We see a lot of stress (and stress related conditions) at Yin Wellness Brisbane.  The last couple of years with a global pandemic and Brisbane floods, it’s been tough for many people.  Even more so for our clients with additional stress factors, such as unexplained infertility, miscarriage, painful periods, pregnancy loss, or navigating IVF.

This blog will discuss how stress presents in Chinese medicine and what YOU can do to reduce your stress, build your resilience and maximise your fertility if trying to conceive.

Stress and Chinese Medicine

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), stress impacts the function of the Liver energy.  This isn’t to say there is anything wrong with your liver (from a Western Medical perspective), but more the system that we use to individualize your acupuncture diagnosis and treatment.  In TCM, we associate most things with our Five Element theory – wood, water, metal, earth, and fire.  The organ linked to the Wood element is the Liver and the primary role of the Liver is to ensure the smooth flow of Qi (energy) around the body.   When the Liver functions smoothly, we feel calm and more regulated.

When the Liver is not operating smoothly, the Qi (energy) can get stuck and we see this present in symptoms such as:

  • headaches

  • irritability and frustration

  • waking between 1am and 3am

  • menstrual pain or irregularities

  • PMS

  • breast pain or distention

  • sighing

  • tight neck and shoulders

Liver Qi Stagnation is one of the most common patterns we (and many other acupuncturists) will see in clinical practice, particularly when focused on treating fertility and hormonal conditions.

In good news, acupuncture is excellent for Liver Qi Stagnation and therefore can help to manage your stress responses.  In one of our earlier blogs Acupuncture: The Basics we discuss how acupuncture works and impacts on stress (1)(2) and recent studies (3) discuss the positive benefits of acupuncture specific to IVF.  If any of the symptoms above resonate with you, it may be time to book in a few acupuncture treatments or think about other ways to move your Liver Qi.

How else can you help your Liver Qi (and reduce stress)?

1. Acupressure – Liver 3: Those of you who are regular patients will likely be familiar with this point.   We may have even referred to it as the stress point and studies have shown acupressure on Liver 3 to assist with anxiety (4) in dysmenorrhea patients.  Liver 3 is located in the junction between the big and 2nd toe.  This point is known for the ability to get the Qi moving and can often be a little tender to palpate (more so when the Qi is stagnant).  Find a tender spot close to the junction where the two bones meet and massage this point daily.  This point isn’t contraindicated in pregnancy but we wouldn’t recommend this practice in early pregnancy.  

2. Movement:  It doesn’t have to be high intensity, we actually prefer regular and moderate (especially for those trying to conceive).  We  want you to move in a way that feels good for you.  Find the exercise or movement you love (dancing, yoga, pilates, walking with friends or your dog) and enjoy your time doing it.  When you’re moving, so is your Liver Qi.  Even just 15 minutes a day will get your Liver Qi moving but try to aim for 30 minutes on most days.  If it’s outside, all the better.  Many people already instinctively use movement as a way of reducing their stress levels and move their Liver Qi. 

3. Create, plan, dream:  The Liver energy is about vision and loves to plan.  But when the Liver energy is stuck, we can struggle to be flexible enough to adjust our plans and adapt to life around us.  Find things that help you refine your dreams – both short and long term. Things like journaling, talking to a good friend or meditating are all ways to keep your Liver energy flowing and your vision strong and flexible.

4. Manage stress: Emotional stress affects all organ systems but especially the Liver.  Stress and blocked emotions are the most common causes of “stuck Liver Qi” in our society.  Anger, frustration, sadness and depression are some of the emotions that can occur when the Liver Qi stagnates.  It’s important to not let these emotions further stagnate by not processing your emotions.  We recommend addressing feelings of stress, anxiety and other emotional imbalances.  As with the above advice, you may like to talk to a friend, get a massage, meditate or even see a professional counsellor.  

5. Moderate (or avoid) alcohol:  If your Liver Qi is stagnant then it’s not surprising that you might crave that drink after a long day.  Alcohol moves the Qi, and can help you get relief from the emotional symptoms of Liver Qi stagnation.  However, overuse of alcohol only gives temporary relief from the emotional symptoms of Liver Qi stagnation and we therefore recommend other ways to get your Qi moving.

If you’d like to know more about what TCM pattern applies to you (and how we can help), ask us at your next acupuncture appointment. 


1.  Cho ZH, Hwang SC, Wong EK, et al. Neural substrates, experimental evidences and functional hypothesis of acupuncture mechanisms. Acta Neurol Scand 2006;113:370–7. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0404.2006.00600.x

2.  Lund I, Lundeberg T. Mechanisms of Acupuncture. Acupuncture and Related Therapies Published Online First: 2016. doi:10.1016/j.arthe.2016.12.001

3. Smith, CA, de Lacey, S, Chapman, M, et al. The effects of acupuncture on the secondary outcomes of anxiety and quality of life for women undergoing IVF: A randomized controlled trial. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2019; 98: 460- 469.

4.  Kafaei-Atrian M, Mirbagher-Ajorpaz N, Sarvieh M, Sadat Z, Asghari-Jafarabadi M, Solhi M. The effect of acupressure at third liver point on the anxiety level in patients with primary dysmenorrhea. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2016 Mar-Apr;21(2):142-6. doi: 10.4103/1735-9066.178233. PMID: 27095986; PMCID: PMC4815368