Healing Anxiety Naturally (Part 3) – Ayurvedic Wisdom for Your Frazzled Nerves

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:

  • Over-analyzing

  • Rehashing

  • Catastrophic thinking

  • Crazy or fearful type of thinking.

Physical symptoms often come along for this unhappy ride:

  • Muscle tension

  • Abdominal pain

  • Chest pain

  • Indigestion

  • Disturbed sleep

  • Headaches.

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 in various forms and degrees. But what are lifestyle factors causing the vata energy to become deranged? (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

  • Skipping meals

  • 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

The following situations are not in the lifestyle category but to the degree that we address the list above they can be handled in the best possible way, calmly:

  • 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.

And I’m sure I’m forgetting some!

Anxiety often has multiple causes. Sometimes it is unclear what came first. Are you not sleeping well because you’re anxious? Or are your poor sleep habits favoring the development of anxiety? Is your constant fear of what the future holds causing you to feel anxious? Or is your already existing anxiety causing you to 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.

When the body adjusts to a daily routine and learns to count on it, the nervous system can relax.
— Claudia Welch, Balance Your Life, Balance Your Hormones.

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!

True story. I hope you’re laughing. 

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.

Sounds good? :)

Sylvie