Episode 70: How Ayurveda Helped Control My Anxiety
I've been on a journey to gain control of anxiety after getting diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) back in 2015.
Everyone experiences anxiety differently, for me at it's very worst I can experience intense heart palpitations, body tension, aches and pains, my stomach churns and I suffer from a lot of stomach bloating and discomfort. Sometimes I feel queasy and struggle to eat anything at all. I can also experience restlessness and struggle to sit still or relax, as well as finding myself feeling dizzy and lightheaded. I can feel really disconnected from those around me and even disassociated from my own body, this may sound strange but sometimes my legs don't feel like they're attached to the rest of my body!
My mind will replay the same thoughts and worries over and over, until this can become an obsessive pattern. Which in turn will then increase all the tension and the sense of anxiety I am feeling. I've often found myself feeling like this is all completely out of my control and I struggle to focus and concentrate on the things I want to do, which is extremely frustrating. I've also experienced the other end of spectrum too, due to the hyper arousal and alertness of anxiety, I have been able to function at a really high level.
For a long period of time, this was me on a regular basis. Experiencing all of these symptoms for a number of years every day. I don't think a day passed by that anxiety didn't influence the experience of my day and also what I later learnt to understand was that anxiety was also affecting my choices, my behaviours and my reactions.
So if we go back to my diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) 7 years ago, as the name suggests, I used to feel anxious in most situations. This is a label I thankfully don't feel that I need today. I remember worrying a lot about what people thought of me and if I was enough, if I was thought of as kind enough to others, I worried I may be seen as lazy or inferior, I also worried that I spoke too much, or not enough. I worried about all the things that could possibly go wrong, I pushed and pushed myself out of fear to the point of burnout and illnesses. However, the most stressful and exhausting part of it all was trying to hide all of these feelings from everyone else and live 2 lives. 1 life was how I was feeling on the inside, and another was how I portrayed myself to be on the outside. I really needed a large dose of inner work, self confidence and self love, rather than looking for external validation that I was enough.
While starting Yoga back in 2016 helped me hugely with my anxiety, amazingly when I discovered Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga and its mind-body types, it started to plant the seed and allowed me to realize that we are all truly unique and there is no point comparing ourselves to others. I'd spent so long feeling anxious about what others thought and making decisions in my life based on my perception of what I thought others wanted or needed that I had totally lost touch of who I was and what I needed to be alive and happy.
Once I took the time to start to accept and live my life more aligned with who I truly am, my signs of anxiety started to diminish. It feels such a relief to not be living those 2 lives, and it feels amazing to feel seen and take the action I really want to take. Ayurveda enabled me to understand the things that are naturally me, such as my enthusiastic and compassionate nature, my sensitivity to others and emotions, my love of movement and dance, my need to be artistic and creative, my ability to be flexible and adaptable along with my love for travel and new experiences. As I have delved deeper into Ayurveda I discovered at that time I very much resonated with Vata dosha, also known as the Vata mind-body type. I could see that this was significantly out of balance for me, armed with this new information I allowed Ayurveda to give me some much needed direction to feel more balanced.
Vata is the most subtle of the mind-body types, it helps to explain the strange sensations and disconnections that I sometimes felt as I was so up in my head and ungrounded from my feet. It makes total sense that earth element practices would be key and make a world of difference for me to feel calmer, more connected and less anxious. There are many ways we can gain more grounding, for me some simple exercises include walking in nature, deep belly breathing, low level yoga poses and connecting with my feet. Dropping down out of my mind and into the physical, present moment at any time is extremely powerful to transform me from feeling lost, overwhelmed or spaced out to calmer and more present.
Ayurveda has a strong belief in supporting digestion- not just food, but digesting emotions and life too! My anxious stomach can churn with emotional stress and Ayurveda can help to support my digestion and gut health. I recently spoke more about this in my recent podcast, episode 68- "5 Ways to Balance Your Digestion" Click here to listen now! Due to the Vata imbalance I was experiencing at the time, I focused on eating more sweet, sour and salty tastes in order to balance this and avoided Vata aggravating foods such as those which are dry, cold or light textures, as well as avoiding astringent or spicy foods.
I also swapped cold and fizzy drinks for warmer, still drinks, I reduced the dried fruits in my morning porridge, I opted for warming spices such as cinnamon. There are so many tweaks we can make to our food choices that will influence our emotions as well our nourishing our bodies inside and out. Vata also links to the nervous system, this is a key system to improving anxiety in the long run and something I feel really passionate about. You may have heard me talking about the nervous system before, when we are feeling anxious it goes into over-drive which is okay for a short period of time but not if we are finding ourselves living in a state of fight or flight. Many of the Vata balancing practices are amazingly also practices that can be used to calm the nervous system. This was all discovered thousands of years ago when Ayurveda began, science has then been catching up. Methods of calming Vata and the nervous system is what drew me even more into teaching and practicing relaxing breath techniques, slow style Yoga and to train in Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra too. These are all effective for helping us to slow down when we're feeling overwhelmed or erratic.
As I have studied and learnt more about Ayurveda overtime, I've discovered I've also been more drawn to things that take me out of balance. I began to see more clearly that my busy and erratic schedule wasn't supporting me, I used to have an excessive amount of daily movement, sometimes walking my dog 4 times a day, as well as practicing Zumba routines and facilitating a high number of Yoga and Zumba classes each week. Never really creating any time to slow down and relax, this is something that I have had to change bit by bit and I still find myself sometimes slipping back into my old ways. I have to remind myself to have time in my routine to slow down when I find myself feeling out of balance. This has involved a change of mindset for me that is gradual, it would be easy to feel guilty to take time to relax. Here's your permission slip if you need one, take the time for yourself to relax and find your balance.
Ayurveda uses opposites to find balance and it has system of 10 pairs of opposing qualities called the 20 gunas. Without going into too much detail for now; I know that if I am feeling cold, which is commonly a Vata trait, I am more likely to feel tense or anxious so I need to focus on feeling warm. There is so much more I could say about how applying Ayurveda to my life has helped to control my anxiety and I don't feel like I can say enough to do it justice! It really has enabled me to understand who I am, what my anxiety looks like and how to be aware when I start to become out of balance. As well as ways to recognise this early enough to be able to adapt and bring myself back without living in fear. I am telling you all this because I want you to know you do not need to feel stuck, Ayurveda's personalised balancing lifestyle and approaches to movement, breath, food, herbs and massage methods are all there for you and you can incorporate some or all of these into your life to work for you. When we have better health it is so much easier to enjoy life, as well as feeling happy and anxiety free.
If you would like to listen in to the 15 minute podcast episode around this topic, you can click here. You can also take my free quiz to Discover Your Anxiety Profile and get personalised tips on how to start to curb anxiety by clicking here.
I hope you have enjoyed reading, I'd love to hear what your key take away is from this episode? Why not drop me a message and please know that if you are suffering with anxiety, you are not alone.
Love, Sam x