Stress And Anxiety : How Ayurveda Can Help
Stress And Anxiety : How Ayurveda Can Help
Stress and anxiety are two emotions that have the power to sabotage our confidence and make our simple day to day activities overwhelming. Learn how to cope with your fears and uncertainties to protect and reclaim your lost vitality and well being.We are leading a busy life. Technology, workplace pressure, and career goals have made us so immersed in our professional life, that we hardly find time to pause and think about ourselves. Unless the situation becomes out of control, we never pay attention to how much we are exhausting ourselves. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at some point in life. Although used interchangeably, there is a strong connection and overlap between these two emotions. Broadly speaking, stress is a response to a difficult situation, and anxiety is a reaction to stress. They are a part of human life and are not always bad. Feeling worried about a job interview you are about to face or getting tensed to take an examination; these emotions are temporary, keeping us on our toes, helping us overcome a situation, and even motivate us to be more responsible. But when these emotions become persistent, uncontrollable or, begin to interfere with multiple aspects of our normal day to day activities, it is time to address the situation and seek help.
The Science Of Stress
Stress is a normal fight or flight response to a challenge, while anxiety is excessive fear which manifests behaviourally in anticipation of a physical, emotional, real, or perceived threat. It is completely normal to feel stressed and anxious in uneasy situations: it ensures that we are ready and alert to deal with any imminent danger. When we face any danger or challenge, the hypothalamus, a small region at the base of the brain sends signals to adrenal glands, which releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones cause an increase in the heart rate, boost energy supply, and elevate blood pressure at the same time sharpening our senses.
It is a very primitive homeostatic mechanism; which helped our ancestors to protect themselves from potential danger or predators. However, in the modern era, our threats are less physical and more psychological like the pressure to perform or coping with a difficult situation.The stress response is self-limiting and once the danger has ended hormone levels return to normal. But if you are constantly dealing with a difficult situation, you may begin to feel stressed about everyday tasks, which can disrupt your lifestyle. It then starts turning into behavioural manifestations along with physical symptoms outlining the necessity of a medical intervention. The strength of stress response is related to the level of the perceived threat; so, two people experiencing the same situation will react differently, which can be attributed to genetic factors, life experiences or negative events in childhood that can become stress triggers in later life. Stressful life experiences increase the chance to develop anxiety disorders later in life.
Effects Of Stress
● Stress causes muscles to tense up, as a way to guard against injury or pain.
● Stress causes shortness of breath and rapid breathing.
● Acute stress can cause stronger contractions of heart muscles and dilation of blood vessels, thereby increasing the amount of blood supplied to organs, elevating blood pressure.
● Anger, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed.
Types Of Stress
● Acute stress– The most common form of stress which is a result of reactive thinking about situations or events that happened in the recent past or coming up in the near future. It is usually short-lived and does not cause any significant damage.
● Episodic acute stress– People who perpetually experience episodes of acute stress often feel pressurized and in a rush. They are of two types:1. Type A- they have deep-seated insecurity and are excessively competitive, impatient, and aggressive.2. The worrier- People with incessant negative thoughts that something awful is going to happen even if they are in a positive situation. The worry that something wrong is going to happen constantly haunts them and they are more depressed and anxious.
● Chronic stress- A traumatic event in childhood or later in life can set in as a sense of hopelessness in a person, wherein the emotional reactions become ingrained in the personality, making them prone to negative effects of stress irrespective of the situation. The worst part is that it becomes habitual and the person is not able to recognise it, unlike an acute episode of stress where you know that something is amiss.
Repetitive and long-term stress can trigger undue, sustained, and out of proportion worry which can be detrimental to physical, social, occupational, and psychological wellbeing. Anxiety is a feeling of fear or uneasiness that is a reaction to persistent stress or a cause that is not identifiable. The feeling continues even when the stressor is not present and the mind gets stuck in a repetitive panic loop.
Major stress and anxiety-related disorders include:
Generalised anxiety disorder– Past trauma, chronic painful conditions, or genetic factors might lead to apprehensions about even normal day to day activities. This is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals like serotonin and noradrenaline.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder- A pattern of unwanted thoughts (obsessions) leads to ritualistic compulsive behaviours like repeatedly cleaning hands unnecessarily, keeping things only in a particular manner, etc. Not adhering to the routine increases stress and anxiety.
Post-traumatic stress disorder- It is caused by a traumatic event that might have long term effects even after the event has passed long ago. Even slight reminders of the trauma can distress them along with symptoms like irrational emotional outbursts, extremely jumpy, being reckless, and difficulty concentrating.
Phobias- Excessive, persistent and irrational fear, and a deep sense of dread of an object, animal, situation, or activity.
Panic attacks- Sudden episodes of intense fear that can manifest as severe physical reactions when there is no apparent danger. Panic attacks are extremely uncomfortable and symptoms including a sense of impending doom, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath.
Effects Of Chronic Or High Levels Of Stress And Anxiety
Long term anxiety causes the brain to release stress hormones regularly, which can take a toll on mental and physical health
Chronic stress causes muscles to be continuously tensed for a long duration, which can result in frequent headaches, neck pain, low back pain, or pain in extremities.
In people with pre-existing respiratory diseases, chronic stress can exacerbate the symptoms. Rapid breathing or hyperventilation can result in panic attacks.
Anxiety and chronic stress can lead to gastrointestinal disorders like stomach pain, functional dyspepsia, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Stress can lead to low self-esteem and nervousness.
People with stress often develop sleeping disorders.
Rapid breathing and palpitations experienced during stress and anxiety can lead to high blood pressure. Repeated stress causes inflammation of coronary arteries, increasing the risk of heart diseases.
Anxiety leads to a craving for comforting, sweet foods, and stress eating. This can lead to weight gain.
Prolonged stress can impair the immune system and hormonal balance increasing the chances to suffer from infectious diseases and cancer.
Chronic anxiety can increase the chances to develop depression later in life.
Anxiety negatively impacts sperm production and testosterone levels, causing loss of libido.
How To Deal With Stress And Anxiety In A Positive Way ?
Everyone has their own way of dealing and managing stress. What works for your friend may not work for you, and it takes experimenting to find the best stress relief strategies. Some minor changes in your life can help you maintain your calm in unprecedented situations.
Identify triggers and if possible, avoid them, if unavoidable, develop your own coping and management mechanism.
Identify warning signs like irritability, headache and anger when you get stressed. This can vary from person to person. Try to distract yourself as soon as you see the warning signs.
Include exercise in your routine along with a balanced diet. Exercise improves circulation and releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, thus enabling your body to cope with stress.
Establish a routine as this can help build a sense of control over your life. Maintaining a schedule cultivates positive behaviour, makes it easier to accomplish goals, and eliminates distractions making you more focussed.
Maintain a healthy sleeping pattern with at least 7 hours of sleep. Avoid caffeine, and electronic devices while going to bed. Unwind yourself before heading to bed with some calming music or a warm bath.
Engage in some hobbies or creative work that require mindfulness like colouring or keeping a journal. This helps to relax your mind when you feel overwhelmed by responsibilities and uplift your mood bringing an overall sense of happiness
Practice Yoga, meditation, or deep breathing techniques a few minutes daily which can help you make more resilient to stress, offering time for relaxation and self-awareness.
Practice progressive muscle relaxation: tightening and relaxing each muscle group, starting from forehead to toes.
Connect to supportive friends, family members, and colleagues and discuss your feelings with them. Join a support group or get professional help if you lack supportive friends and family in life.
Set short time, achievable goals and challenges for yourself like learning a new language or a new hobby. Achieving the goals helps build your confidence.
Avoid relying on alcohol, smoking, caffeine, or habit-forming substances as your coping mechanism. This avoidance behaviour might provide temporary relief, but is not the permanent solution.
Avoid watching negative news, violent movies, constant use of electronic devices which can add stress in your life.
Don’t hesitate to ask for a hug from your loved ones if you are having a difficult time. A hug from someone you love helps release oxytocin, which lowers stress naturally.
Try to enrol yourself in some volunteering or community work.
Focus on things you have control over rather than worrying about things you cannot change.
Practice positive and compassionate self-talking as it develops more positivity in thoughts.
Maintain a gratitude journal where you can detail the things you feel grateful for. When we channel our thoughts to the positive aspects of our life, our approach also shifts in a positive direction.
If you feel overwhelmed and stress interferes with your life, it is always advisable to seek professional help. A mental health professional can guide you better to identify the cause of stress and make the necessary changes in your life to tackle stress effectively.
Yoga : A great way to Relax
Yoga can be a go-to tool to let go of stress & anxiety. Yoga literally means union. The practice of yogic principles will help live a stress free life yet allow us to enjoy the goodness of the world in a positive manner.Therapeutic yoga can be pursued to relieve stress. Certain breathing techniques like Pranayama can help with quick let-go of stress & anxiety.Practice of Yoga Asanas daily can help improve blood circulation, breathing, oxygenation of tissues and can contribute to overall well being.
How Ayurveda Deals With Stress ?
Ayurveda has always placed immense importance on the state of mind to achieve the inner harmony of tridoshas to attain positive health. Mind and body are reflections of each other and what affects one will have significant impairment on normal functions of the other.
Although stress and anxiety are caused mainly due to vitiation of vata dosha, the inherent prakriti or psycho-somatic constitution of an individual will determine the kind of reactions developed in stress. Vata dominant person will develop vata aggravated reactions like phobias and fear. Pitta dominant person will have reactions like anger, obsession, and physical symptoms like peptic ulcers, hypertension. Kapha dominant person are more prone to develop depression and will develop symptoms that delay metabolism, leading to weight gain. An experienced Ayurvedic physician can understand these minute permutations of doshic imbalance, and prescribe diet, and lifestyle modifications, apt for your state of dosha.
Vata dominant person:
● Reduce the intake of caffeine, sugar, and drink warm water instead of cold.
● Prefer warm, oily, sweet, sour, and salty food. Avoid raw salads, bitter, and pungent food items.
● Practice slow meditative practices like Balasana, Tadasana, and Paschimottasana.
Pitta dominant person:
● Eating cooling foods like cucumber, melons and sweet fruits.
● Avoid spicy, astringent foods, smoking, and too much heat.
● Practice mild yoga postures.
Kapha dominant person:
● Stay away from sweet food and overeating.
● Prefer warm, spicy food and try to exercise more.
● Practice Suryanamaskara, and vigorous Yoga practices like Dhanurasana, Matsyasana and Pranayamalike Kapalabhati.
Ayurvedic therapies like shirodhara or pouring medicated oils over the forehead help to calm the mind and activate marma or vital points providing a sense of tranquillity and inner peace. Abhyanga or daily massage with oil prescribed by an Ayurvedic physician according to your doshic state is also highly beneficial, as it helps eliminates mental tiredness and improves circulation, making you more energised. Pranayama and meditation help in opening up the minute energy channels or srotas in the body, producing a sense of calm.
Untreated stress and anxiety can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and cause more stress in life. Although debilitating, anxiety and stress are easily treatable with a combination of lifestyle changes, meditation, and medical intervention. Ayurveda has various techniques which not only help to improve your present condition, but also make you more resilient, and calmer in response to the unpredictable situations in life, empowering your mind and body as a whole.