In my previous post on anxiety I highlighted the need to investigate the cause(s) of your anxiety if you want to heal, not just manage your symptoms. Knowing what’s fueling your anxiety will inform your choice of remedies and bring you closer to long-term, sustainable healing. If a past traumatic experience is the main cause of your anxiety psychotherapy might be needed. Obviously what happened in the past cannot be undone, but it can be made conscious for one, forgiven and released, so that it no longer affects your present.
As a coach, my job is to look at what it is you do or don’t do, in the present, that’s causing you to feel anxious. In fact I have observed again and again that every choice we make daily, from the time we choose to go to bed to the thoughts we think or the type of media we feed our minds, either helps us to cultivate a reactive or nonreactive nervous system, stress or ease. So, what daily choices can you make to support a non-reactive nervous system? To answer this question I’ll put on my ayurvedic practitioner’s hat.
Ayurvedic Definition of Anxiety
Ayurveda explains anxiety as “excess vata in the mind”. Vata is a light, dry, subtle and very mobile energy. In fact vata is often translated as wind. It’s the energy of movement. As such it governs your nervous system and all biological activities, from the beating of your heart to the movement of your breath, hormones, blood and wastes, and last but not least the movement of your mind...i.e. thinking!
Movement of thoughts is not such a bad thing. It makes for a creative mind, able to see a situation from different angles and come up with new solutions to old problems, able to let go and move on with ease. But in the case of anxiety, the vata energy has become so light, subtle and mobile that it’s turned into a real mental tornado, causing the mind to spin. This manifests as:
Crazy or fearful type of thinking.
Physical symptoms often come along for this unhappy ride:
As the imbalance deepens phobias, panic attacks, a sense of dread, derealization (a frightening experience of the world around you as unreal) the fear of dying or of going mad, all appear.
I think it is wise to get a handle on your anxiety sooner than later.
Ayurveda's Perspective on What Causes Anxiety
Ayurveda is in many ways a medicine of qualities. Vata as we saw is a light, dry, subtle and mobile energy. When those qualities become excessive anxiety develops. But what are lifestyle factors that cause the vata energy to become deranged in the first place? (ayurvedic lingo) In other words how is your lifestyle keeping you in fight or flight, or dysregulated? (western medicine lingo)
Those things will do it:
Staying up late, not getting enough sleep
Irregular lifestyle and self care
Constant sensory stimulation (i.e. lack of contemplation, introspection, quiet time)
Caffeine and other stimulants
Over exercising (especially aerobic activity such as jumping, jogging and extreme cardio)
Frequent travelling (especially by plane)
Excessive use of electronic devices and multi-tasking
Non-stop talking and social activity
Fear-based media, fearful thinking
Violent or scary movies
Raw, cold food and beverages
Dry and/or windy climate
Wrong associations (hanging out too often with people who are themselves anxious)
Our refusal to look at, lest embrace, our mortality
Disconnect from Source/Spirit
Major life changes such as a divorce, a move, job loss, loss of a loved one (all can be traumatic experiences without the appropriate support and self-care)
Financial stress, work stress, family stress.
Not having health care.
The breakdown of communities.
The chaotic times we´re living.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some.
Anxiety often has multiple causes. It can be unclear what came first. Are you not sleeping well because you’re anxious? Or are your poor sleep habits causing your anxiety? Is your constant fear of what the future holds behind your anxiety? Or is it because you feel anxious to begin what that you worry about the future?
Ayurvedic Wisdom to Keep Anxiety Away
Whether something is a cause or a symptom, the bottom line is your nervous system is dys-regulated (and reactive). It needs to be replenished and balanced. How? With the opposite qualities that make up vata: heavy, dense, slow.
What would a heavy, dense, slow lifestyle look like, you ask? That’s for my next post. But I’m sure you can already guess. Having a self-care routine in place, getting enough sleep, feeding your body a grounding diet, your fives senses wholesome stimuli and your mind inspirational material, will contribute to keeping your nervous system balanced.
Unfortunately our on-the-go lifestyles and cultural values, with an emphasis on always doing more, faster, better are a recipe for the development (or exacerbation) of anxiety. The nervous system thrives on “slow” and “predictable”. Our modern lives are anything but. Add to that the mainstream fear-based media and is it any wonder that over 18 millions of us are experiencing anxiety? I think not. That staggering number reveals a societal malaise. Our nervous systems are crumbling under the weight of our fast-paced modern lifestyles, emphasis on doing and pervasive psychology of fear.
Years ago, when I still watched news on television, a line struck me, I still remember it. The anchor was about to go on a commercial break and said: “Next, what you don’t know may kill you! Stay tuned!” Great I thought to myself, my anxiety just went up to a 10!
Now let me flip that around: what you don’t know may save you! Oh wait, it's no better, is it? Let's try this: stay tuned for my next post, we'll explore ways to bring more heavy, dense and slow energies into our lives, to soothe the anxious, airy vata mind.