Stress in the Modern Age
Imagine this scenario. You have a meeting in the office today with top-level personnel of your company. There is slight stress in your mind when you're sleeping or having breakfast. You're anxious about what the outcome is going to be, how it is going to go.
Let's take one more scenario. It's the end of the month. There are a host of payments to make. You have a lot of bank work to do. There are work deadlines to meet. You also have to take some time out for your family. And you have a bunch of relatives coming over in a few days. Easy recipe for anxiety, isn't it?
You'll be able to identify with most situations like these almost every day in your life. Life in the 21st century is fast, and the challenge for each one of us is to keep up with it. With globalization and the rapid advancement of technology, life has become incredibly complex and pushes forth at an accelerated pace. It has infused within our daily routines, a mad rush which in turn induces reactions such as anxiety attacks, panic attacks and other stress-related symptoms. Thus, stress and anxiety have become an inevitable component of modern human life.
Did you know?
According to Ayurveda, physical and mental stress is one of the prime reasons for a host of health, social, economic, family, and relationship problems.
But before going into all of that, let’s first understand what stress is.
What is Stress?
In scientific terms, stress is basically anything that constitutes a threat - real or apparent - to a living being. It's basically the body's built-in biological response to a threat, either real or imagined, near or far, in the form of a chemical or hormonal rush throughout the body, that triggers a fight-flight-freeze reaction.
Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Our natural stress reactions help us avoid accidents, get work done, etc. Stress is good as long as it's temporary. When the stress symptoms are severe, prolonged, or frequent, then it's a cause for worry.
Now let's get back to the above examples. An office meeting or family obligation can cause slight stress which can help you be alert and get the work done. However, when it causes panic or anxiety attacks, or it leads to depression or sickness, then it's a cause for worry.
The worst part is that stress is pretty common among Indians. In fact, every 9 out of 10 Indians suffer from stress. A survey by MoneyControl revealed that 89% of Indians suffered from stress as compared to the global average of 86%.
Types of Stress
To develop better stress management skills, you need to first understand the various types of stress.
As per the American Psychological Association, there are three types of stress:
- Acute Stress - This is the most common form of stress. In small amounts, it can seem exciting, but large amounts of acute stress can be exhausting. For example, a missed deadline coupled with an accident can cause acute stress.
- Episodic Acute Stress - When acute stress becomes frequent and more consistent, it becomes episodic acute stress. People with episodic acute stress are almost always in a rush, short-tempered, irritable, anxious and disorganized. They generally have failing interpersonal relationships with family, colleagues, etc.
- Chronic Stress - Chronic stress is the opposite of acute stress in the sense that it’s not in the least bit exciting. It’s one of the most destructive forms of stress that causes a lot of pressure on the mind and body, affecting health. It generally affects people for a long time. Some of the triggers are poverty, childhood trauma, failing marriages, etc.
Causes and Effects of Stress
Now that you have understood what stress is and what the types of stress are, you must be curious to know what causes stress.
The different causes of stress are:
- Personal problems such as chronic illness
- Failing relationships or divorce
- Financial obligations such as loans
- Life changes such as the death of a loved one, shifting houses, etc.
- Social problems such as long hours at work, work pressure, discrimination or harassment, etc.
- Traumatic events such as violence, rape, accident, war, etc.
- Fear and uncertainty
- Pessimistic thoughts
- Rigid attitudes and perceptions
- Unrealistic expectations
- All-or-nothing mentality
Stress affects various parts of our life. The harmful effects of stress in our lives are:
- Feeling agitated or irritable
- Lack of control
- Low self-worth
- Lack of energy
- Stomach upset
- Chest aches
- Lack of immunity
- Lack of sexual desire
- Racing thoughts
- Lack of focus
- Poor decision-making ability
- Pessimistic thoughts
- Shifts in appetite
- Drug or substance abuse
- Nervous behaviour
Long-term stress causes several problems such as:
- Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety
- Cardiovascular problems such as heart diseases, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke
- Sexual problems such as premature ejaculation in men and menstrual problems in women
- Skin and hair problems such as acne or eczema
- Gastrointestinal problems such as gastritis or heartburn
Ayurveda on Stress Management
While science describes positive stress as an adrenaline rush and negative stress to be harmful, Ayurveda has a different take on it. Ayurveda realizes that stress, also known as Sahas is the root cause of several diseases. Due to one or many of the causes mentioned above, stress is created, which leads to loss of immunity of the body, or Ojakhsaya, rendering it susceptible to diseases.
According to Ayurveda, stress is closely related to three vital energies, or doshas, in our body - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The amount of negative stress depends on the proper balance of these doshas. To maintain good health and positive amounts of stress, it’s important to fine-tune these doshas to be in perfect balance. Moreover, every person has one of these dominant doshas in them that defines their personality.
These doshas are the key to understanding the triggers behind your stress and adopt the right stress management skills to fight them. Let’s look at these energies in detail.
Vata - This energy is all about quick-thinking, creativity, innovation, and intuition. If this is the dominant dosha in you, then you may be prone to life changes that can make you feel anxious or panicked. An increase in this dosha will manifest itself through fear, anxiety, insomnia, isolation, etc.
Pitta - This energy can be described as determined, intelligent, competitive, and confident. It can be manifested through irritability, frustration, and anger. The symptoms of triggers in Pitta can include sweating, heartburn, diarrhea, and hypertension.
Kapha - This energy is known for being strong, steady, reliable, and rooted. Kapha-dominant people can be resistant to change and are less flexible and more stubborn in uncomfortable situations which can create stress. The stress can be manifested through comfort eating, lack of motivation, tiredness, etc.
Depression - Explained in terms of doshas
According to Ayurveda, depression is the result of an overpowering presence of Kapha that drives the brain's electrochemistry out of balance (i.e., Vata) and triggers and drastic loss of enzymatic activity in the body's metabolism (i.e, Pitta). The body having witnessed this sudden imbalance in Vata and Pitta, goes to repair mode by unleashing an excess of Kapha. As a result, the body descends into heaviness, gloom and hopelessness, culminating in depression.
Stress affects the entirety of the human body in severe ways ranging from fertility issues, heart attack, irregular periods, weak immunity and high blood sugar among other complications.
Ayurveda's approach to stress management lies in the attainment of peace (Shanthi). It doesn’t see the body and the mind as two different entities but as reflections of each other. This is because the sources of physical health problems stem from the mind and the repercussions of mental ailments are reflected in the physical body. Thus the key to effective stress management as per Ayurveda lies in treating the nervous system.
Ayurvedic techniques are one of the most ancient stress busters known to exist. It helps answer important questions such as how to overcome anxiety or how to deal with stress. As they say: Precaution is better than cure. This is the exact approach that Ayurveda follows. Instead of trying to fix stress or anxiety symptoms, it tries to find a solution to the root cause.
According to Ayurveda, the key to effective stress management lies in trying to avoid stress and strengthening the body’s adaptive power to deal with stress. The best way to avoid stress is by having a thorough understanding of your stress triggers or stressors and doshas, as discussed above. The second option i.e. increasing the coping capability of the body can be achieved through lifestyle modifying natural remedies, dietary changes, and lastly, drug treatments.
This approach is known as Rasayana. There are three classifications of Rasayana:
- Acara Rasayana or the balanced use of sense organs by adopting a regular routine such as yoga or meditation.
- Ajasrika Rasayana or adopting a nutritious and balanced dietary routine.
- Ausudha Rasayana or drug treatment, to be followed only after rigorously following the first two.
Ayurvedic formulations for managing stress
Kerala Ayurveda offers a range of ayurvedic formulations that can help those with stress and stress-related issues.
Brahmi Pearls contains pure Brahmi Ghritha to help improve memory, mental clarity, healthy sleep and to aid in rejuvenation from stress & fatigue.
Saraswatha Granules are made based on the traditional Saraswatha Churnam or Saraswatharishtam with a delicious taste and modified dosage suited for children. It is an ayurvedic medicine formulated specifically to help boost memory and concentration.
Chandanadi Thailam is a versatile oil used to help pacify body heat thanks to its calming, soothing and cooling property thus aiding in the treatment of mental disorders.
Natural Remedies To Cure Stress and Anxiety
There are several relaxation techniques that can be adopted to relieve stress and anxiety in day to day life. In fact, adopting a stress management approach through Ayurveda can be really beneficial.
Here are five stress management techniques that can help in coping with stress and offer some stress relief to you:
Sometimes the key to dealing with stress and anxiety lies in our immediate lifestyle. Making slight lifestyle changes can go a long way in reducing the symptoms and helping you lead a balanced life.
Sleep - One of the major factors that cause stress is lack of sleep. In our fast-paced life, trying to meet work, family, and social obligations, we sometimes miss out on our sleep which increases our chances of being stressed. Sleep helps recharge your mind and body. Lack of sleep can severely affect your mind and body. But sometimes it becomes a vicious circle since stress prevents you from falling asleep and lack of sleep causes stress. In this case, you can practice some stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, avoiding phone screens, a hot shower before sleep, etc.
Laugh - The importance of laughing is often underrated. Laughing makes you feel light and helps in managing anxiety. When you laugh, your face muscles hurt, eyes water, and belly aches. This is a great stress-relieving response. Moreover, since your muscles relax when you’re laughing, it also helps reduce tension. Scientifically, laughter helps reduce the serum levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, and releases endorphins, the body’s chemicals to help deal with stress. There are several ways you can induce laughter in your daily routine such as being around funny friends or watching funny YouTube videos.
Slow Down - Most of us live in a rush today which leads to stress. Switching over to a slower, more balanced way of living can be an effective solution to this. Since many of us are used to a fast-paced life, slowing down can seem scary or impossible. You can make this overwhelming task easy by taking small steps or tweaking small things in your lifestyle one by one. Over a period of time, you'll be able to successfully adopt a slower lifestyle. You can start by slowly reducing the number of activities in a day, taking breaks in between tasks, or trying to introduce some new activity to break the routine. Being more conscious and immersed in your daily activities can also help slow things down for you and feel calmer.
Socialize - Humans are social animals. Being alone can trigger stress and anxiety responses. Having healthy communication and interactions with people will help you feel relaxed. Research says that increased interactions with friends and family lead to reduced signs of stress and anxiety. Being part of a close-knit network can bring about a sense of belonging and self-worth. Face-to-face communication also helps release oxytocin, a natural stress-reliever. Physical bonding here seems to have a greater effect than digital communication such as email, text, or social media.
Music therapy has been practiced since time immemorial as a means of providing mental harmony. Early Greek physicians used to rely on vibration for curing digestion, mental problems and inducing sleep. It even finds a mention in the Bible in the music stories of King David. Music is considered to play a major role in providing personal motivation and concentration. It also helps in healing major illnesses such as Alzheimer's, PTSD, heart problems, and depression.
Exercise acts as one of the best natural stress management techniques that most physicians and therapists use. When you put a balanced physical pressure, then it can sometimes help relieve mental stress. Exercise can help overcome anxiety in the following ways:
- By reducing stress hormones such as cortisol and releasing endorphins
- By improving the quality of sleep
- By promoting mental-being, instilling confidence and infusing positivity
Meditation for Stress
One of the most ancient methods of reaching mental harmony is meditation. It helps restore your inner peace and is extremely easy to practice. Meditation was originally conceived to reach a deeper understanding of the mystic forces of life. However, presently, it's one the best mind relaxation techniques that help in attaining tranquillity. Since you focus your mind entirely during meditation, it helps do away with all the troubling thoughts that cause stress and provide emotional and physical well-being.
Meditation is considered to be one of the best stress management techniques for a lot of reasons:
- Emotional well-being - Meditation helps achieve emotional well-being by increasing patience and tolerance, reducing negative thoughts, increasing self-consciousness and developing imagination and creativity
- Fighting illnesses - Meditation helps in managing various conditions such as asthma, anxiety, cancer, heart diseases, high blood pressure, and sleep problems.
There are various types of meditation techniques that you can practice:
- Guided meditation - Also known as visualization, it involves mental images of places or situations that can help you relax. It involves using as many senses as possible.
- Mantra meditation - This involves silently chanting a calming word to avoid any distracting thoughts
- Transcendental meditation - It's an effortless meditation technique for stress release which involves repeating a specific mantra in a particular manner
- Mindfulness meditation - This involves reaching a certain level of mindfulness or consciousness and being aware of your presence.
- Abhyanga - This involves using massage oils for stress relief that help calm the nervous system, rejuvenate tissues, and help attain deep consciousness
- Shirodhara - This process involves allowing fluids to drip continuously on the forehead of a person lying in a horizontal position. There exist two variations:
1) Thaila dhara (using oil)
2) Thakra dhara (using medicated buttermilk)
- Shirovasti - This process involves retaining medicated oil on one's head using an elongated cap
- Thalapodichil - The process of nourishment of the nervous tissue by application of a medicated paste on a head
Yoga for Stress and Anxiety Relief
When it comes to Ayurvedic tips for mental health, yoga is one of the most talked-about solutions. The role of yoga in stress management is truly undisputable. It’s nothing but a form of meditation that involves physical postures, controlled breathing, and relaxation to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. There are many forms of yoga of which Hatha Yoga is generally considered to be ideal for stress management due to its slow and easy movements.
The three basic activities in yoga are:
- Poses - Also known as postures, these are movements that involve various stretching and relaxed movements to increase your strength and flexibility
- Breathing - Controlled breathing helps in calming the mind and controlling your body movements
- Relaxation - Helps in becoming more mindful and conscious
Most physicians and therapists recommend yoga for stress management and relaxation, and it’s considered to be one of the natural cures for anxiety. In fact, there are several benefits of choosing yoga for stress-relief:
- Fitness - Yoga doesn’t just help in relieving stress but also provides improved fitness, flexibility, and strength.
- Chronic Illnesses - Yoga also helps reduce the chances of chronic diseases such as heart diseases, high blood pressure, depression, and insomnia.
Diet for Stress
Your diet can also be a major cause of stress. For example, if your diet contains too much caffeine or sugar, then it can cause a lot of stress.
Controlling your diet, thus, is important to reduce stress and anxiety. Here are some of the food that can help you achieve this:
- Brown Rice - It's more nutritious than white rice and can help calm the Vata and Kapha. Brown rice contains antioxidants and essential amino-acids that offer stress relief. It also contains serotonin that acts as a natural calmative and helps uplift your mood.
- Green Tea - Green tea has many benefits. It's an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and digestive beverage. Research states that drinking five or more cups of green tea can help reduce anxiety by 20%. Green tea contains theanine which has several therapeutic benefits, including reducing migraine headaches.
- Almonds - You can also go for nuts such as almonds which offer magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin E. They help calm Vata and Pitta. They are rich in antioxidants and help in relaxing the muscles. They contain oil and nutrition such as protein and fats.
- Orange - Orange is a nutrition-rich detoxifier which helps pacify the Vata and Kapha and reduces blood pressure. It contains Vitamin C, which helps in reducing the cortisol secretion, thus reducing stress.
- Ashwagandha - It’s an Ayurvedic herb that helps cope with stress and anxiety.
- Valerian - This root contains valerenic acid which acts as a tranquiliser and alters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to decrease anxiety.
- Kava kava - It’s a member of the pepper family and acts as a sedative for dealing with stress and anxiety.
Coming finally to the last option for relieving stress - Ayurvedic medicine. There are several Ayurvedic medicines for stress and anxiety. We recommend you to try out the Manasamithra-vatakam Gulika which is psychotropic and helps improve mental health and immunity. It's an effective stress relief medicine that can help cure several diseases such as neurosis, hysteria, depression, insomnia, gastro problems, and personality disorders.
Over to you. Do you have any Ayurvedic tips to add to reduce stress and anxiety?
1. Are Ayurvedic medicines for stress habit-forming?
Since Ayurvedic medicines are made using natural herbs, they are safe and not habit-forming. However, it’s important that you buy Ayurvedic medicines from a reputable store, like Kerala Ayurveda, to avoid potential side effects.
2. How long should I take Ayurvedic medicines for stress?
The exact dosage and period of time for which you will have to take Ayurvedic medicine will vary based on your unique bodily and mental disposition. While some people start seeing the effects of the medicine in just a few days, others may have to take it for longer to see any real improvement. It is recommended you consult an Ayurvedic practitioner to understand the exact dosage.
3. Will stress affect my BP?
When you are under a lot of stress, your body produces hormones that can cause your blood pressure (BP) to rise. If your BP increases frequently due to stress, there is a chance that, over time, your blood vessels will be affected. That’s why it is important to manage stress right from the start using Ayurvedic techniques.
4. Can stress lead to panic or anxiety attacks?
Yes, being under severe stress for an extended period of time can trigger anxiety and panic attacks in people, in addition to causing other physical ailments. If you start noticing that stress is having an undue negative effect on your mental peace or physical health, you should consult an Ayurvedic practitioner. Stress management in Ayurveda will help you cope with daily stressors in an effective way.
5. How can Ayurveda help with anxiety?
Ayurveda offers a holistic stress and anxiety management program by including using herbal supplements and oils, specific and guided massage techniques, a specific diet that is organic, and Yoga and meditation with controlled breathing exercises.
About Dr. Aparna Das
Dr. Aparna Das is an expert in Panchakarma which is a renowned practice commonly used in Ayurvedic treatments. Dr. Aparna’s interest in this field can be attributed to her family who also has a reputed background in Ayurveda. Dr. Aparna’s experience spans over a decade, which has witnessed her lend her experience for over 15 years, treating a variety of cases and also helping counsel patients across the country.