Ancient Ayurvedic Perspective On Managing Stress And Anxiety
by Dr. Surya Bhagwati on Oct 07, 2019
The pressures of modern urban life have led to a drastic rise in the incidence of chronic stress and anxiety disorders. With rapid urbanization in India, this problem is all too familiar, affecting an estimated 20% of the population as per the findings of a study published in 2017. This is not just troubling because of the mental health impact, but also because of the role that chronic stress and anxiety play in the onset of other ailments like diabetes and heart disease.
Despite the wisdom of the ancients, it is unlikely that even the wisest sage could foresee the extent to which stress plagues us today. Nevertheless, their insights and observations remain valuable, perhaps gaining even more relevance for our modern world.
The Ayurvedic Perspective of Stress & Anxiety
The importance of harmony and mental equilibrium was well recognized by early Ayurvedic sages around 2 millennia ago. Although chronic stress and anxiety may have had low prevalence in ancient India, grief and tragedy are an inescapable reality of the human condition, so ancient Ayurvedic physicians were no strangers to depression, stress, and anxiety disorders. Their texts and treatises offer us valuable insights into the problem and how it can be dealt with.
Stress in Ayurved is viewed as a nervous system disturbance. The roots of this disturbance are to be found in the balance of natural energy or doshas that govern our physical and psychological traits. As vata plays a critical role in regulating the nervous system, it is imperative to understand your individual prakriti or balance of doshas to effectively manage stress. By and large, however, such disorders may be linked to a vitiation or aggravation of vata. This can be caused through high exposure to sensory stimulation, such as overeating, inadequate rest, overworking, and so on.
It should be noted that although vata imbalances are commonly to blame for stress and anxiety disorders, pitta and kapha doshas can also play a role, depending on the individual’s constitution. While vata dominant dosha types are most vulnerable to vata related stress disorders, such as anxiety and fear, pitta types are more likely to manifest stress in angry outbursts and impulsive behavior, and kapha types tend to manifest stress disorders in increased sluggishness, lethargy, and a general loss of interest in activities. These changes also give rise to physical ailments, with a greater likelihood of hypertension, high blood sugar levels, slow metabolism, chronic gastrointestinal conditions, and so on.
Ancient Solutions for Modern Day Stress
Based on the Ayurvedic insights into stress and anxiety disorders, the first step would be to identify your dosha type and strengthen that natural balance. This can be achieved through the adoption of a diet, exercise routine, and dinacharya suitable for your prakriti. When imbalances do arise they can be corrected using these same practices, as well as Ayurvedic herbs. While it is important that you seek personalized recommendations, there are some broader Ayurvedic treatments for anxiety that can help relieve stress no matter the cause. Here is an overview of traditional Ayurvedic recommendations for managing stress and anxiety.
- Follow a diet that is light and stimulating, using herbs and spices like ginger and tulsi, which have been shown to modulate the stress response. Tulsi is even used as an ingredient in some of the most effective Ayurvedic medicines for stress as studies show that the herb has neuroprotective, cognition-enhancing and stress relieving properties.
- In addition to following a balanced diet with stress relieving herbs and spices, it is also advisable to limit exposure to stimulants like caffeine, as well as sugar. Studies show that high sugar intake can raise cortisol levels also keeping them elevated for longer. The stress hormone also tends to be raised with obesity, which is again linked to high sugar intake. Caffeine may not have a direct effect on cortisol, but its stimulating effect can aggravate vata and cause sleep disturbances, contributing to stress.
- Adequate rest and relaxation is one of the main recommendations for coping with stress and anxiety. This includes both sleep and relaxing activities. Sleep is regarded as vital in Ayurved for mental balance and there is also considerable stress on the timing of sleep not just the duration. The best time for sleep is said to be between 10pm to 6am. This emphasis on sleep duration and timings has been confirmed with research showing that cortisol levels are elevated in shift workers who sleep during the day.
- When it comes to relaxing activities, it is imperative that you make the time for breaks and holidays. As you should know, sacrificing relaxation for increased productivity is counterproductive in the long run. Activities to promote relaxation and relieve stress can be diverse, including socializing with loved ones, spending more time in nature, pursuing a hobby, participating in sports, and so on.
- Physical activity is always regarded as important in Ayurved, but the intensity of activity is important too. Mild to moderate activity is most effective at managing stress and anxiety, with studies showing that such exercise can lower cortisol levels both in the short and long term. This can include yoga, aerobics, pilates, walking, bicycling, swimming, and so on. Yoga is most beneficial for stress relief as it trains you to focus on breathing and meditation. In fact, breathing exercises like pranayama are proven to work as natural stress reduction techniques.
- Ayurvedic herbs are among the most potent natural remedies for stress and anxiety, with many like ashwagandha and brahmi classified as adaptogens. Both herbs have been shown to lower cortisol levels, with brahmi also improving cognitive function and providing neuroprotective benefits. Other herbs like jatamansi, tulsi, and gotu kola, are also notable for their calming effect on the nervous system and for modulating the stress response. The best way to reap these benefits is by using Ayurvedic stress relief medications that contain most of these ingredients.
Remember that chronic stress and anxiety disorders are diseases that can have a cascading effect on both physical and mental health. If your problem is severe and does not respond to generalized treatments, it is important that you seek help from a qualified professional.
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