Ben Nussbaum spoke with Cyndie Spiegel about her latest book, Microjoys.
In reasonable amounts and at particular times, stress can be a helpful tool for boosting energy, increasing productivity, and inspiring motivation. But can we all agree that, most of the time, stress is one of the greatest threats to our wellbeing? On a physical level, stress lowers immunity—from the common cold to heart disease, stress is said to play a role in the onset of every disease.
On a mental level, excess stress may also lead to chronic anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Nearly half of all U.S. adults say that stress has negatively affected the way they behave. Forty-eight percent of people lose sleep because of stress.
The American Psychological Association tells us that some of the most common symptoms of stress are:
Irritability and anger
Fatigue or low energy
Lack of motivation or a lack of interest in things
Anxiety, nervousness, or worry
Feeling sad or depressed
Indigestion, acid reflux, or upset stomach
Changes in the menstrual cycle
Ayurvedic principles can be applied to both the mind and the body. Imagine a scenario where you go on a trip with a group of friends or your family. You miss your flight, your bags get misplaced, and the hotel messes up your reservation. Consider everyone’s reactions: who gets anxious or nervous, can’t sit still, and suffers from muscle tension (Vata people); then there’s the ones who shut down, show no interest in anything, go inside a shell, find solace in excessive eating, and feel depressed (Kapha people); and finally there’s the people who scream and lash out, who might binge drink and get acid reflux (Pitta people).
In all the three cases, what we are seeing is an expression of stress. But responses differ depending on one’s dominant dosha and imbalances. That’s the beauty of Ayurveda; it helps us get to the root cause of the problem.
Ayurveda views stress as a disturbance of the nervous system, which is mainly regulated by Vata dosha. An understanding of your own dosha can clarify what your stress triggers are, what your go-to stress response is, and how to bring yourself back to a more balanced state through diet and lifestyle suggestions.
Vata response to stress: Vata is made up of air and ether elements, and its main qualities are dryness, lightness, coolness, roughness, subtlety, and mobility. This dosha is easily set off balance by sensory overstimulation, overeating, erratic living, and an overwhelming schedule. Vata people are easily startled, often nervous, are prone to heart palpitations, and just can’t relax.
Balancing a stressed Vata: One of the core tenets of Ayurveda is “like increases like.” Therefore, applying opposite qualities of Vata will decrease Vata in the body, mind, and spirit. In terms of diet, freshly prepared, warm, and spiced meals are helpful for countering stress. Avoid raw and cold foods, as they have the inherent qualities of Vata and can lead to an increase of stress.
As for lifestyle, stick to a routine. This can be grounding and calming to the nervous system. Going to bed at the same time can help support the circadian rhythm. Meditate and think good thoughts. Every time that the mind starts to play tricks, do deep breathing and practice sitting still. Make sure you aren’t overstimulating yourself with a packed schedule or substances like caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco. Abhyanga (warm massage with oil) can also be one of the best antidotes for Vata imbalance.
Pitta response to stress: Pitta dosha is made up of fire and water elements. Because of the fire element, this dosha type can easily get agitated, turn verbally cruel, and become impatient when stressed. Pittas, in general, are bright, opinionated, witty, competitive, ambitious, and articulate. They inherently enjoy challenges but aren’t discerning about their limitations. They love beating deadlines and, because of their intense nature, Pittas burn out easily. Their hot headedness and short fuse have family, friends, and coworkers walking on eggshells around an imbalanced Pitta. Physically, stress can show up for Pittas as rashes, diarrhea, sweating, indigestion, acid reflux, and high blood pressure.
Balancing a stressed Pitta: Because of Pitta’s hot and sharp qualities, cooling and calming qualities can bring this dosha into balance when stressed. Don’t keep an imbalanced Pitta in a room full of other imbalanced Pittas, as their arguments and opinions will only make matters worse. If you are a Pitta and feeling heated up, get out in nature and spend time around trees and bodies of water.
Make time for fun without agendas or deadlines. Experiment with moderation. At the end of the day, carve out time for introspection and to reflect on your day. In terms of diet, avoid spicy, sour, fried, fermented, and salty foods, as they will further aggravate Pitta in the mind and body. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as the acidity in both imbalances Pitta.
Kapha response to stress: This dosha is made up of earth and water elements. For the most part, Kaphas are stable, calm, and grounded. They are your call-at-2 am, emotionally dependable friends who are laid back and nonjudgmental. Kaphas have high endurance and are the least vulnerable when it comes to being impacted by the stressors of modern life. But when stress gets to them, Kaphas can become stubborn, reclusive, possessive, and resistant to change. They will turn to food to find comfort, especially heavy and sweet things, which further exacerbates imbalance.
Balancing a stressed Kapha: An imbalanced Kapha needs to let go—period! Be it excessive attachment to food, heavy emotions, lethargy, or material goods. Energize your mind and body with warming actions, movements, and thoughts. Instead of piling up your emotions and burying them, get help to deal with the situation. Don’t use stress as a reason to hibernate or engage in mindless eating. Avoid fatty foods, as well as dairy, gluten, fried foods, and sugar. Use warming spices and eat meals in moderation.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition, please consult with your health care practitioner prior to the use of any of these herbs. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and Ayurvedic coach, contact Sweta here.
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