We have all been irritable before. Everyone experiences it from time to time. Most of us can remember a time when we’ve injured ourselves or when we’ve pulled a muscle and we feel lousy. That physical pain makes it very difficult to behave normally and politely in social interactions. When there is pain, the qi stops flowing. It is as simple as that. The blocked qi causes more pain and we feel grumpy, uncomfortable and ready to bite off someone’s head.
In Chinese Medicine the Liver is associated with the smooth flow of qi. The Liver often needs treating when there is an acute pain issue. The Liver also is in charge of starting the period and holds all the necessary blood for the cycle. If there is a limited amount of blood or if the Liver is already taxed, the qi starts to clump because the Liver can only handle one task at a time. This clumpy, bumpy qi flow makes us irritable.
One of the many difficult questions I ask women about their PMS is how irritable, is irritable. Are they losing their temper and yelling? Is it full out anger? Is it full out rage? Some women get embarrassed by this question. But it doesn’t have anything to do with my judgment of the way they control the emotions. I need to know if there is heat build up. If the qi was stuck before the Liver got ready to begin the period, the added effort creates heat. The image that always comes to mind is sitting in a car in traffic on a hot July day with no air conditioning. You don’t want to honk your horn, you want to throw your car door open, walk across the hot pavement and strangle someone. Heat creates anger in people that is uncontrollable. Most of us have had flashes of hot anger that make us do or say or just think something that is completely out of character. I remember a bad moment while canning dozens of jars of salsa on a hot summer day when, while screaming at my husband, I also waved a chef’s knife in the air in a moderately hostile way. It wasn’t until I saw his eyes open wide that I realized I had done anything wrong. I immediately replaced the knife on the cutting board and tried to cool down.
As acupuncturists and herbalist we need to know just how much heat there is. If a person can keep their emotions bottled up it isn’t a sign of self-control. It is really a sign that there isn’t any heat build up.
Men and Other Non-Monthly Bleeders
There are plenty of men who get irritable and plenty of women before and after menstruation who are difficult to be around. So if it isn’t the Liver working hard to start the period, what else causes irritability? It is definitely still the Liver but it could be any of a number of challenges that weaken the Liver.
Liver Depleting Activities
- Drinking alcohol
- Living a stressful life
- Exposure to extreme heat
- Irregular meal times
- Withholding honest emotions or concerns
- Limited sleep
- Excessively sweet, fatty or greasy diet
- Lack of exercise
There is nothing like acupuncture for irritability. Okay, exercise and Chinese Herbs are also amazing. But exercise only works if the qi is stuck from living a sedentary life. If the qi is stuck because you are run down, eating poorly and living a stressed life, exercise is going to make you feel worse or only work a little. Most patients within seconds of having acupuncture needles in the body will report that they feel less grumpy. Everything immediately becomes a little more manageable.
I had a teacher who used to say that people with a lot of Liver qi stagnation know how to self-medicate. You have the alcoholics who use alcohol because it temporarily smooths things out, the smokers who intuitively know nicotine is an excellent qi mover, the runners who know they won’t be angry as long as they run a few miles every day and the acupuncture addicts. As for me, I don’t handle alcohol well, I don’t want to smoke and running is too hard on my joints, so I am a faithful acupuncture patient.
I can confidently say that one of the first things we always treat in patients is irritability. It just melts away within the first two or three visits. Sometimes I think I deserve tips from significant others at home, or at least a thank you note. I know my husband thinks my acupuncturist is rather godlike for how sane I am with regular acupuncture.
Bottom line—it isn’t your nature. It isn’t your spouse. It isn’t your boss. It isn’t your kids. It is your Liver qi! Come on in. Let’s make things flow smoothly again.
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