Stress: an ayurvedic perspective
As stress continues to affect so many of us, Grace Practitioner Sonja Shah-Williams discusses an Ayurvedic approach to prevention and healing holistically…
The concept of stress has become a major topic of discussion as it increases exponentially and manifests in behavioural, cognitive, emotional and physical symptoms.
In medical terms, stress is a response to demand, physical or emotional, real or imagined. The response is the secretion of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and non-adrenaline from the adrenal glands.
A practical explanation of stress might be:
When the situations we are presented with in our lives exceed our resources for coping with them.
Ayurvedic medicine is a 5000 year old system of healing and the first true holistic medicine system on earth. It is a profound science that deals with the nature, scope and purpose of life, offering a deep understanding of each person’s unique body, mind and spiritual makeup. It enables us to understand the complex pathogenesis of every diseased state.
Ayurveda recognises stress as a sign of imbalances in our body, which prevents us from being able to cope with situations that arise. By understanding our unique constitution and how foods, lifestyle, the weather, the seasons, even the time of day and our time of life affect us, we can begin to protect ourselves. No matter what the disease, the mechanism for removing the causative factors is the same, which is why it can be highly effective in dealing with modern day stress.
Psychologically, we are influenced to a degree by our natural constitution, but we can learn to deal with stress and recognise triggers. Poor communication, poor time management, unhealthy relationships and lack of self – fulfilment can all contribute to chronic stress, and working on these areas goes a long way towards alleviating it.
Ayurveda theorises that the body is governed by three functional principles known collectively as Doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha), derived from the five key elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth. These principles, present in everything and everyone in different proportions, each have their own ‘attributes’ and are responsible for certain functions within the body and mind. Rather like the components of a car, they work together to maintain equilibrium. We are all made up of our own unique doshic attributes, which are used to assess our biological and emotional makeup. Ayurveda identifies disease as an imbalance of one or more of the three doshas. When they are vitiated within their natural ‘seats’ in the body, or (at a chronic stage of disease) have been pushed to unfamiliar areas of the body, they come into conflict with other doshas and start lodging in tissues, causing them to be impaired. It is important to emphasise that every single disease, be it a simple cold or stress, is unique to each person in terms of how it manifests.
Stress can usually be attributed to an imbalance of vata dosha, and often presents with irritability, irregular lifestyle choices (such as skipping meals or eating at unusual times), weight-loss, insomnia, fear and anxiety. However, with kapha dominant people the stress symptoms may be lethargy, overeating and therefore weight-gain, and over-attachment. Pitta types may present with argumentative and angry outbursts, hostility, and judgement. No two people will present in the same way with the same disease, making an understanding of your doshas a fundamental tool for health and wellbeing.
Sonja’s five top tips for reducing day to day build-up of stress:
- Never skip breakfast, as this increases vata dosha and makes our nervous system erratic.
- Always sit down to eat a meal and try to pay attention to the act of eating. Chew slowly rather than taking huge, quick mouthfuls.
- Never eat less than three hours before going to bed. This puts stress on the digestive system at night, when it should be ‘resting’.
- Take at least 15 minutes out of your day to sit in a quiet place and concentrate on deep, focused breathing. When we focus on the breath, we are in fact meditating. This is a wonderful way to reduce stress, and rejuvenate the nervous system.
- Switch off all devices in the evening from suppertime onwards. This is easier said than done, but studies show that blue light, which is emitted at high levels from electronic devices, can damage our eyes and disrupt our circadian rhythm. Blue light suppresses the release of melatonin, which in turn disrupts our sleep. We are all aware of lack of sleep being a significant cause of stress.