Ayurveda and Anxiety
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Anxiety is basically what happens when we experience worry, doubt, dread, or fear regarding the future, and it can manifest in various ways. We’ve all probably felt at least a little anxiety before, so we won’t go into too many specifics about what it feels like in this article; but, we will say, that it can cause us to behave in ways we wouldn’t normally behave, think thoughts we wouldn’t otherwise think, and experience numbed or heightened sensations, shortness or heaviness of breath, and a general checked-out/frozen demeanor and/or a more frantic, manic demeanor. Needless to say, it manifests differently within each of us, and differently at different times for different reasons.
We can feel anxious about significant things like, relationships, career/finances, politics, health, environmental issues; and we can also feel anxious about things we can’t fully explain, like when we feel anxious for no apparent reason. Ayurveda tells us that regardless of why, whenever we feel anxious, something is going on; be it conscious, subconscious, physiological, spiritual, mental or a combination of all the things, anxiety is a symptom that something in our system is out of balance.
Ayurveda tells us that our natural state of being, when we’re in balance, ought to be a lightness of spirit, openness of heart, and elasticity of the mind. A state where we are: centered in the present, at peace with the past, open to what’s coming next, and able to adapt to changing circumstances, beliefs, and sensations as we move through life. Where we are able to take in and let go without much restraint or consideration—able to digest the experiences of our lives without a lot getting stuck or blocked along the way.
That said, modern life is full of things to be anxious about, and 2020 brought changing circumstances and worldwide uncertainty that most likely left all of us feeling anxious at one point or another. Because anxiety is discussed as a symptom of imbalance, Ayurveda teaches us that there is a lot that we can do to bring ourselves back into balance when we’re feeling anxious—whether we experience it momentarily or chronically.
Anxiety is associated with the element of air and the dosha primarily comprised of air, which is vata. For those of us with a vata constitution, we need to be extra mindful of balancing our anxiety than those who are pitta or kapha dominant; but, we all battle with anxiety at different stages of life, so it’s not solely a vata issue. In order to bring balance to our anxiety, which is dominated by the air element and its associated qualities like: dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, clear, we need to pacify those aspects and uplift their opposites.
Below are some very generalized attempts to remedy anxiety. Until you know your own personal constitution and physiological needs (which you can come to know through the in-depth consultations with us), it’s hard to say specifically what will and will not work for you. So, generally speaking, some ways that we can remedy our anxiety during stressful collective, personal, moment-to-moment or chronic times are by incorporating some of these things:
1. Slow down. When we’re anxious and drawing upon the air element, we’re usually moving quickly either physically (rushing around, frantically doing things) or mentally (thinking quickly, talking quickly, mind racing). To combat this, we can stop what we’re doing, find a place to lie down on the floor (preferably in a dark room with not a lot of distracting sounds or lights or activities going on) and close our eyes. We can draw upon the earth element by grounding our bodies, laying on the earth and consciously focusing on the ground beneath us, on each limb of the body/doing a body scan, and/or by bringing our attention to our breath—really just doing anything that can help us focus, slow down, steady, and stabilize our energy.
2. We can incorporate the water element by getting into water. Very cold water (a cold water plunge, cold shower, swimming out in the ocean or a lake or stream) can reboot our nervous system and change up our blood flow, making our thoughts race less and our awareness centralize onto the sensations of our body. Getting into warm or hot water, like a hot tub, bathtub, hot spring, can soothe and relax our muscles and slow us down dramatically. Warm/hot water will also change the circulation of our blood flow in a way that can calm our mind and soothe us when we’re feeling stressed out. If you’re going to take a bath, maybe even add in some mineral-rich salts (then rise the salt water off in the shower afterwards), or some essential oils with pleasing aromas, to give your system an additional boost.
3. We can implement a daily routine that can ground and nourish us (which draws upon the earth element and also acts as the opposite of air—which we mentioned above is flow and mobility and change); so instead of waking up and frantically getting the day going, rushing around, eating on the go, and keeping busy until bedtime, we can be deliberate about how we interact with the day. We can wake up 30-60+ minutes early to meditate, read, stretch or practice yoga, take a slow walk, eat a grounding breakfast like oatmeal or kitchari or steamed vegetables and rice, and allow our bodies to relax as we start the day. We can remind ourselves that in the moment when we’re walking, eating, sipping tea, reading, meditating, eating, stretching, etc., we are okay, we are relaxing, we are safe. Stopping the flow of doomsday or racing thoughts and shifting it to something more calming and present-centered does wonders for combating anxiety. Notice the floor, the walls, the cup of tea, the dog, literally anything in your present environment. Remind yourself that you’re safe, you’re okay, there are objects around you, there are textures to touch, smells to smell, tastes to taste. You are alive. You are okay, in this moment. You are enough.
4. Control the breath. The air element rules the breath, so when we can control our breath and consciously slow it down, regulate it, soothe it, we immediately feel the effects throughout our whole body and mind. Doing pranayama exercises or just simply sitting or laying down to follow the breath and slow it down, elongate the inhales and exhales, and feel the air moving through the body, are all total game changers.
5. We can incorporate the fire element, through bathing in hot water, sipping hot tea or eating hot grounding foods like we talked about earlier, and also through exercise and movement. When we do something physically exhausting that gets our heart-rate up, blood pumping and sweat flowing, we usually stop having racing thoughts and the frozen, timid, fearful feeling that can overcome our bodies when we’re in an anxious state. Running, swimming, surfing, hiking, exercising in any capacity can help with anxiety. If we’re pitta, which means we’re already very fiery, sometimes this form of anxiety-balancing can actually cause us to feel more anxious, though. That’s because we’re already “fired up” (so to speak) and so when we feel anxious and spacey and fearful, extra fire can instigate more agitation. Also, for any of us that use exercise as a form of escaping from our feelings, exercise might not be the best outlet for releasing anxiety. Perhaps going back #1—laying on the ground and being present, feeling your feelings and slowing things down, might be more medicinal in that case.
6. Getting out into nature and observing our surroundings, breathing fresh air, listening to the birds or to flowing water or the sound of wind, can help a ton. Nature has been proven to help reduce anxiety, and Ayurveda tells us it’s because we are nature. So when we return to nature and spend time in nature with presence and awareness, it’s like we’re returning home; it nourishes us, uplifts us, grounds us, inspires us.
7. You can also try journaling about your anxieties. What you’re afraid of or who/what you’re in conflict with. One of the qualities of air is roughness, and we can start to bring some softening to our mindset during a practice like this: once we start journaling about all the “rough” parts of our experience — what we’re afraid of, anxious about, angry about, confused about, etc., then we can look at it honestly, and start to reframe some of those tensions, writing out other perspectives or ways of looking at the same thing. We can write about possible steps we can take to rectify the situation, or conversations we need to have, boundaries we need to set, ways that we can be softer and more compassionate, gentle, vulnerable in our approach. It isn’t easy, but it is possible to find even just a little more softness in any difficult, anxiety-producing situation, especially when we take responsibility for the way we’re feeling and how we can get to a better-feeling, softened, relaxed, compassionate, peaceful state.
Those are just a few ways that we can start to combat our anxiety, and there are many more. Finding out what works for you takes a lot of honesty, self-reflection, and patience, and we’re here to support you every day of the week!
Changing up your diet can also do wonders for alleviating anxiety, and that requires us to know more about your food sensitivities, digestion, constitution, preferences, and other factors that contribute to creating a gut healing/mind healing nutrition protocol—which are all things that we do during our consultations, and especially during our 6-Month Gut Healing Protocol.
If you want/need support, you can email us, call us, or direct message us on instagram or facebook to learn more, to chat, to connect. If you want more personalized information and strategies to uplift you, ground you, nourish you, soothe you, and alleviate any symptoms of imbalance you’re feeling (anxiety included) reach out for a consultation! You can set up your consultation with us via our website: https://santacruzayurveda.com/appointments/
Santa Cruz Ayurveda