Self-care for Trauma and Shock
by Denise Cicuto, L. Ac.
In the past week in the United States we’ve been bombarded with news of a sexual assault offender in Palo Alto, California who was sentenced to only six months for his crime. (The victim’s impact statement was read aloud by members of Congress just last night.) On Sunday June 12th, we awoke to news about the worst hate crime in the history of the LGBTQIA+ community in the United States, that happened at a queer nightclub in Orlando, Florida. News stories affect people in different ways. Shock, anger, grief, fear, worry are some of the emotions we may experience. How do we take care of ourselves during times like this? How can Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine help? Emotions in Traditional Chinese Medicine Each organ system has a different virtue and emotion. Think of the virtue as the “in-balance” expression and the emotion as the “out-of-balance” expression (as teacher Laura Malouf-Renning says during her Yin Yoga class at Leela Yoga). Here’s the short-hand:
For more detailed information about each organ system including elemental associations and spirits, please check out my seasonal blog posts for Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Fall, & Winteraccording to Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Summer post focuses on the Heart, which is the Empress and ultimately in charge of the emotions for each of the elements. Lorie Dechar writes in her book Five Spirits:
According to Chinese medical theory, early maternal deprivation, parental neglect and unrelatedness, emotional and physical shock and trauma all directly impact the heart and spirits. In the poetic language of the ancient Chinese, the violent emotions that arise as a result of such experiences cause the heart to shake and tremble like a tree in a storm wind. Thus the shen no longer rests in tranquility in the heart space. The spirits scatter and their light no longer guides the movements of qi through the body and the mind. pp.61-2
Acupoints for emotional healing There are many acupuncture points that help heal these emotions and I’ll go through a selection of those points here that you can use as self-care. Please note: if you need additional help, seek out practitioners in your support network such as a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, therapist, etc. As Lorie Dechar wrote, shock scatters the Qi of the Heart. This can manifest in different ways, such as someone appearing ‘numb’ emotionally, or ‘checked out’. The points Yintang, Heart 7, and Conception Vessel “Ren” 17 are calming and help gather that Heart Qi back where it belongs. Acupuncture point pictures are from A Manual of Acupuncture by Deadman, Al-Khafaji and Baker
Yintang is one of my favorite acupuncture points. It’s calming and soothing and I pretty much use it on everyone who walks into my office. If you’ve ever introduced the palm of your hand to your forehead when frustrated, you know where this point is – directly between the eyebrows. It’s great for relieving anxiety, agitation, and insomnia. In Traditional Chinese Medicine terms, we say that Yintang calms the ‘shen’ – the spirit of the Heart. Heart 7 is on the pinky side of the wrist at the wrist crease. It can be combined with Yintang for any of those conditions. It also treats things like talking during sleep, palpitations, poor memory, and nervous laughter.
Conception Vessel “Ren” 17 is on the midline of the body level with the nipples. It’s called the front mu or “alarm” point of the Pericardium, which protects the Heart and gathers Qi. Ren 17 can be used when someone has difficulty sleeping because their mind is agitated. It’s also for inability to speak due to lack of Qi. Sometimes people don’t realize that they’ve been holding their breath until they let out a sigh when I needle this point. Lung 3 is called “Heavenly Palace” and it’s located 4 fingers down from the armpit. I use it when people are grieving. The Lungs helps us to appreciate preciousness in our lives, give us space to grieve, let go, and move on in healthy ways.
Liver 3 in the webbing between the first and second toes is sometimes called “Happy Calm”. It’s a great point to help release anger, frustration, and irritability. The Liver likes movement so think of this as a point to get your feet out the door to walk, run, or any other exercise you like to do. Kidney 1 is on the sole of the foot, about a third of the distance from the base of the toes to the heel. It’s the lowest acupuncture point on the body and can be very grounding, especially when someone is really frightened. When in doubt, massage your ears!
The NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) protocol is a series of ear acupuncture points that can be used for addiction as well as for shock after traumatic events. Organizations like Acupuncturists Without Borders train practitioners about this and other treatments and then send them to places like Orlando to help. Here is a map of these points on the ear from the Auriculo app: Your acupuncturist can needle these points on you, or send you home with ear seeds and a chart so you can apply them yourself (or with the help of a friend). If you don’t have ear seeds on hand, my advice is to rub your ears, following the points in the diagram above. If you want to learn more about ear acupressure, you can read my article on How to Give Yourself Ear Acupressure over on AcuTake.
How to use these points Although there are acupressure tools called ‘teishin‘ – sometimes with beautiful crystals and stones – you really only need your fingers, knuckles and elbows to do acupressure. You can also use the closed tip of a pen, or some of the ear seeds I mentioned above (you can even place them on points that aren’t in the ear!) to do acupressure. If you like, you can combine acupressure with essential oils such as the ones listed in this infographic about the Liver and Gallbladder. Some of my favorite combinations include Swimming Dragon healing oil, and Love Balm, from Kirsten at Angelica and Peony. A common ingredient in both of them is geranium essential oil, whose message, Kirsten tells us, is “I give and receive love with ease”. Who doesn’t need more of that in their life?! (FYI, Love Balm was a limited edition fundraiser and is no longer available.) Other self-care tips I like giving people tools for self-care because it empowers us all to be involved in our own healing journeys. As I mentioned earlier, please seek out the help of professionals if you need further help. Get acupuncture! I always recommend acupuncture, of course! If your acupuncturist is also a licensed herbalist, they may have suggestions for herbal formulas as well. Get moving! The Liver likes to be a ‘free and easy wanderer’ and any form of exercise will help move its Qi. Do Acupressure! Hopefully you learned a few points from this post and some essential oils to use on them. Therapy – ask your doctor what’s right for you If you already have a therapist, set up an appointment after a traumatic event. Even if you aren’t feeling any effects now it may be due to shock. Take breaks from the news and social media It’s really ok to turn off the news, ignore Facebook, etc., until you feel better. If you don’t want to talk about news events with your friends because they are triggering you, that’s ok. Set aside time for yourself – Get plenty of rest. Meditations like yoga nidra can be extremely restorative and healing. I also recommend the buddhify app because it has different voices and categories like “Difficult emotions” and “Feeling Stressed” as well as varying lengths of meditations.
And lastly, remember: You matter. Take time out for yourself to heal and be well.
Denise Cicuto relocated her practice from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007. Graduating with a Masters of Science and Traditional Chinese Medicine from Yo San University in Los Angeles. Denise specializes in a blend of traditional Chinese acupuncture combined with the ability to prescribe herbs to support overall health and well-being. As part of her training, she interned with Dr. Daoshing Ni in his very busy acupuncture practice specializing in fertility. Denise has a passionate commitment to women’s health and helping women to achieve balance in their lives. With her focus on holistic healing medicine Denise also works with children using a non-insertive, non-invasive Japanese acupuncture technique to restore health and compliment traditional care. Athletes have also come to Denise seeking relief for injuries including foot, knee, back and shoulder pain. Denise devotes her practice to a holistic approach to acupuncture and Chinese medicine and treats the “whole” person, not just the disease or condition. With acupuncture and other traditional Chinese treatments she seeks to restore the natural flow of the body and return the body to harmony.
Along with an acupuncture treatment, Denise may also prescribe Chinese herbs to support overall good health. One way to think of how the two complement each other is that acupuncture works from the outside in and herbs work from the inside out. Herbs allow the patient to continue the effectiveness of the treatment between appointments. Whatever the remedy, Denise will always seek to discover and treat the source of her patient’s problems and not just the symptoms.