herbpeaceIn Part I of this series I began the discussion about using of herbs to care for the caregiver. As a reminder, many herbs support your body-mind complex to assist in stressful times. They can increase immunity, help sleep, calm the mind and emotions, and treat issues such as anxiety, depression and disturbed Shen, all of which can easily arise during stressful caretaking situations.

Shen

As a reminder, Shen reflects the entire physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the body. It includes the capacity to think and act coherently and appropriately, the personality’s magnetic force or charisma, enthusiasm, innate vitality, and the joy to live life. It is distinguished by the sparkle in the eyes, an overall vivaciousness, and a will to live. As well, it’s the dynamic verve that enables us to surmount obstacles and make things happen.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Shen is "’housed" in the Heart, so physical heart issues can affect one’s Shen and vice versa. There are no disharmonies of Shen in and of itself, yet because of its connection with the Heart, Deficient Heart Qi or Blood can weaken Shen. This appears as a lack of joy or enthusiasm in life, dull eyes, dislike of talking, muddled thinking, forgetfulness, insomnia, lack of vitality, depression, unhappiness, confused speech, or excessive dreaming. Extreme Shen disharmony results in irrational behavior, incoherent speech, hysteria, delirium, inappropriate responses to people or the environment, violent madness, or unconsciousness.

Herbs that nourish the Heart Blood also nourish Shen. However, the true remedy for Shen problems is addressing emotional and spiritual issues through counseling, prayer, affirmation, meditation, play, changing jobs, taking holidays, and whatever else is needed to nourish the Spirit and Heart.

Insomnia

Disrupted sleep can lead to Shen disorders. To treat chronic insomnia or sleep issues, most herbs must be taken during the day as well as at night and for several days before they’ll work. Stronger sedative herbs, however, should only be taken a couple of hours before and right at bedtime and avoided for daytime use; they are not for short naps but for longer, restful sleep. Others are simple relaxants and may be used during the day to ease the effects of stress.

When to use each herbal category

For quick and easy reference, I’ve created a chart of herbs in specific categories so you can easily choose which is best for your needs. Here are the symptoms and treatment of each category:

Anxiety: Symptoms includepalpitations, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, insomnia, tremors, twitches, and muscle spasms. Other symptoms may accompany these such as digestive upset, frequent urination, diarrhea, headaches and fatigue.

Hysteria: This is a state of mental disorder characterized by emotional excitability, emotional outbreaks, disturbances of sensory and motor functions, and intense agitation, anxiety, or excitement.

 

Calmatives: These nourish the heart and calm the spirit (Shen). They are useful for nervous disorders, stress, relaxation, and simple sleep problems. They are better for weaker individuals and less acute conditions.

Nervines & Sedatives: Nervines nourish the nervous system, calming the nerves and relieving muscle spasms, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, emotional instability, pain, cramps, spasm, tremors and epilepsy. Sedatives are stronger than calmatives. They are used to alleviate nervousness, palpitations, insomnia, and irritability.

Strong sedatives: Generally minerals, these herbs have tranquilizing effects that weigh down and calm the mind to treat palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, Shen disorder, nervousness, irritability, fright and hysteria. They are typically used for more short-term acute conditions, as over time they can injure the digestion.

Regulate heart: These herbs regulate the heart function and should be used in appropriate doses.

Increase immunity: Herbs that increase immunity tend to be adaptogens that enhance endurance, energy and strength so the body handles stress better.

 

Herbs for the Caregiver

 

SYMPTOMS

HERB

ENERGY

FLAVOR

ORGANS

TREATS

ANXIETY

Kava kava

Warm

Pungent, bitter

Liver, Kidney

Spasm, insomnia, anxiety

 

Lemon balm

Cool 

Sour, slightly pungent 

Lungs, Liver 

Nervousness, hysteria, anxiety, insomnia, melancholy, depression, gas, cramps

 

Passion flower

Cool 

Bitter 

Heart, Liver 

Anxiety, nervous tension, hysteria, insomnia 

 

California poppy

Cool 

Bitter 

Liver, Heart 

Nervous tension, anxiety, insomnia 

CALMATIVES

Zizyphus seeds (suan zao ren – very safe for the weak and elderly) 

Neutral

Sweet, sour

Heart, Spleen, Liver, Gallbladder

Insomnia, irritability, palpitations, anxiety, spontaneous sweating, nervous exhaustion

 

Mimosa flower & bark (Albizzia – he huan pi; "the happiness tree")  

Neutral

Sweet

Lung, heart, Kidney

Insomnia, bad temper, insomnia, depression, irritability, poor memory caused by emotional constraint

 

Biota (Thuja, cedar tree seed – bai zi ren) 

Neutral

Sweet

Heart, Liver, Kidney, Large Intestine

Nervousness, anxiety, palpitations, insomnia; especially with anemia/Blood deficiency

 

Polygonum stem (ye jiao teng) 

Neutral

Sweet, slightly bitter

Heart, Liver

Calms the Shen; insomnia, irritability, dream-disturbed sleep especially due to weakness

 

Chamomile

Cool-neutral

Bitter,

Slightly pungent

Liver, Stomach, Lungs

Nervousness, headache, stomach upset, anxiety, cramps, spasms 

 

Lavender

Cool

Bitter,

Slightly pungent

Lung, Liver

Insomnia

NERVINES & SEDATIVES

Skullcap

Cool

Bitter

Liver

Nervousness, irritability, insomnia from Heat, worry, exhaustion

 

Valerian

Warm

Bitter, pungent

Liver, Heart

Cramps, spasms, insomnia, nervous conditions from Cold

 

Hops

Cool

Bitter

Heart, Liver

Anxiety, nervous tension, hysteria, insomnia

 

Rauwolfia

Cool

Bitter

Liver, Heart

Hypertension, stress, worry,

STRONG SEDATIVES

Dragon bone (long gu) 

Neutral

Sweet, astrin-gent

Heart, Liver, Kidney

Insomnia, epilepsy, night sweats, spontaneous perspiration, irritability, dizziness, short temper

 

Oyster shell (mu li) 

Slightly cold

Salty, Astrin-gent

Liver, Kidney

Restless Shen, palpitations, insomnia, vertigo, dizziness, convulsion, spasm, epilepsy, spontaneous perspiration, night sweats

 

Pearl (zhen zhu – use finely granulated powder) 

Cold

Sweet, salty

Heart, Liver

Epilepsy, convulsions, hypertension, excessive anger with blurred vision

 

Amber (hu po – use crushed resin) 

Neutral

Sweet

Heart, Liver, Urinary Bladder

Epilepsy, insomnia, anxiety, forgetfulness, palpitations, seizures from disturbed Shen, coronary heart disease

HYSTERIA

Black haw

Cool

Bitter

Liver

Nervous complaints, convulsions, hysteria, spasms

REGULATE HEART

Night blooming cereus

Warm

Bitter

Heart, Kidney

Palpitations, anxiety, tachycardia, angina, carditis, pericarditis, arrhythmia, valvular disease, all cardiopulmonary diseases, mental derangement

 

Hawthorn

Warm

Sour, sweet

Heart, Stomach, Liver, Spleen

Cardiotonic, arrhythmia, heart failure, heart diseases, digestive ailments, angina, hypertension

 

Arjuna

Cool

Astrin-gent, pungent

Heart, Kidney

Heart diseases, angina,

Tachycardia, arrhythmias; poor cardiac muscle and pumping function

INCREASE IMMUNITY

Astragalus

Slightly warm

Sweet

Lungs, Spleen

Boosts immunity, building resistance to colds, flu

 

Eleuthero

Neutral

Sweet, pungent

Kidneys, adrenals, Spleen

Increases energy, vitality, endurance

 

Reishi

Slightly warm

Sweet, slightly bitter

Lungs, Heart, Spleen Liver, Kidney

Calms the spirit, increases energy, immunity and endurance; anti-stress

 

 

Formulas

Western:

  • There are several herbal formulas available that combine California poppy, hops and passionflower often with valerian or skullcap. Use for sleep, stress and nervousness.
  • Planetary Formulas Stress Free: I’ve seen people take up to 20 tablets of this a day without putting them to sleep but handling their stress beautifully. It contains zizyphus (suan zao ren), skullcap, hops, wood betony, valerian, American ginseng (xi yang shen), hawthorn, ginger, licorice, chamomile, black cohosh and eleuthero.
  • Planetary Formulas Calm Child: Contrary to its name, this formula is also great for adults. Containing chamomile, jujube dates, hawthorn, catnip, lemon balm, longan pepper, licorice, amla, magnesium, calcium and gotu kola, it aids sleep and reduces stress, hyperactivity, and nervousness.

Chinese:

The following may be found as patent medicines in pill form from Mayway online, either in the Plum Flower of Min Shan brands:

  • An Mien Pian: This is especially good for anxiety, disturbed Shen, insomnia, restlessness, palpitations, vivid dreaming, depression and panic attacks particularly from Heat. As well, it transforms Phlegm and relieves food stagnation, which can often cause heart symptoms such as pain and stuffiness in the chest. Use caution with anemia, Yin and/or Blood Deficiency. This formula contains zizyphus (suan zao ren), polygala (yuan zhi), poria (fu ling), gardenia fruit (zhi zi), massa fermenta (shen qu), and licorice (gan cao).
  • Calm Spirit Teapills: This formula that contains polygonum stem (ye jiao ten), triticum (wheat – fu xiao mai), jujube dates (da zao), poria (fu ling), lilium (lily bulb – bai he), licorice (gan cao) and albizzia (he huan pi) treats disturbed Shen due to deficiency and excessive worrying. I’ve found it to be especially effective in manic/hysterical disorders as well as a gentle sedative.
  • Suan Zao Ren Wan: Containing zizyphus (suan zao ren), ligusticum (chuan xiong), poria (fu ling), anemarrhena (zhi mu), and licorice (gan cao), it treats restlessness, insomnia, palpitations, night sweats, anxiety and vivid dreaming.
  • An Shen Bu Xin Wan: A stronger calm spirit sedative formula, it contains mother-of-pearl (margarite – zhan zhu mu), polygonum stem (ye jiao ten), ligustrum (nu zhen zi), salvia (dan shen), eclipta (han lian cao), cuscuta (tu su zi), albizzia (he huan pi), rehmannia (di huang), schisandra (wu wei zi), and acorus (she chang pu). This formula calms Shen, settles the heart and treats insomnia, vivid dreaming palpitations, dizziness or restlessness with anxiety, possible chest pain or oppression, mania, nightmares and hallucinations. Use caution with poor digestion.

I hope this never happens to you, but it’s usually inevitable that one day either you or a loved one may end up in the hospital. This is most typical when caring for elderly parents, as happened to me in the last couple of years, yet you never know when you’ll end up there, too. And what we all need when in a hospital is an informed advocate. This can make the difference between life and death, as I just experienced.

My recent foray into the hospital scene when my mother became ill taught me this lesson. Generally, most practitioners there truly have each patient’s best interests at heart. They care, they love their work and they want to do the best job they can. Despite this, I have found the hospital system to be fractured; in spite of all the individual efforts made to save lives and heal people, it can actually cause the opposite: decline and death.

The major reason I see for this occurrence is at the very basis of western medicine itself: specialty-ism. In the medical world of microscopically dismantling the human body to discover how it works and to develop medicines for its diseased parts, the whole person is lost. The same arises in hospitals where there’s a specialist doctor for each system of the body who effectively helps that organ’s functions, but who also misses the rest of the body and personhood as a whole. This is great in terms of expertise, but if you are the patient, it could mean your healing process is not necessarily served, and even more so, it may make you worse.

For example, you may undergo a separate blood draw for each doctor, sometimes occurring every two hours and despite the fact that you might be anemic to begin with. Or you may have one doctor prescribe a medication that another doctor already knows doesn’t work or causes side effects, but that little detail didn’t make it into the records or the records weren’t read thoroughly enough, or the new doctor on duty decides to try that medication because it’s useful from his experience but in not knowing the patient, promotes side effects because it was inappropriate for that person in the first place.

This fractured system occurs within medical groups, too. The admitting doctor may belong to a larger association of doctors in the same specialty that shares hospital rounds on different days. A patient may see one’s personal doctor anywhere from every one to four days, but in extended stays, most likely will see a different doctor each day.

And every time there’s a different doctor, nurse, or technician, he/she has to fully read and understand the records and get to know the patient’s history all over again. That means the patient needs to catch them up so they aren’t experimented on, which if one is in the hospital in the first place can be quite trying and exhausting for any patient. And what doctor really has the time to fully catch up on all those new patients’ histories anyway? Plus, they may know the condition they are treating, but not the person in whom they are treating that condition!

Besides the lack of one person who oversees the entire case or patient for consistency, the best possible care, and to prevent wrongful experiments (yes, there are often "hospitalists" assigned to do this, but often they are the attending physician – the original admitting doctor – and neither will be present or available 24/7 let alone maybe four days in a row), there is one other aspect to hospitals that promotes decay rather than health: lack of sleep and rest.

Hospitals are NOT restful places; quite the contrary. Nurses, doctors, technicians and more have legal obligations and must regularly obtain stats, perform tests, and monitor or treat their patients. This includes in the middle of the night. It’s common for a person to be wakened every two to three hours regardless of the time of day as everyone performs his/her necessary duties. Doctors and nurses will attest to this. One doctor actually told my mom, "That hospital bed will suck the life out of you."

Being in my mother’s recent hospital room felt to me like a revolving door to Grand Central Station. During the day someone showed up almost every 20 minutes! That sounds like great care, right? In one sense maybe but it was also extremely disruptive. The people who appeared day and night included:

  • Various doctors
  • Various nurses
  • Nurse’s aids
  • Charge nurse
  • Physical therapists
  • Other therapists such as breathing therapists
  • People who clean the room
  • People who stock the room with new supplies
  • Chaplain and his/her team
  • People who deliver the meals
  • People who pick up the meals
  • People who take you for tests
  • People who bring you back from tests

quietpleasesingDuring my mom’s most recent hospital stay, she was disturbed every night as well by a stream of people who poked, prodded and tested her until she was wide awake 24/7 for four days. As can be predicted after such treatment, she steadily declined until it disturbed her Shen[1]. At that point, the hospital sent in a psychiatrist to treat her!

That’s when I discovered that there’s actually a hospital diagnosis called "IC psychosis," usually experienced by one patient out of every three after five days in IC (intensive care) units. This condition results in a cluster of serious psychiatric symptoms caused by the loss of normal anchoring that arises from repeated interruptions, continuously lighted rooms and loss of night and day cycles. As a consequence, patients become agitated, severely disoriented in time and space, paranoid, delirious and possibly hallucinogenic, all signs of Shen disturbance!

And what is one great factor in restoring Shen? Sleep!

In the hospital where I most recently spent time, there was a photo on the walls along all the corridors. Several practitioners stand in it, all with fingers to their lips, indicating travelers to "Shhhh" their way along. Indeed, most of the corridors were quiet (except when equipment was shuffled along several times daily), but inside the room itself, it wasn’t quiet at all. I mean even the chef, who had recently been hired and wanted to provide the best possible food every patient would like, stopped by twice because my mom wasn’t eating the meals!

This is good-hearted and well meaning indeed, BUT it sure is disruptive to the healing process. Sleep is, after all, the Great Healer, and this is one medicine definitely missing from hospitals.

All of this is to say that until the hospital scene changes, it’s important to have an advocate lined up to help you or your loved one heal AND it’s key to be an advocate for others. In general, an advocate is someone who:

  • Gives support
  • Speaks on the patient’s behalf
  • Promotes the patient’s best interests
  • Helps get the patient’s needs met

Stay tuned for Part II to learn many of the important roles of an advocate can fulfill along with information on Living Wills and DNR’s ("do not resuscitate" legal orders).

If you know anyone who might benefit from reading this blog, either now or in the future, please share it! And don't forget to leave your comments below.



[1] Shen reflects the entire physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the body. It includes the capacity to think and act coherently and appropriately, the personality’s magnetic force and the joy to live life. It is distinguished by the sparkle in the eyes, an overall vivaciousness and a will to live. Housed in the Heart, Shen is our enthusiasm, innate vitality and charisma. Spiritually, it is the dynamic faith, vitality and force of our personalities that are able to surmount obstacles and make things happen.

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