Anxiety has steadily increased in modern society, and the current state of the world certainly isn’t helping. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States and affect 40 million adults.
Some amount of anxiety is normal and even healthy to experience, but when is it too much? When anxiety begins to take over your life and prevent you from living, then there’s certainly an imbalance in the body that needs attention and healing.
Ayurveda’s Perspective On Anxiety
Based on Ayurvedic teachings, anxiety is a symptom of an imbalanced vata dosha. Therefore, to reign in anxiety we need to focus on its root cause and work to balance vata through lifestyle habits. If you’re anxious, it simply means your body is trying to communicate that things are a little off balance.
Vata dosha is composed of air and space. It’s the energy of the wind. In nature and within our bodies, vata is responsible for movement and communication. It controls things like the breath, muscle contractions, cellular communication, pulsation of the heart, blinking, circulation, mental activity, joint function, and more.
Like Increases Like
Ayurveda teaches that like increases like. This means that if you’re overly exposed to qualities of a particular dosha, that energy will continue to accumulate in your body and cause an imbalance. This imbalance manifests through a variety of symptoms and will ultimately lead to disease if untreated.
Vata shifts out of balance more easily than the other two doshas. Western society values a way of life that is very stimulating to vata: excessive screen time, TV watching, fast-paced living, heightened fear and anxiety, coffee and alcohol use, and more. Therefore it’s quite common for people to experience a vata imbalance, which greatly fuels anxiety.
What Is A Vata Imbalance?
People tend to experience anxiety as breathlessness, rapid heartbeat, trembling, muscle tension, fatigue, sleep problems, general flightiness, excessive worrying, trouble concentrating, and more. These are also symptoms of a vata imbalance.
Certain lifestyle factors tend to aggravate vata. When vata is out of a whack, a person tends to feel ungrounded and is occupied with incessant movement and erratic thoughts. They may also experience dry skin, constipation, and trouble sleeping.
Late fall and early winter make up the season of vata, making this time of year even more vata-provoking than the warmer months.
Symptoms of Vata Imbalance:
- Constipation or hard stools
- Restless mind
- Difficulty focusing
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Dry or chapped skin
- Stiff muscles and joints
- Difficulty remembering
- Cracking joints
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Restless legs or other body parts
- Low body weight
- Gas and bloating
Causes of Vata Imbalance
Knowing that like increases like, you’ll most likely experience a vata imbalance if you regularly eat dry and cold foods, drink a lot of caffeine and alcohol, have an irregular eating schedule, don’t sleep well, live an erratic lifestyle, and move from one thing to the next without taking time to slow down and relax. All of these habits contain vata qualities, amplifying its presence in the body.
Some common causes of vata imbalance include:
- Over-consumption of foods with bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes
- Eating a diet that mostly contains vata qualities such as raw, rough, and dried foods (chips, raw salads, dried fruits)
- Eating at irregular times or skipping meals
- Indulging in fear and anxiety (high consumption of news media is a common cause, especially right now!)
- Living or spending a lot of time in dry environments
- Nicotine, alcohol, and the use of other stimulants
- Excessive screen time and use of TV and/or social media
- Consistent travel
- Late night activity and poor sleep
- Irregular schedule (eating, sleep, work, etc.)
- Cold, dry, and windy environments
Treating Anxiety & Finding Balance
Counteracting vata energy in the body really comes down to grounding your energy. Getting consumed by vata is like riding the wind, and when we ground our energy down toward the heavy and soothing earth we slow down the wind and begin to relax. From dietary choices to lifestyle habits, there are a number of ways we can help ourselves ground our energy.
Ayurvedic Habits to Ease Anxiety
- Practice meditation & pranayama (breathing exercises), especially alternate nostril breathing
- Practice yin yoga or other gentle and restorative forms of yoga
- Go for a walk in nature or just simply spend time outside
- Take a warm bath with epsom salts and essential oils
- Practice abhyanga, or self-massage. Our BLISS Oil is especially supportive for vata with an infusion of nourishing herbs in heavy sesame oil.
- Drink hot herbal tea, particularly vata-pacifying teas like chamomile, peppermint, and lavender
- Practice yoga nidra–a guided, conscious relaxation practice
- Listen to soothing instrumental music
- Drink a glass of golden milk, especially before bed
- Follow a consistent eating schedule and eat regular meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
- Pause and take a deep breath between different activities
- Stick to a regular morning and daily routine with consistent eating times, sleep schedule, and work schedule
- Stay warm regardless of the season or weather
- Try to get to bed before 10 PM
- Use vata-supporting products, like our zBLISS Tincture
- Consume herbs that counteract vata qualities, like Ashwagandha
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants
- Eat a vata-pacifying diet (see below)
Best Foods to Balance Vata & Ease Anxiety:
- Fruits: Banana, avocado, dates, oranges, berries, coconut, peaches, stewed fruits like apples, apricots, figs
- Vegetables (best cooked with oil or butter): Butternut squash, asparagus, beets, carrots, cucumber, garlic, green beans, onions, sweet potatoes, radishes, zucchini, turnips
- Dairy, fats, and oils: Yogurt, whole milk, ghee, olive oil, sesame oil
- Sweet foods: Maple syrup, honey, rice syrup
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes: All nuts, sunflower seeds, mung beans, chickpeas
- Grains: Cooked oats, cooked rice, quinoa
Anxiety is a complex problem with various causes, making it a challenging condition to treat. It requires patience and effort to target the root cause of anxiety, which differs from person to person. There are many effective ways people choose to ease the symptoms of anxiety, but the beauty and efficiency of Ayurveda is that it teaches us how to change our lifestyle habits to address its root cause.
When exploring different ways to treat your anxiety, maintain an attitude of compassion and patience toward yourself. Explore what works best for you, and then slowly and consistently build those habits into your life. Long-term change requires patience and consistency. Remember too that anxiety can be a great teacher, and the more we turn towards it and listen to what it has to say the more we can work with it to improve our lives in a multitude of ways.