Causes of Anxiety
"...though most of us have no major physical problems, we still suffer from psychological unrest. This unrest may manifest as feelings of loneliness, not feeling loved or appreciated, anger, stress, or anxiety. It can lead to the weakening of our physical energy, and prevent us from doing what we really want to do." - Dr. David Frawley; Ayurveda and the Mind: The Healing of ConsciousnessAyurveda recognizes that anxiety is associated with an imbalance of the Vata dosha. Vata is comprised of “air and ether,” and is light, cold, dry, rough, mobile, subtle, and clear. When we experience an increase in the qualities of Vata mentally, we can experience more erratic thoughts and worries, and a general sense of ungroundedness. Vata imbalances often develop when diet, exercise and lifestyle are high in Vata qualities. It's important to note that modern lifestyles are a major cause for Vata imbalance. In modern society, we utilize mobile phones, watch television, and are constantly working to make sure we are making ends meet. We also often feel the idyllic pressures of society. All of these aspects of modern life consistently overstimulate the nervous system and increase Vata. Ayurveda also says that anxiety can be caused by traumatic events and factors that have resided in the tissues of our body, often pertaining to our vikruti and prakriti.
Anxiety ManifestingSymptoms of anxiety show up differently for different people. A Vata-Pitta individual might feel heart palpitations and feel angry within their symptoms of anxiety, while a Kapha-Vata individual might exhibit depressive symptoms with their anxiety, and may crave and eat sweet things through the night. Some of the very common attributes of anxiety include:
- Feeling uncertain
- Inner conflict
- Feeling out of control
- Digestive issues
- Heart Palpitations
- Trouble concentrating
- Disturbing thoughts
- Food cravings
- Difficulty concentrating
Ayurvedic Treatment for AnxietyWorking on anxiety begins with working on Vata dosha, the seat of where anxiety often stems from. Thinking of the energetic qualities of anxiety (erraticness, instability, insecurity), one can incorporate changes in their diet and lifestyle activities to help alleviate the issues causing anxiety:
- Meditation is a crucial step in combating anxiety and soothing the channels of stimulation and the senses. Taking merely 2-5 minutes 2x a day to meditate helps to calm the nervous system, and quiet the mind. Anxiety can manifest within all channels of the physical and spiritual body since it stems from within the mind. When ready, one can begin to increase the timing of their meditation practice daily. Attending a meditation class or looking up meditation techniques (I highly recommend the one's taught by my own teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad) also help you hone in on your practice. You can also reach out to your Ayurvedic Practitioner or physician and ask for guidance on meditation.
- Diet can substantially alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Ayurvedic diet recommendations for anxiety include eating warm and "sweet" foods that are sattvic and nourishing, like kitchari, steamed vegetables, soups, warm cereals, and foods cooked with ghee. These foods help to ground the mind and body and help alleviate excess Vata. It's also beneficial to drink calming teas. Try to skip the caffeine, but if you must ingest some sort of caffeine, it's best if it's green or black tea. Herbal teas are highly recommended, which are more soothing for the nervous system. These include CCF tea (cumin, coriander, fennel), fresh ginger tea, or nutmeg tea. Feel free to add a little sugar to sweeten the teas, another tip to help with lowering anxiety.
- Create a routine to promote stability and ease. Establishing a routine relaxes the mind's activity and allows it to rest properly. Without a routine, there can be an air of feeling lost and uncentered. This includes eating at routine times, exercising at routine times (not at night - only in the morning or midday), bathing at routine times, and sleeping at routine times. Following a daily routine also helps reduce insomnia, which in turn helps combat anxiety.
- Connect with nature. The benefit of living in such a technologically advanced world is that we are able to transport ourselves to areas of nature more easily. Numerous research studies have shown that exercising in nature (walking, hiking) has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, anger, fatigue, and depression. Even just a picnic, a nap, or just being still in nature helps induce feelings of health, calm, and provides a mental reset. Specifically placing your bare feet on grass helps the body to naturally harmonize and reduce anxiety.
- Yoga is a natural stress-reliever. It balances & strengthens the body, which in part helps reduce anxiety. Even just 10 minutes of yoga a day helps release serotonin, dopamine, glutathione, and increases the production of lymphocytes, to help with disorders of the mind, as well as increase immune function.
- Pranayama is extremely effective in reducing anxiety, and can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. You can perform pranayama before or after meditation. An excellent video that can strengthen your pranayama practice by my teacher Dr. Vasant Lad can be found here.
Ayurvedic Herbal Remedies for AnxietyAn effective and transformative way to manage anxiety is Ayurvedic herbs. Ayurveda has developed an effective herbal system to help alleviate dis-ease and promote healthier living:
- Jatamamsi belongs to the valerian family and is calming for the nervous system. This herbal remedy has been used for centuries to calm Vata dosha and disorders of the mind. It also assists in reducing insomnia.
- Shankapushpi helps vitalize the mind, allowing it to amplify itself against stressors and physiological imbalances which can cause anxiety. It's widely effective in balancing the nervous system as well. It is known as a medhya rasayana, which works specifically on cognitive function.
- Brahmi (bacopa monnieri) is full of antioxidants and helps strengthen the dendritic activity of the brain, allowing for better reception and processing. This in turn allows the mind to help process deep-seated memories and emotions.
- Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen, balancing the hormones of the body, and aiding in the management of stress. Full of alkaloids, ashwagandha supports neuro functions which reduces anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.