Ayurvedic Medicine for Anxiety and Stress
Keeping calm in every life situation is possible only in movies. We, as human beings can’t survive without stress, as stress is the natural response of our brain to challenging situations. So everyone experiences stress in different intensities and durations.
In fact, stress is motivation itself. Remember when you felt pumped up and thrilled to do something? Could be climbing a steep trek, completing a project, working out or reading a book. It is the same physiological reactions which motivated you that happens in the body when you are stressed.
Wait, this article is not for praising stress reactions and to convince you to accept it. Chronic stress is indeed harmful. Ayurvedic medicines for stress along with its integrated approach clubbing together meditation, exercise and treatments can help you. First, let’s examine how stress works in the body.
The Physiology of stress response:
When we face a challenging situation, the body readies itself to manage it efficiently. Our brain did not change much from when humans hunted docile animals and ran from the ferocious. So the adaptations of the body to meet every challenge is the same even now. To fight and conquer something, or to run away. The same changes are sufficient to push you for a complex math test or complete a project on a deadline.
There are three stages for stress response, according to Hans Selye, a pioneer in the field. The stages are alarm, adaptation and recovery or exhaustion. (1)
Alarm is the first stage which invokes the ‘flight or fight’ response. On identifying a real or imagined stressor, the hypothalamus in the brain activates the autonomic nervous system and the pituitary gland. Pituitary gland in turn activates the adrenal cortex. The result is the secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters like adrenaline, corticosteroids, antidiuretic hormone etc. These chemicals will increase heart beat and blood pressure, dilate blood vessels, supply more blood to muscles and brain, increase alertness and focus and regulate fluid balance in the body. The basal metabolic rate of the body also changes to ensure continuous energy supply. These changes enable us to be alert, focused and active.
This acute stress reaction can be associated either with thrill and excitement, or with anger and frustration.
If the stressful situation persists, this reaction is prolonged and the body uses all its resources to become adapted. This is the adaptation stage and may result in temporary changes in sleep or emotions, tiredness etc.
The next stage depends on overcoming the stress. If the body mechanisms enable us to overcome the issue, it goes into recovery mode. If the stressor remains – in reality or in ur imagination -, continued adaptation reactions may lead to exhaustion.
Exhaustion will result in persistence and increase of symptoms like sleep issues, blood pressure, mood changes etc.
What are the bad effects of stress?
Stress adaptations alter immune cells and chemicals like cytokines and cause inflammations, changes in immune response, delayed wound healing etc.
High cortisol levels during stress can impair glucose metabolism and worsen diabetes and fat levels. (2)
Stress has a huge impact on the circulatory system due to its regulation on heart rate, blood pressure and circulation. Chronic stress affects the susceptibility and outcome of cardiovascular disorders. (3)
Stress adaptations in metabolism and energy supply together with the inflammatory reactions can cause digestive issues like acidity, ulcers, reflux and altered bowel habits.
Other coping symptoms like headache, sleeplessness and fatigue are also common.
When to seek help?
Stress needs help when it starts to affect the quality of your life. If you start to feel symptoms like fatigue, pains, blood pressure, digestive issues, skin issues, sleep problems etc without any biological cause, definitely seek help.
Anxiety is an emotion we feel in response to an anticipated threat. It is different from ‘fear’ which is a normal emotion which has helped humans for survival. Anxiety is often the emotional response when we think that we will not be able to cope with the upcoming situation or threat. This is subjective and too often out of proportion from reality.
Causes of anxiety:
Common causes are trauma, especially in early life, including abuse, accidents, death of dear ones etc. Continued stress also can lead to anxiety. People with a family history of anxiety are more susceptible.
Anxiety can also arise from recreational drug use, alcoholism and some medical conditions like hyperthyroidism.
Doctors may diagnose you as having anxiety disorder if the anxiety is exaggerated, with subjectively low intensity triggers, is affecting your daily life and if it is persisting for more than six months.
The most common form of anxiety disorder is Generalised anxiety disorder, where people feel anxious without any specific cause. They worry over normal daily activities and have at least some of the symptoms among restlessness, fatigue, concentration problems, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance.
Other types of anxiety disorders are phobias, panic attacks, social anxiety separation anxiety etc.
Managing anxiety and stress with Ayurveda:
Ayurveda considers stress and anxiety as an excess in ‘vata’, which leads to an imbalance of ‘pitha’ also. The excess of vata will make you restless, easily excitable, unconnected and unfocused. Flight of ideas, fear, reduction in understanding etc are the result of this excess ‘vata’. The associated disarrangement of ‘pitha’ impairs cognition, thought process and will and makes you frustrated and angry.
The main focus of ayurveda for stress and anxiety is to control the vata.
6 steps to control anxiety and stress:
- Be observant and identify the stressors and anxiety triggers. This will be different for you than anyone else with similar symptoms.
- Have a good diet. Ayurveda advises warm and light food which helps to reduce the vata. Also, food with a low glycemic index will help you to avoid intermittent spikes in energy and fatigue.
- Make daily mild exercise a must. This will help the body to produce chemicals called endorphins and increase the serotonin level and makes you feel good.
- Avoid virtual social networking and get real social networking. Mingling and talking with people and making real friends will help to reduce stress and symptoms of anxiety.
- Meditation for controlling stress and anxiety: Meditation is a main part of Ayurveda for stress and sleep and anxiety. It helps to control your mind and remove all unwanted thoughts. Being able to focus is when ‘vata’ is in balance. Meditation slows tames down the excess ‘vata’ and makes your mind grounded. This will help to connect more to reality and avoid unwanted thoughts.
- Teach your mind to accept the fact that we can’t control most of the things in life.
9 best Ayurvedic herbs for fighting stress and anxiety:
Ayurvedic herbs for stress and anxiety include jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), tulsi (ocimum sanctum), aswagandha (Withania somnifera), kapikachu (Mucuna pruriens ), vacha (Acorus calamus), mandukaparni (Centella asiatica), bhringaraj (Eclipta prostrata), zagara (Valeriana wallichii).
These are used in different combinations to prepare ayurvedic medicines for stress, anxiety and sleep.
The most commonly used ayurvedic medicines for stress, sleep and anxiety are ‘pranah’ capsules, ‘manasamitra vatakam’, aswagandharishtam, ‘stimulint’ tablets etc.
- Selye H (1956) The stress of life. American Psychological Association, New York, USA. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1957-08247-000
- Marcovecchio ML, Chiarelli F (2012) The effects of acute and chronic stress on diabetes control. Sci Signal 5: 10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23092890/
- Esch T, Stefano GB, Fricchione GL, Benson H (2002) Stress in cardiovascular diseases. Med Sci Monit 8: 93-101. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12011786/