The worldwide circumstances in which we find ourselves are creating, for many, anxiety about our futures and a need for resilience to help us get through the day. Whilst things may seem out of control, connecting back to self-care rituals and routines can help restore a sense of autonomy and build physical and mental resilience, as we navigate this sea of change. Painful or uncomfortable experiences challenge us to seek the tools that can help us come back to our personal balance. Once adopted, they may lead us to emerge from this collective crisis, healthier and more attuned to our real needs.
The Ayurvedic approach to mental wellness does not disassociate the mental from the physical. A healthy mind and body in the Ayurvedic sense is not merely the absence of illness or unbalance but the promotion of balance and happiness, so you can thrive rather than just ‘not be ill’.
Ayurveda looks to the senses, body, mind, intellect and soul to guide us back to balance. Our senses are our gateway to integrating successfully with the world around us. However, they can also be our undoing, we can become overwhelmed say, by the news coming from our screens. This leads to the mind becoming unsettled, an increased heart rate leading to tiredness and then lethargy, leaving more time for the mind to overthink and so our minds take us round the anxiety ‘not’ so merry-go-round!
Calming this great tool of the mind is not always easy when anxiety and depression strike. Ayurveda looks to access the mind via the body using the five traditional approaches. Ama or toxins in the body can lead to dis(ease) as can the mental ama of thoughts and worries. In both cases these need to removed at the same time as strengthening mind and body. Below are some suggestions adapted from Ayurvedic principles and following my three-step approach to wellness. It is important not to fuel the sense of overwhelm that many of us are feeling so take a softly, softly approach trying one or two things, assessing their effects before continuing or changing. The ritual of consistency is key in keeping the mind occupied but not overwhelmed.
The 3-Step Approach
- Prioritise You. Committing to even five minutes in a day that is ‘you’ time begins to put you, not your mind, back in control.
- Awareness. Ask yourself the question ‘How do I really feel?’ Allow the answer to come up without judgement, no feeling is off limits.
- Choose Your Tool. The answer to step two will lead you to choose which tool might be best for you now, to bring you closer to balance and indirectly quieten an overactive mind.
Some Suggestions from Ayurveda To Ease Anxiety and Depression
Hot ginger and lemon tea with a teaspoon full of Chyawanprash (herb and spice jam). This is said to detox and flush the body and nourish the nervous system. It is suggested to avoid the nightshade family, potatoes, aubergines, peppers, etc, as they can aggravate the nervous system, depleting energy.
Ashwaganda is said to be restorative and rejuvenating. In Sanskrit ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb has the potential to impart the vigour and strength of a stallion. Traditionally prescribed as a nerve tonic and adaptogen — an agent which helps the body adapt to various emotional and physical stressors.
Touch therapy is very effective with nervous disorders, self-massage helps you reconnect with your own body. Try gentle abdominal massage with Brahmi oil at least 11 times anti-clockwise to detoxify and 11 times clockwise to nourish. Taking enough time is important to move down through the layers of the body from the surface of the skin.
Will help access the mind via the body through breath and movement. Stretching muscles releases tension and signals the afferent or sensory nerves to the let the brain know to relax. Ayurveda recommends doing yoga with a teacher or with others to combat mental imbalance, try a Zoom class during these times. Focus on repetitive, flowing movements to give the mind ‘a what’s next?’ focus. Moving the body will help to control an agitated mind. Find postures that build physical strength, listen to your body and build up over time, nudging your boundaries to strengthen resilience. If working on your own and not familiar with the practice, avoid pranayama per se, as the connection to breath in this way can sometimes increase anxiety.
An Ayurvedic recommendation is — never eat or drink alcohol alone! Both can aggravate an overactive mind or exacerbate depression. In these days of lockdown, my tutor recommends arranging with a friend to eat at the same time every day and to connect on Facetime or another digital platform. This fosters a sense of connection and a feeling that you are cared for. If this is not possible, then listening to music can bring calmness. Eating at the table is preferable, rather than in front of the TV with its endless dramas; these cause high emotions and thus the inability to digest food or thoughts, creating ama/toxins for the body and mind.
In general, try to keep to a routine throughout the week, go outside and connect with friends or family daily. Hand write in a journal to ‘brain dump’ any mental ama (undigested thoughts, emotions, worries). Hand-writing helps slow the mind and sometimes lends perspective to repetitive, unsettling thoughts. This is not for anyone but you, so does not need to be perfect or even read over, the idea is to release the mind from carrying the thoughts.