I feel like there’s a lot of bad news happening right now, which creates SO much uncertainty. And deep disagreements that are making constructive discourse hard to come by.
Both of these things lead to optimal conditions for stress, overwhelm and anxiety and I’ve seen so many people in my life (clients, friends, family) being affected.
Not only does this feel awful for all of us, but living in unbridled stress makes it very difficult to come up with the focus and solutions we need to move forward.
The brain simply does not work as well when the body is in fight-or-flight mode.
I firmly believe that if you want to make a difference, you have to take care of yourself.
In this challenging climate, one of the best things that we can do to help is to devote deep attention to calming our nervous systems to reduce stress, overwhelm and anxiety.
This is what “self-regulation” is all about.
Being an Ayurvedic Health Counselor and RYT200 yoga teacher, I use self-regulation and self-care techniques from those philosophies. They are time tested (we’re talking hundreds, if not thousands, of years). And they work.
I’ll be including recommended practices at the end of this post, but first I want to take a look at what’s happening on an energetic level, using the Ayurvedic framework of the doshas.
Ayurvedic perspectives on stress
Vata dosha & the 5 vayus
Ayurveda uses the 5 elements to understand the world – everything is made up of a different combination of earth, water, fire, air and ether. Specific combinations are called the doshas – kapha, pitta and vata.
Symptoms of stress, overwhelm and anxiety indicate that the Vata dosha is out of balance. There can often be multiple layers of this including other doshas but let’s keep it simple right now = less overwhelm!
Vata is made up of air (think wind, tornados and hurricanes) and ether (think empty space, coldness, floating in the upper atmosphere far from the earth).
Vata (aka vayu) is also the movement of energy throughout the body. When it becomes aggravated (i.e. “freaking out”), it can manifest in various ways:
- In the mind (prana vayu) = racing thoughts, obsessive repetitive thinking, easily upset or overwhelmed, inability to focus, difficulty falling asleep
- In communication (udana vayu) = inability to communicate clearly or address concerns, gagging, vomiting
- In emotions & lymph circulation (vyana vayu) = unresolved emotions that manifest as physical sensations (tight stomach, chest), cold limbs, dry skin
- In digestion (samana vayu) = loss of appetite, food not completely digested, nutrients not absorbed well, nutritional deficiencies
- In elimination (apana vaya) = stuckness, alternating constipation & diarrhea, feelings of ungroundedness, fear, excessive alertness
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you??
To balance the dry, light, mobile and airy characteristics of vata, we cultivate the qualities of moist, heavy, stable, still, nurturing, loving and accepting into our daily habits.
Can you remember a time when you were a child when you felt completely safe and nurtured? When you had no worries or self-doubt? When you could laugh and play and then go snuggle in the arms of someone you love?
THAT is what balances vata.
Those feelings and situations are what bring groundedness and relief from stress, overwhelm and anxiety.
So, as adults, it’s up to us to create this for ourselves…. How, you say?
Well, here are a few things to start with (I have many more!):
- Decrease the mental, aural and visual stimulation you get by reducing tv, social media, activities, excessive talking, podcasts, newspapers, magazines.
- Schedule time into your day to watch the clouds, the birds or the trees in the wind.
- Go for a walk in nature.
- Sit in your garden and admire your flowers.
- Take a week long digital media break.
- Turn the dial WAY down.
Legs up the wall: (Viparita Karani):
This pose is SO great for calming the nervous system. before bed, spend up to 10 minutes lying on your back with your legs up the wall.
- Close the door
- Put on some mellow music
- Light some candles
- Get comfy and let your body sink into the ground as if you are a heavy sandbag resting in the mud.
If you don’t like your legs up the wall, just lay the entire body on the ground.
Meditate for 10 minutes every day:
Even if it feels worthless at first, creating the habit of pausing in your day to create space and just be is vital for calming the mind.
If you’ve never meditated before, check out a local class. Alternatively, there are great free classes on the InsightTimer app, as well as, YouTube. (I’m happy to provide recommendations – just ask!)
When stress takes over, breathing goes to pot.
- Put a daily reminder on your phone to stop and rate your anxiety level.
- Then take 10 long, deep breaths. Use your belly.
- Make the exhalation longer than the inhalation (ex. Breathe in for 5 counts and out for 8 counts). Don’t force it. Let yourself gradually ease into it.
- When you’re done, rate your anxiety level again.
Deep physical relaxation:
Do something regularly that helps the body relax. Massage, acupuncture, a warm bath, restorative yoga, a float tank. Whatever you’re in to. Do it often. Treat yourself. The better you feel, the more you’ll show up for others.
The key is to choose 1-3 things from the list above and do them. CONSISTENTLY.
That’s actually the hardest part. I say that from experience!
I am SO bad about consistency (being consistent is one of my themes for 2019) and have ebbed and flowed in the my adoption of self-care practices but I can say that after 4 years of starting, stopping, continuing, compounding and making small shifts every day, I feel so much LESS stress and overwhelm. And when I do get stressed – now I have a toolbox overflowing with practices to help me work through it instead of just drinking wine and watching Netflix 😉
You can print out the list of practices above, pick which ones you want to do then DO them. Consistently.
Good luck. You got this!