In today’s competitive world, fear and anxiety have unfortunately become an integral part of life. Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by a feeling of uneasiness, nervousness, or fright. The cause of this uneasiness might not be known or easily recognized, aggravates the suffering. Though anxiety is a state that initiates in the mind, it causes physiological changes similar to the stress response in the body.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, anxiety is attributed to dosha imbalance where excess vata accumulates in the nervous system. Commonly, anxiety is experienced in the form of insomnia, a restless mind, nervousness, panic, and/or fearful thoughts. Ayurveda believes in the need of inner calm without diminishing your alertness.
The kapha generates certain fluids to negate the hot and drying effects of pitta and vata respectively which affect the brain. When in stress, this fluid starts increasing thus soaking the brain’s processing fire (Medhya Agni) and at times this mental fire is put off completely. This leads to the accumulation of ama which blocks the channels and when mixed with fluids created by kapha, creates a harmful chemical called cortisol. Though cortisol is not a very harmful hormone, the imbalance in kapha makes it detrimental to the body and mind
A person struggling with anxiety are unusually panicky, sweaty hands and feet, trouble in concentrating, irritability, disturbed sleep, and difficulty in overcoming worries.
When the body is suffering from excess stress, the effect is dispersed into various systems in the body. The digestive system, the metabolic functions, the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, the reproductive system, and even the immune system is negatively impacted. Elevated levels of stress affect our mental and emotional states and even affect certain specific tissues like hair, nails and teeth. In fact, many of the ailments have stress as the major contributing factor but is often overlooked.
Stress is a major contributor in many disorders, including anxiety. Anxiety often flares up from an inappropriate response from the body to external stress factors. So the first step towards management is to develop a healthy way to deal with stress. Ayurveda stresses on identifying the cause of anxiety. It could be a vata aggravating diet or an unhealthy response to stress or a habituated negative thinking. Once the cause is determined, Ayurveda recommends taking the corrective measures such as balancing the doshas, adopting a positive attitude and inculcating optimism, affirmations and confidence.
It is important to shift to a vata-pacifying diet to diminish vata in the body and the mind. Consuming a variety of fresh juicy seasonal vegetables is helpful. The food should be consumed when it is still fresh and warm. It is better to eat food which is easy to digest, light on the stomach and yet nourishing enough. The basic khitchari is one such comfort food.
Eating at set routine times, minimize caffeinated beverages and regular consumption of warm milk spiced with a pinch of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg helps soothe the nerves and, when taken before bed, will promote sound sleep.
Nasya is considered to be very relaxing and soothing practice. The medicated oil is applied to the nasal passage which promotes unhindered breathing, releases stress and enhances mental clarity. Most of the vata imbalances and emotional discrepancies can be pacified with this therapy.
Regular and uninterrupted sleep is extremely essential for a healthy body and calm mind. When you are into deep sleep, the amount of energy consumed is negligible. This helps the body utilise the energy for restorative functions including rejuvenation, restoration and repair of tissues.
Sleep also helps calm the mind and remove excess stress. When you are suffering from excess stress, it is advisable to get adequate sleep of not less than eight hours.
Ayurvedic Oil Massages
Ayurveda recommends Abhyanga (self-oil massage) for pacifying vata. The oil massage imparts a profound feeling of stability, strength and calmness. It also promotes sleep, stimulates internal organs and enhances the blood circulation.
Shirodhara is also considered beneficial in stress reduction. The therapy is used to calm the mind, ease anxiety and take out excess vata.
Yoga is an effective way to deal with stress. The movement of prana throughout the body is enhanced which helps relieve tension, clear both mental and physical blocks and encourages fluidity. Certain Yoga postures are specifically meant to balance the thridoshas and also to relieve stress and anxiety. These include:
- Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
- Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
- Janu Shirsasana (One-Legged Forward Bend)
- Setubandhasana (Bridge Pose)
- Marjariasana (Cat Stretch)
- Paschimottanasana (Two-Legged Forward Bend)
- Hastapadasana (Standing Forward Bend)
- Adhomukha Shwanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
- Shirshasana (Headstand)
- Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
- Pranayama techniques like Kapal Bhati (Skull-Shining Breathing Technique), Nadi Shodhan (Alternate Nostril Breathing) and Bhramari (Bumble Bee Breath) also help in calming the mind and releases any agitation, frustration or anxiety and anger.
Meditation is a very effective technique and practice to deal with stress and anxiety. Studies show that meditation can help in the reduction of stress hormone – cortisol and lactic acid which is also a stress level indicator. Meditation, when done regularly, possesses transformative powers to heal the body, mind and the soul.
Ayurveda offers herbal support to cope with stress and anxiety. Research has shown that Ayurvedic herbs can mitigate stress and anxiety, infuse calmness and heighten alertness. Ayurveda also recommends a number of herbs which specifically support the mind and the nervous system, and can help instil a sense of effortlessness while we face our daily challenges.
Ashwagandha is very helpful in coping with stress and calming the mind. It also aids in maintaining high energy levels throughout the day and sound sleep at night.
Brahmi has a sattvic nature has ability to strike the right balance between the nervous system and the mind. It has a cooling, relaxing effect on pitta, and contributes in calming the vata in the mind.
In today’s demanding world, stress and anxiety have become part and parcel of our lives. But it is amazing to know that you can control it effectively with some simple practices. Though there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for stress management, Ayurveda helps you cope with stress and anxiety, reduce its harmful effects and face the day to day challenges effectively.
Mindful living encourages you to lead a calm and composed life. Go ahead and live your life! Because stress is a fact of life, but being stressed out is not!