, causing behavioural changes in a person such as being scared, panicky, forgetful, restless, irritable, hysterical or deranged. There may be an inability to control one’s emotions, violence or even insanity. When the liver’s functions are affected by emotional factors, symptoms include depression, taking long, deep sighs and feeling as if something is stuck in the throat, as well as anger and a bad temper. Additionally, in women there can be irregular menstruation, menstrual cramping or lumps in the breasts.

Pathogenic emotions can affect the spleen and stomach functions, with symptoms of indigestion, poor appetite, a bloated abdomen and irregular bowel movements.

There could also be either no menstruation or excessive menstruation in the case of spleen and heart deficiency. Nausea and abdominal pains may result if the liver is also affected. In general, diseases that are caused by emotional factors will usually produce symptoms of emotional disturbance, and these emotional disturbances often indicate the progress and outcome of the disease.

Epidemic Disease

Epidemic diseases are also pathogenic factors from the outside environment, and should be recognized as external pathogens. They are different from the six excessive climatic factors that were discussed previously, in that epidemic diseases are all acute and very infectious by nature. Practitioners of ancient traditional Chinese medicine noted that epidemic diseases would infect the whole family, whatever the age or gender of the individuals, with everyone manifesting the same symptoms. By the Ming Dynasty, two to three centuries ago, it became recognized that the infections were mainly spread through the nose or mouth. Examples of epidemic diseases include measles, mumps, diphtheria, chicken pox, cholera and influenza.

The occurrence of epidemic disease often follows severe natural disasters, such as floods and long droughts, when sudden or prolonged changes in nature create adverse conditions in our living environment and lifestyle. These changes are often so dramatic that it becomes difficult for the body to adjust properly and stay healthy. Furthermore, an unsanitary environment (such as overcrowded living space with poor ventilation or sewage systems) or unsanitary food and eating habits, creates a fertile atmosphere for epidemic disease. These issues, while environmental, are also often socially related. To prevent the spread of epidemic infections, appropriate authorities or governing agencies need to treat each and every episode of infectious disease in a timely and effective manner.

Another very important factor in the occurrence of epidemic disease is our own body’s ability to deal with, or to fight against, epidemic factors. When we are strong and healthy, we tend to be less susceptible to pathogens. Even when exposed, a strong body may be immune and will not become sick.