To be effective in treating stress, it is important to be individual. The ayurvedic approach is to target the etiological (causal) factors and then bring that area into balance.
There are three different manifestations of stress from the perspective of Ayurveda—mental, emotional, and physical. Each requires different solutions and therapies.
Mental stress, according to Ayurveda, is caused by an overuse or misuse of the mind. For instance, if you perform intense mental work many hours a day, or if you work long hours on the computer, it can cause an imbalance in praana vaata, the mind-body factor concerned with brain activity, energy and the mind. The first symptom of praana vaata imbalance is losing the ability to handle stress. As you become more stressed, it alters mental functions such as dhi, dhriti, and smriti, or acquisition, retention, to think positively, to feel keen, and even to fall asleep at night. To treat mental stress, you begin by managing mental activity. Secondly, you can take measures to pacify praana vaata.
- Favour Vaata-balancing foods, such as sweet, sour, and salty tastes.
- Favour warm milk, ghee, and other light dairy products.
- Sleep well, minimum eight hours a day.
- Perform a full-body warm oil massage with Ksheerabala tailam or Dhanwantari tailam everyday.
- Try meditation.
Emotional stress can be caused by a problem in a relationship, the loss of a relative, or any situation that might hurt the heart. Emotional stress shows up as irritability, depression, and emotional instability. It affects sleep in a different way than mental stress—it causes you to wake up in the night and not be able to sleep again.
With emotional stress, the treatment is quite different. Emotional stress disturbs saadhaka pitta, the mind-body factor concerned with the emotions and functioning of the heart. To stabilise emotional stress, always favour pitta-pacifying foods and routine.
- Eat sweet juicy fruits.
- Favour pitta-pacifying foods—ones with sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.
- Drink a cup of warm milk with Gulkand (Rose petal preserve) before bed.
- Try sweet lassi with gulkand at the noon meal.
- Cook with cooling spices such as cardamom, coriander, and mint.
- Massage with coconut oil or Chandanaadi taila.
- Go to bed before 10.00 pm.
Physical stress is caused by misuse or overuse of the body, such as exercising too much or working for extended periods at a job that is physically taxing. You may experience physical fatigue along with mental fogginess, difficulty in concentrating, and dullness of the mind. Excessive physical strain causes three sub-doshas to go out of balance: shleshaka-kapha, the sub-dosha concerned with lubrication of the joints and moisture balance in the skin, vyaana-vaata, that governs the circulation, nerve impulses and the sense of touch, and tarpaka-kapha, which governs the neurological factors. Another cause of physical stress is too little exercise, which results in a slow digestion and the formation of aama, the digestive impurities that block the channels. In either type of physical fatigue, the cellular regenerating process slows down, and thus the cells themselves become physically tired. The treatment is to balance vaata and to support kapha to make the body more stable and strong.
- Take vaata-kapha pacifying (invigorating and energetic) diet.
- Perform the full-body warm oil self-massage everyday.
- Certain foods are also natural stress busters. These include almonds, coconuts, sweet and juicy fruits such as apples (cooked if possible), milk, lassi, ghee, and fresh cheese such as paneer.
- Dhaara treatment, an exclusive ayurvedic pre-panchakarma therapy is proved to be beneficial.
The general herbs recommended in stress are braahmi, ashwagandha, and arjuna. Different formulations are available in Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine (TAM) with these herbs as main ingredients. In widespread research, brahmi has been found to enhance dhi, dhriti, and smriti. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic, which means that it combats physical fatigue that converts to mental dullness. Research shows that arjuna supports cardiac health.
Stress unfortunately is a part of life for many of us. If you do not find ways to manage stress, it could lead to heart disease, peptic ulcer, or even cancer.
On the other hand, if you build your spirit to stress through natural methods, you can begin to experience stressors more as a challenge or a positive opportunity for growth.
Learn to evoke the ‘stay and play’ concept rather than the fight or flight response, with which you can truly live a stress-free life of self-actualisation, and become a healthy being.