To be effective in treating stress, it is important to be individualistic. The Ayurvedic approach is to target the causative 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 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 Prana Vata, the mind-body operator concerned with brain activity, energy and the mind. The first symptom of Prana Vata imbalance is losing the ability to handle day-to-day stress. As the person becomes more stressed, it impacts mental functions such as dhi, dhriti, and smriti-acquisition, retention, and recall. The person's mind becomes hyperactive, yet the person loses the ability to make clear decisions, to think positively, to feel enthusiastic, and even to fall asleep at night.
To address day-to-day mental stress, it is important to begin by managing mental activity. Secondly, you can take measures to pacify Prana Vata, for example, by:
- Favouring Vata-balancing foods, such as sweet, sour, and salty tastes.
- Favouring warm milk and other light dairy products
- Performing a full-body warm oil self-massage ksheerabala tailam or dhanwantari tailameveryday
It is important to get plenty of rest, and if you are having trouble falling sleep, avoid stimulants like caffeine and sip on herbal tea instead. Relaxing aromatherapy and meditation can help calm the mind.
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 can cause you to wake up in the night and not be able to go back to sleep.
Emotional stress disturbs Sadhaka Pitta, the mind-body operator concerned with the emotions and functioning of the heart. To balance emotional stress, you need to favour Pitta-pacifying foods and routine, such as:
- Eating lots of sweet juicy fruits
- Favouring Pitta-pacifying foods such as the sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.
- Drinking a cup of warm milk with cooling Gulkand (rose petal preserve) before bedtime
- Cooking with cooling spices such as cardamom, coriander, cilantro, and mint
- A daily self-massage with a cooling oil such as coconut oil or Chandanaadi tailam.
- Going to bed before 10:00 p.m.
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. This can cause a person to 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 subdosha concerned with lubrication of the joints and moisture balance in the skin, Vyana Vata, which governs the circulation, nerve impulses and the sense of touch, and Tarpaka Kapha, which governs the neuro humours.
Another reason for physical stress can be too little exercise, which results in a sluggish digestion and the formation of ama, the digestive impurities that clog the channels. In either type of physical fatigue, the process of regenerating cells slows down, and thus the cells themselves become physically tired.
The solution is to balance Vata and to support Kapha to make the body more stable and nurturing, for example, by:
- Getting adequate rest and moderate exercise
- Following a Vata-Kapha pacifying (invigorating and energetic) diet
- Performing the full-body warm oil self massage everyday
- Dhara treatment, an exclusive Ayurvedic pre-panchakarma therapy is proved to be beneficial.
Certain foods are natural stress busters according to Ayurveda. These include walnuts, almonds, coconut, sweet juicy, seasonal fruit such as pears, apples (cooked if possible), milk, and fresh cheeses such as paneer or ricotta.
If you build your resilience to stress through natural methods, you can begin to experience stressors more as a challenge or a positive opportunity for growth. If you learn to evoke the 'stay and play' rather than the 'fight or flight' response, you can truly live a stress-free life of self-actualization, and become a 'spiritual being' in human form.
Ayurveda Treatments for Stress
Ayurvedic treatment for stress includes changing life style, changing diet, herbal medicines and therapies, especially Panchakarma Therapy. Since, the accumulated toxins in the body also aggravate the condition; the person should go for treatments which detoxify and purifies the body.
Ayurveda has two major treatments for stress, the Panchakarma and the Rasayana therapies. While the Panchakarma is meant to flush out the toxins from the body, the Rasayana therapies are meant to nourish the body.
Panchakarma for Stress management
Panchakarma therapies loosen the toxins, speed up the circulation and make the body ready to release wastes. Following are some of the many methods that are usually adopted in the treatment of stress management.
Sirodhara: In this method, lukewarm herbal oil is poured in a continuous stream onto the forehead, while performing a gentle massage. This activates the brain cells and nervous system and gives relief to nervous disorders.
Snehapanam: In this therapy, medicated ghee is given to the patient on an empty stomach. The common ingredients are Malabar nut, wild snake gourd, sweet flag, sandalwood, neem, Cassia fistula(amaltas, Golden shower tree, Indian Laburnum), asparagus, ginger, mustard, gooseberry etc.
Thailadhara: This means continuous showering and massaging of the whole body with warm medicated oil to stimulate perspiration. The oil is a mixture of highly effective herbs like deodar, white leadwort, Malabar nut, nutmeg, liquorice and sesame oil, castor oil and milk.
After removing the toxins from the body and balancing the Doshas–the three basic constituents of the body, the person has to go through the rejuvenation therapies to balance the body and mind.
Rejuvenation procedures include:
- Abhayangam: Body massag. It rejuvenates body and mind.
- Sirodhara: Pouring medicated oil over the head. It calms the mind by relaxing central nervous system
- Pizhichil: Medicated oil bath. It helps increase blood circulation
- Elakkizhi: Massage done with herbal leaves. This is good for back pain and rejuvenating the body
- Njavarakizhi: Massage done with Njavara herbal rice. Halts ageing and rejuvenates the body.
Rasayana Therapies for Stress Management
These therapies are body nourishing therapies that rejuvenate the body and mind after the Panchakarma treatments. Rasayana treatments for Stress Management include oral medicines and diet regulation.
Oral medicines: Oral medicines for stress management are mostly the extracts of pure medicinal herbs, leaves, spices etc. They are prepared specifically to restore the balance and provide the needed inputs to reduce stress. The most common medicines are Sarawastharishtam, Pathyadi Kashyam, Manasmitra vatakkam and Brahmi Gritham
Diet Regulation: Stress Management patients are advised to follow a pure, natural and wholesome diet, which is low in fat and cholesterol. They are advised to strictly avoid alcohol, salt, sweets, tobacco etc. A diet of natural foods, germinated wheat, raw root vegetables, whole wheat bread, cheese, butter, honey, and raw milk are recommended. Also, juice of fresh fruits and vegetables should be consumed in large quantities.
It is very important to get rid of stress so that you can lead a healthy and happy life. Ayurveda makes sure that you become stress free not only while you are undergoing treatment, but for the rest of your life as well.