Anxiety can range from a minor and temporary worry to a chronic state of being which can eventually bring about physiological collapse.
Many people experience minor anxiety when the plane they are on is about to take off. This anxiety, which dissipates when the plane lands, is an example of temporary anxiety. On the other hand, constant overwork, worries about children, economic concerns, taking care of elderly parents, loss of a significant relationship or health concerns are just of few of the life events that can trigger chronic anxiety. In addition, hidden assumptions or unreasonable expectations of self can also cause chronic anxiety.
What is anxiety? Anxiety is a mind-body response to a situation that is stressful or perceived as stressful. An anxious reaction can save your life. For instance, if you are driving and see another car headed toward you in your lane of traffic, your mind-body will be flooded with chemicals which enhance your ability to be alert and to handle this dangerous situation astutely. However, if you suffer from chronic anxiety it is as if you constantly have your foot on your internal accelerator constantly pumping these same chemicals into your physiology. Eventually, mental, emotional, and physical problems will result. On-going anxiety will upset your balance. Some of the more severe forms of anxiety are as follows:
Panic attacks: sudden and overwhelming fear, accompanied by symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, etc.
Phobias: internal fear which is directed at a specific situation such as fear of flying, fear of open spaces, fear of public speaking, fear of social encounters, etc.
Obsessive-compulsive disorders: internal fear which directs the individual to an activity such as repeated hand-washing or checking the stove over and over again. One doesn’t want or need to perform these repetitive activities but feels compelled to do so. Oftentimes the individual believes something bad will happen if the repetition is neglected.
Post-traumatic stress disorder: we have all heard of this disorder as it is epidemic for returning soldiers. In PTSD the individual experiences flashbacks and nightmares after experiencing a highly stressful event.
Fortunately, most of us avoid having a severe form of anxiety. We all have to manage anxiety and we do this in a number of ways. Some people find listening to music to be soothing, playing a sport or reading a good novel can relieve anxiety. Hobbies or a focus on work or having “fun” can also be helpful. However, in their quest to relieve anxiety many other people fall into bad habits. Over-eating, over-working, abusing drugs or alcohol, or zoning out in front of the television are all examples of coping mechanisms which might work in the short-term but ultimately will increase anxiety.
Ayurveda (and quantum mechanics) inform us that the elements of nature are expressed in our human physiology. Vata dosha is the Ayurvedic term for the combination of the elements of air and space. According to Ayurveda, the main treatment for anxiety is to restore balance to Vata dosha. Anxiety is primarily triggered by an aggravation in this dosha. Following are some Ayurvedic suggestions for treatment for balancing Vata dosha and sending anxiety scurrying away.
- Meditation: A major scientific study which was reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychology showed that the Transcendental Meditation program was twice as effective in reducing anxiety as any other type of meditation. To refresh your knowledge of meditation read Chapter 9 in Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way.
- Regular routine: Problems with anxiety will diminish naturally if you have a regular lifestyle. Try, as best you can, to go to bed at approximately the same time every night and to rise at about the same time. Eat your meals at approximately the same time everyday and exercise and meditate at the same times. Order in routine calms the mind-body. Rushing about, grabbing meals on the run and living without routine disturbs the natural balance of the mind-body.
- Your body is an aspect of the natural world and if you live within the laws of nature you will feel better (and less anxious). Go to bed around 10 p.m. and rise around 6 a.m. This is when the body is meant to rest and to do its “clean-up” work. Staying up late at night will cause physiological havoc—and anxiety.
- If you suffer from chronic anxiety or wish to avoid anxiety follow a vata-pacifying diet. Read Chapter 14 in Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way to refresh your knowledge on nutrition.
- Daily Oil Massage: It has been said that the expression “getting the royal treatment” refers to the days when the maharajas (Hindu princes) regularly received Ayurvedic massages from their servants. You, too, can treat your mind-body to this majestic experience, knowing that there is Western scientific proof to back the assertions made by the Vedic sages. Oiling the skin improves one’s ability to digest life by building strength and flexibility, toning the nervous system, enhancing immunity, inducing hormonal balance. In Chapter 13 of Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way we discuss the benefits of daily oil massage. To put it in a nutshell: massage calms the nervous system and is a terrific treatment for anxiety.
We have listed just a few treatments which will benefit you if you suffer from the debilitating effects of anxiety. According to Ayurveda, the root cause of anxiety is a separation from our deepest self. When this happens we lose our ability to live in the present. We experience discontent in our lives, wishing this or that was different. We worry about the future and we mourn the past. When our fears become debilitating our anxiety becomes bound—-we fear one thing such as flying or open spaces. In severe cases of anxiety an individual can become afraid to leave the home.
Meditation is the primary treatment for anxiety as it supplies the mind-body with deep and curative rest. It gives inner silence and allows us to integrate our inner experience with our experience of the outer world. It settles us and produces calmness and joy.
Anxiety is the enemy. We hope you do not encounter this enemy but if you do, arm yourself with Ayurvedic interventions. You do not have to live with chronic anxiety. This is not your birthright. According to Ayurveda, happiness is your birthright and can be attained through life style interventions which bring harmony to the mind-body.