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The Link Between Digestion and Anxiety - TCM Style

Do you have a dog that follows you around all day and cries when you leave the house? Or perhaps a horse that is easily overstimulated and is anxious in new situations? Does your cat have a very sensitive stomach and has a rough time in the litter box? There has been a rise in digestive and anxiety conditions since COVID, so I was inspired to write this article.

In my experience, many animals with digestive complaints have anxiety, or the anxiety comes first and develops into a digestive disorder. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a fascinating explanation for the direct link between the two conditions.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine there are Five Elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Today we're going to talk about the Earth Element which consists of the Spleen and Stomach meridian systems. The energetics of the Earth meridians have to do with the physical functions of the centre of the body, being grounded, and feeling like one belongs on this planet. It is strongest in animals (or humans!) that received appropriate nurturing from a young age, so this is especially important for rescue animals or those with a tough start.

The Spleen is the basis of Nutrient chi in the body and therefore one of it's jobs, with the help of the Stomach, is to transport nutrients to the rest of the body. This responsibility greatly influences the amount of physical energy an animal has. The Spleen is also where thoughts are housed, which means if the Spleen is unbalanced due to stress or a poor diet, it will impede the animal's ability to think, focus, and retain learning. Which means if your dog is having a hard time concentrating during training, you can support them with acupoints on the Spleen meridian!

The Stomach is the originator of fluids in the body as food cannot be digested without body fluids. If this function is impaired, the animal will have a difficult time processing their food fully and absorbing the needed nutrients. Think about the feeling you get in your body when you're anxious about a situation. These butterflies in your stomach feeling is your Stomach chi responding to your anxiety! In the short term, it is a helpful indicator of when you're feeling nervous. In the long term, it can be detrimental to the functioning of your Stomach and Spleen meridians.

Each of the 5 Elements also has an emotion associated with it; the Earth element's emotion is worry or overthinking. This means animals that are naturally more sensitive, exhibit obsessive behaviours, or are lacking confidence are more likely to show imbalances in the Earth Element. This is also true for humans.

The unfortunate fact is that humans that live in a consistent anxious state are more likely to have animals with anxiety. This is the animal-human bond. Which means the environment you live in and your mental health can greatly influence your animal's well-being. This matches with the Western understanding that consistent anxious states have been shown to create more cortisol (stress hormone) in the body which can create an unhealthy environment for healthy bacteria in your gut.

Case in point: I have had digestive issues since I was a child and developed anxiety in my mid 20s. It took a vegan diet and learning management tools to help my Stomach and Spleen thrive. My dog has had a sensitive stomach since we got her and after being attacked by 4 separate off leash dogs she has shown more anxiety-ridden behaviours. With a combination of a healthy raw diet, regular Acupressure, and confidence building exercises from my dog trainer, she and I are both more confident on walks and her digestion has improved.

Below I've listed some of my favourite acupressure points to help with Digestive Issues and Anxiety. Try them out !

To use these acupoints, hold them with very gentle pressure for 60-90 seconds. You can use them every other day if using all of a protocol.

Digestion Acupressure Points:
Anxiety Acupressure points:

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