Monday, 18 June 2012

Using Ayurvedic Medicine for Anxiety: Compassion, Relaxation, Self-Care, Diet

I'm a fan of all things natural when it comes to solving problems with my body. I just can't deal with prescription drugs, it seems. I'm not sure if that's because I'm quite a little person or that I'm not used to chemicals, but they're not right for me at all.

I know you are told to persevere through the nasty side effects, but there is no way I will ever manage to do that. So instead, I've done quite a bit of research on more natural ways to deal with anxiety levels. I'll probably do a few posts on different methods, but today I'll write about Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a Hindu system of traditional medicine, and literally means "knowledge of life" or "the science of life" in Sanskrit. It recognises that we are all unique, and focuses on food, lifestyle, yoga, massage and herbal remedies to suit the individual.

Ayurveda recognises three body-mind types, although many people overlap categories. The descriptions below are found on the lovely Pukka website, which also has dietary and lifestyle guidance for each. The book "A Pukka Life" by Sebastian Pole is also great.

  • Vata types tend to be visionary, imaginative & full of creative energy. They can also be forgetful, spaced out, anxious & uptight. Vata problems are erratic digestion, bloating, anxiety or joint disorders.
  • Pitta types are confident, passionate leaders, organised & perfectionists but excess pitta can make them fiery, snappy & irritable. Pitta people have a tendency to suffer from skin irritations, overheating, heartburn & ulcers.
  • Kapha types tend to be loyal, kind-hearted, calm and full of love, but a kapha overload can make them lethargic, lacking in energy and a little overindulgent. Kapha types are prone to congestion, excess weight and sluggish digestion.

I'm a vata type, and it's likely that if you're often anxious you are too. However, regardless of constitution, here are some general tips on dealing with anxiety:
  1. Make time for peace and quiet. From an Ayurvedic perspective, anxiety is caused by excessive sensory overload. Our lives are too busy and noisy, and we don't have enough time to rest. When you are not feeling particularly anxious, make an effort to lower your base anxiety rate further. Take care of yourself, whether by walking, meditating or just sitting quietly.
  2. Find the source of your anxiety. Perhaps CBT, journaling or talk therapy would benefit you. If you have repressed memories causing you suffering, consider EMDR therapy.
  3. Be compassionate. Pain is completely natural, but when it is suppressed and allowed to become a defensive behaviour pattern, problems arise. By opening your heart to the pain that life brings, we can cure our pain and avoid suffering. Remind yourself to do good deeds and treat others how you'd want to be treated (so cliché, but it works).
  4. Exercise. It relieves stress, improves digestion, reduces fat and lowers blood pressure among so many other things. However, this doesn't mean you should head to the gym every day, don't worry. According to Ayurveda, vata types benefit most from calming or grounding exercise such as gardening or walking. I was very happy to find that out. Pitta types should try cooling exercise, such as swimming or walking, and the more active kapha types should try running, hill-walking or competitive sports. 
  5. Consider a yoga class. It will aid breathing and mindfulness. 
  6. Buy some relaxing herbs. Chamomile tea is traditionally recommended to fair-skinned people who are prone to anxiety and are emotionally vulnerable - that's me! Passion flower, found in Bach flower remedies, can also be relaxing, alongside lavender oil (try space sprays). 
  7. Find a creative outlet. Journaling helps me, whilst others enjoy music, singing, dancing or poetry. I recently bought a book called "Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered", which is great. My drawing isn't so fantastic, but it's a way to unwind and use my mind for something other than worrying.
  8. Care for your body. Ayurveda highly recommends massage, whether done by yourself or another. I think I'll always prefer the latter, but before bathing, or first thing in the morning, it's beneficial to massage warm sesame oil from your feet upwards - long strokes on the limbs, circular motions on the joints. Also, get enough sleep.
  9. Watch what you eat. I know, it's common sense. However, that doesn't mean that I don't feast on chocolate without one thought for how I'll feel afterwards. By the way, I'll always feel rubbish. Everything in moderation, I know. I guess it's fine for everyone to slip up once in a while, though.
Today's busy lifestyle makes stress seem inevitable, but there are ways to manage it. Learning to consciously relax has always been very difficult for me, but with practice it becomes a whole lot easier. It's an ongoing process, and the factors above make it more simple. Journaling with a herbal tea in the morning, eating a nutrient-rich lunch and having an afternoon walk are all things that can make a big difference to your mental health.

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