Irritability is an uneasy state that doesn’t sit well with us and is often accompanied by a demeanor of restlessness or dissatisfaction. Irritability can make its presence felt physically and emotionally.
Clients experience irritability in different ways:
A more physical phenomenon such as ‘Irritable Bowel’ syndrome
A manifestation of hormonal build-up, as in premenstrual syndrome
- A mood state, often associated with chronic frustration
Irritability has been around for thousands of years and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a handle on it. The bottom line with irritability is that it ensues from the loss of an harmonious flow of Qi, leading to a state of ‘qi stagnation’. Then, imbalances are created, which affect body, mind, emotions and spirit.
In terms of the three examples stated above, the disordered Qi is oftentimes that of the Liver. It is important to note that when discussing the qi functions of TCM, terms such as ‘liver’ do not refer to the actual organ, but to a matrix of underlying energetics.
‘Wood invades Earth’
If the ‘liver qi’ (wood element) becomes stagnant and hyperactive, it can vent its disharmony upon the digestive system (earth element). Common symptoms are: changes to bowel habits such as diarrhea, loose motions or constipation, pain, cramps, indigestion, reflux, nausea and vomiting and appetite changes. Energy levels are always going to be affected and irritability is present for a number of reasons.
People suffering constipation become considerably irritable. The intestinal tract like a river needs to keep flowing. When it banks up there ensues what clients describe as an all-pervading feeling of un-wellness. It can really put you off your game.
The liver qi can be disturbed in the lead up to a menstrual period and create fallout such as irritability, with a sense of heightened sensitivity to people and surroundings, emotional and energy fluctuations, digestive disharmonies, headaches, sweet cravings, bloating, fluid retention and so on.
The liver qi is highly responsive to our emotional states. Any ongoing or recurring frustration(s) will cause the qi to stagnate and irritability will be one of many end products. Over time this may well morph into feelings of anger, as this nervous tension over time tends to generate heat.
TCM addresses this unwelcome visitor by harmonizing the liver qi. Acupuncture is a prime mover of qi, so points are chosen that ‘regulate the liver qi’ and restore a patent flow of qi to the channels. Entrenched qi stagnation that has disrupted other systems in the body and created more complex symptomology always requires the addition of Chinese herbal formulae.
I find counselling a most fruitful intervention, alongside acupuncture, when irritability is the result of long-term interpersonal communication deterioration. This can happen in workplaces, between couples and within the family system. Irritability can, like anger, be evidence of a place one has become stuck, an impasse that can’t seem to be solved, from inside, and a signal that change is required.
I hope this has been a useful read for you.
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