Letting Go of Anxiety

Anxiety, also known as angst or worry, is the feeling brought about by stress or fear.  The root of the word means to vex or trouble.  Though anxiety is biologically useful as a momentary reaction to a stressor, causing you to take action, it can easily take over and become trigger happy.  Characterized by mental apprehension, physical tension, and a feeling of panic, anxiety is so severe in over 20% of the American population each year that medical treatment is sought.  Even for those of us whose anxiety is not sufficiently overwhelming to require medical treatment, it can be a very troublesome house guest, causing insomnia, physical pain and tension, reduced immune function resulting in illness and psychological disturbances.

Ayurveda, the 5,000 year old tradition of Indian medicine, views anxiety as a “vata” disorder.  Vata energy is formed by air and ether and is characterized by cold, dryness, irregularity.  It governs movement.  Vata often arises in autumn, just in time for the holidays, and also increases with age.  To combat excessive vata, Ayurveda prescribes balancing the cold dryness of vata with things that are warm, wet and grounding.

As with many health issues, it is much easier to prevent anxiety than to treat it while it is occurring.  So, if you have a tendency towards anxiety or are experiencing unusual levels of anxiety at this point in your life, it is important to develop routines when you are not feeling anxious to prevent your next episode from developing.

To help prevent anxiety:

1.  Develop a steady routine.  Wake up and go to bed at the same times daily.  Have as regular a routine as possible for meals, work, and exercise.

2.  Don’t take on too much.  Reduce your overall activity level.  Do not over commit.

3.  Practice pranayama daily.

4.  Eat a low glycemic index diet consisting primarily of organic whole grains and cooked vegetables.  Soups and root vegetables are particularly beneficial.

5.  Lower your caffeine intake and balance caffeine with warming spices (like in chai or a homemade pumpkin spice latte).

6.  Get a massage, especially one where the massage practitioner uses oil during the massage, or practice self-massage at home.  Two Ayurvedic massage treatments, abhyanga (oil massage) and shirodara (a stream of oil being dripped on the “third eye”) are very valuable treatments for vata disorders including anxiety.

7.  Pacify your environment with warm, neutral colors, low lights, quiet, and fewer synthetic or strong odors.  Diluted lavender essential oil is a good choice for aroma to promote calmness and combat anxiety.

8.  Surround yourself with people who make you feel calm.

9.  Have a regular exercise routine, but do not exercise too rigorously as excessive exercising can aggrevate anxiety.  If you suffer from anxiety, it is best to exercise every day at the same time.  Yoga and walking are two very good choices for anxiety reducing exercise.

10.  Some herbs may also help reduce anxiety.  Chamomile is gentle, readily available, inexpensive and can be ingested in tea form.  Make sure the flowers you are using for tea are fresh and drink the tea several times per day.  Also, valerian is a good choice for bedtime if your anxiety makes it difficult to sleep.

As you make these changes in your life, you may notice your anxiety diminishing and the periods during which you feel anxious coming less regularly.  If you do become anxious, try to find a way to release your anxious energy in a positive way.  Some healthful options include journaling, talking with a friend, walking or hiking, or a yoga practice focusing on longer holds of standing poses for a sense of grounding.  Once you feel your anxiety begin to dissipate, then create stillness by being quiet, practicing Savasana, meditating, or just resting for a few minutes.

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2 Responses to “Letting Go of Anxiety”

  1. Bob Sweeney November 7, 2011 1:17 pm #

    Becca: I enjoyed your comments. It also helps me to engage in a repetitive activity that requires concentration but not a lot of mental energy–for example, doing needlepoint, posting and linking photos to my genealogy web site, doing my cardiovascular workout–kettle bells and ropes. There must be some kind of blood pressre reduction that comes from focused activity that does not require a high leel of frontal lobe activity–i.e., decision-making.

    • Becca November 7, 2011 1:29 pm #

      I’ll buy that!

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