Had I known years ago what I know now about managing anxiety, I would have lived my life a little differently.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder while in college. Frankly I was a bit surprised—I thought my problem was depression.
But the university psychologists felt that anxiety was my real problem and prescribed me Zoloft. I had to stop taking it due to an odd neurological reaction, and I haven’t touched a mental health medication since.
When you have anxiety but cannot take drugs to solve the problem of anxiety, you have to look elsewhere.
For a while, fortunately, anxiety wasn’t totally crippling for me. I guess I felt that worrying was just the way you went through life. But in my 40s, my anxiety got a lot worse, and I could sometimes go for days with a sick feeling in my stomach.
Why? What caused the increase? In many ways I was doing better, and my life was more stable.
What I was doing, however, was spending long evenings working in front of the computer to complete consulting work I was doing from home.
It turned out that this in and of itself could have caused the rise in my anxiety, and when I stumbled onto Ayurveda, I actually found out why.
What Ayurveda Has to Say About Anxiety:
Ayurveda is an ancient healing system from India and the “sister science” to yoga. Ayurveda looks at health through the lens of energies that affect us constantly.
Each person has their own unique energetic constitution, or prakriti, that is a combination of the three doshas in Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
My constitution or prakriti is primarily Vata. (I also have some smaller parts of Pitta and Kapha).
Vata is an energy that has qualities (gunas) of dry, rough, light, cold, subtle, and mobile. The more of these qualities you have in your food and environment, the more Vata energies develop.
Vata in excess can lead to anxiety. And while anyone of any Ayurvedic constitution can develop excess Vata and anxiety, people who are naturally Vata (like me) have a much stronger tendency toward it.
You can find out your Ayurvedic constitution via an online dosha test (most are free). Many tests will also tell you your current state of imbalance or vikruti. If you have high levels of Vata in your vikruti, you may be experiencing anxiety.
How to Manage Anxiety with Ayurveda:
The key to alleviating anxiety in Ayurveda is reducing the excess Vata. In Ayurveda, like attracts like, and so opposite qualities (gunas) are used to pacify. Therefore, because Vata is dry, rough, light, cold, subtle, and mobile, then opposite qualities such as moist, smooth, heavy, warm, gross (i.e., more grounded), and static can be helpful.
When you understand the gunas or qualities of Ayurveda, you can apply Ayurveda to many modern conveniences. For example, weighted blankets (mentioned below) are not a traditional Ayurvedic remedy, but become Ayurvedic when we apply the gunas.
5 Ayurvedic Tips on Reducing Anxiety:
With the gunas in mind, here are five ways you can lower excess Vata and reduce anxiety:
Eat Vata Pacifying Foods
Vata pacifying foods have the qualities that are opposite to Vata. That means comfort foods—warm, heavy, stick-to-your-ribs types of meals that help to calm and relax. On the other hand, ice cream, potato chips, and popcorn can aggravate Vata, and possibly your anxiety.
Reduce Screen Time
Computers and smart phones unfortunately increase Vata. They are light, subtle, and mobile—and Vata needs grounding in the real world. Try to take a break from the screen and enjoy some nature to help soothe Vata.
Favor Calm Instead of Overstimulation
Busy shopping centers, loud jangly music, and flashy superhero movies can be fun sometimes, but they can overload the senses and overwhelm Vata. If you could live your life like you were in a quiet, calm health spa all the time, you might notice your Vata symptoms decreasing.
Of course, that’s not always feasible in our modern world, but try to carve as much personal “spa” time in as possible.
Try a Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets, which can be great for kids with autism, also work well to reduce anxiety. (Autism, by the way, is seen as a result of an extreme Vata aggravation in Ayurveda.)
Weighted blankets provide the qualities of heavy and static to counterbalance the light, flighty, mobile energy of Vata. If you do not want to purchase a weighted blanket, take a big, heavy blanket you may have lying around at home and fold it into a big square. This can be placed on the torso while napping or sleeping.
Do Daily Self-Massage
Self-massage done daily (abhyanga) is a great way to help reduce that quality of “dry” that so often aggravates Vata. Sesame oil (not the toasted kind!) is a great all-purpose massage oil that has Vata pacifying qualities.
Anxiety Can Be Managed Naturally.
The good news about Ayurveda is that anxiety can be managed naturally. This is especially important for people such as myself who cannot take anti-anxiety medications due to side effects. All of the above solutions are safe and can be done in conjunction with other anxiety treatments.
Once you start to get the hang of Ayurveda, you will naturally start to incorporate positive lifestyle changes into your life.
The best part is that most are cheap or free, and they don’t have nasty side effects!
Stephanie Brail is a writer, teacher, and coach with certifications in yoga, qigong, and other holistic practices. She is currently studying to become an Ayurvedic Practitioner and Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist through Yoga Veda Institute. Follow her on MeWe or visit her website.
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