Managing Stress – The Ayurvedic Approach
By Jamila Knopp – Diploma of Ayurveda
Although the tigers are long gone, the physical threat to our lives has been replaced with the modern day stress of long work hours, financial worries, relationship issues, family problems, and trying to juggle far too many things at once.
Stress often get’s talked about, and most people think they know what it is and what it is like to be stressed. But sometimes its effects can be masked or hidden, and not everybody who is showing the signs and symptoms of stress recognise them for what they are.
For instance, we might not link an upset stomach, asthma attack, fast shallow breathing, high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, trouble relaxing, a constantly busy mind, recurrent colds and flus, and many other chronic health conditions, to the effects of stress.
Whereas small amounts of stress can be beneficial in motivating us or helping us to get a task done – chronic or long-term stress is a whole different story. It is therefore important that we start recognising when we are stressed, and what stresses us, so that we can start making changes.
Just as the Tiger was causing us a fight or flight response, nowadays many other situations have that same effect on us. How do you feel when: – you’re at work… around your boss… in a traffic jam… with your children when they’re fighting or whining… having a never ending ‘To Do’ list… being around a particular family member??
Our minds and bodies don’t make that distinction between a perceived threat and a real one. Our highly evolved survival response kicks in and wants to either, attack, run away, or freeze with fear. Our muscles tighten, the adrenals release adrenalin, nor-adrenalin and cortisol into the body, our heart rate rises etc.
Our bodies can only take a certain amount of stress. If we don’t start to look at life differently our perceived threats will increasingly take over, keeping our body in a state of constant stress – putting a huge additional loading on our heart, blood vessels, internal organs and adrenal glands.
I had a direct experience of this myself a few years ago. I was more often irritated than happy. I frequently caught a cold, didn’t have enough energy, had difficulty sleeping, and felt anxious and worried. It started to dawn on me that something wasn’t right and that I had all the symptoms of mild adrenal fatigue syndrome.
So here are a few things that helped me and can help you!
In Ayurveda every Dosha (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) can get effected through stress but what we mainly see is that Vata Dosha gets effected the most easily and a Vata imbalance is created. (Please read the Ayurveda info contained on this website if you like to find out more about the Doshas and your own personal constitution – or ask me.)
What this means is that, if you are stressed, you will probably have a Vata imbalance. Below is a list of ways to help you bring it back into balance again:
Rest and Relaxation – So important! Both calm Vata enormously (as Vata is movement and they are the opposite to movement). Take some short breaks and rest. If you try to rest that doesn’t mean that you do relax. But with some practise and finding your own way you can do it. Relaxation techniques such as tai chi, qui gong, yoga and meditation can help you control stress and improve your well-being. Going to bed early and getting enough sleep are essential.
Yoga and Exercise –Yoga is a part of Ayurveda as both have the same Indian origins. Yoga works on more than just the physical level. It also calm’s the mind and more. Doing a little bit of easy Yoga yourself in the morning and/or evening and finding a Yoga class that suits you. On a physical level it stretches those tight muscles that stress creates. Yoga is exercise and combined with good regular walking or other calming exercise can do you a lot of good.
Breathing – In Yoga this is also called Pranayama and switches the body from sympathetic nervous system use (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system (being relaxed). Start the day with long and deep breathing (about 20 deep breaths). Whenever you feel overwhelmed, have a little break, try and remember your breathing and take long slow breaths. For anxiety, alternate nostril breathing (anuloma viloma) is very effective. Ask your Yoga teacher or me how to do it.
Routine – Having a little morning routine after getting up, eating at the same times every day. Have an evening routine before bedtime. Making yourself a schedule that you can follow and doesn’t put more stress on you is important. Routine calms Vata. (According to Ayurveda routine plays a very important role in health. Irregularity in life creates stress for body and mind, and regularity creates balance and health.)
Thinking – Think positive! Watch your thoughts and the way you think. Maybe have an experienced practitioner, like a life coach or someone similar, help you to adjust the way you think and therefore ultimately change the way you perceive and handle stressful situations. A good attitude is fundamental. Thinking positively will help you get through a stressful period with greater enthusiasm and drive.
Pamper Yourself – Enjoy a well deserved massage sometime or some other blissful treatment like a Shirodhara (see Ayurvedic treatments on website). Perhaps soak in a bath with some relaxing Aromatherapy oils like lavender or geranium.
Eat Healthy Food – For a healthy mind and body, eat a diet full of fresh natural food and abundant fruit and vegetables. In Ayurveda it depends on your specific Ayurvedic Constitution, and your current imbalance, which diet would suit you. But mostly a diet that balances the Vata is helpful. Drink some Vata tea, Licorice or Chamomile tea. Minimise your intake of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods, as these will contribute to fatigue in the long term.
Some Herbs and Nutrients that can support you –
• Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) – It has gained popularity as a ‘brain tonic’ capable of improving mental ability, anxiety and memory. It builds energy by increasing the circulation to the brain. Brahmi induces a sense of calm and peace in its users.
• Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – Also called Withania, it is a tonic or adaptogen. It restores vitality if suffering from overwork and nervous exhaustion. It counteracts the effects of stress and generally promotes wellness.
• Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) – also called ‘Holy Basil’ in the west. It is an adaptogen like Withania and is an effective remedy for treating stress, anxiety and depression. It increases alert and restores peace of mind. In Ayurveda it is also called the ‘Elixir of Life’.
• Shankhapushpi (Evolvulus Alsinoides Linn) – is a mind tonic. It is very beneficial and calming for the nervous system. It is known to treat sleep disorders, stress and anxiety.
• Magnesium, B vitamins and Vitamin C – Magnesium and B vitamins are used in abundance during times of stress, when the body’s requirement for these key nutrients is increased. Vitamin C supports the functioning of the adrenal glands and immune system.
Although the stress or modern day life is unavoidable, it is important to remember that we can learn to manage our response to stress with the help of dietary and lifestyle changes, and where helpful, some natural medicines.
Be well and stay well!