Stress. We all have it and most of us at times wish it would, or could, well, just go away! Yet stress doesn’t have to get the best of us. The body’s response to stress can actually help us rise to challenges and perform at our peak. The problem comes when we get stuck in a stress response even after the immediate challenge is over. Chronic stress is something we can, and must, learn to manage to prevent premature aging and chronic problems with mood, energy, immunity, and overall health.
Interestingly, while stress is universal, how we deal with it is very individual. Each of us perceives and responds to stress in our own way. For example, worldwide travel may be exciting and freeing to one person, but too exhausting to another. Public speaking can empower one person and terrify another. One college student may thrive on late nights while her best friend is thrown completely off balance, leaving her unfocused and overly emotionally sensitive.
Fortunately, Ayurveda helps us make sense of our seemingly random differences, describing three “stress types” or ways we respond to stress, along with specific preventive and reparative measures for each type. How do you handle stress? Do you worry too much and get anxious under stress? Or do you get angry and aggressive, or depressed and lacking motivation?
According to Ayurveda, our stress type depends upon the balance of our three doshas, our three “body guides” that govern our mind-body system.* Our doshas underlie our genetics and influence our temperament. Discover your stress type with the quiz below and get a heads up on the stress-busting approaches that can work best for you.
There’s actually an explanation for seasonal anxiety. According to ayurveda, the changing weather affects your emotions as well as your body. When the weather turns cool, dry, and windy in late autumn and winter, it increases your vata dosha, which governs activity in the brain and nervous system. Too much vata can create excessive thoughts and anxiety. You may have felt some relief from anxiety during summer—when the hot, humid weather dampens vata—but once the cold weather returns, so does vata-based anxiety.
It makes sense that you would reach for the sweets, because pleasurable foods high in carbohydrates and fat are known to increase endorphins in the brain, which help maintain a calm, happy mood. Obviously, though, the downside of eating refined sugar (mood swings, obesity, and nutritional depletion) will only add to your anxiety in the long run.
Instead, take a clue from ayurveda, and choose wholesome sweet food instead of sugar to calm your worries, boost endorphin levels, and balance your vata. Rice, milk, fresh and dried fruits, as well as whole grains and other complex carbohydrates are all sweet by ayurvedic standards and will satisfy your craving without creating further imbalances.
Another solution: Reach for a soothing hot drink, which will calm your agitated vata by its warmth and hydrating effects. Rather than caffeine, which can add to anxiety, try steamed milk (latte, hold the café), chamomile tea, or a blend of chai-like spices. As I mentioned earlier, even plain hot spring water can do the trick and has the added bonus of reducing cravings and aiding digestion.
Some additional dietary tips to balance vata include favoring cooked foods over raw and moist foods over dry, crunchy ones. (Out with the crackers, in with the rice pudding!)
It’s also important to address your overall tendency toward anxiety. Practices that might help dampen your overactive sympathetic nervous system—your fight-or-flight response to stress and anxiety—such as meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises, as well as regular exercise and an early bedtime, can all help stress roll off your back both at work and at home.
Originally published in Natural Solutions magazine.
Reprinted with permission.
Nancy Lonsdorf, MD is a prominent Ayurvedic physician, speaker and author of The Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Beauty After Forty with Maharishi Ayurveda (MCD Century, 2004).