Have you ever struggled with anxiety, depression, or chronic stress? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, mood disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in the United States; an estimated 31.1% of all American adults have experienced an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and 7.1% have had at least one major depressive episode.

Due to these staggering statistics, from 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States increased by nearly 400%. However, modern treatments fail to help 40% of people recover from mental health problems, so despite this increase in medication, rates of depression and anxiety have continued to increase.

Rather than simply masking the symptoms of anxiety and depression with medications, it’s clear that we’re in need of a new approach to treating mood disorders—we must begin addressing the root cause of these issues.

Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of healthcare, has been helping patients manage their mental health for more than 5,000 years. Ayurveda understands that at our core, we are all naturally joyful, peaceful, and healthy. It is only when our bodies become imbalanced that we lose our birthright of bliss and fall into a state of poor physical and mental health.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, the key to regaining health lies in restoring our body’s balance through proper diet, spiritual practices, herbal remedies, and yogic exercises. As such, Ayurveda can provide excellent complementary therapies to Western medicine’s treatment options. 

Before we get into curing mental health issues, let’s first understand what they are.

Overview

on Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic Stress

The first important thing to understand is that mood disorders affect every individual differently. In fact, the risk factors, symptoms, and outcomes differ between men, women, children, and teens.

For example, certain risk factors and symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression disorders are unique to women, such as postpartum depression, menopause, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Additionally, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men. Women are also more likely than men to develop eating disorders concurrently with depression, as well as to attempt suicide. 

On the other hand, when it comes to men and mental health disorders, they are more likely to self-medicate by developing substance-abuse problems or indulging in escapism through excess use of video games, exercise, or work. Moreover, the symptoms of depression typically manifest as anger, aggression, and risk taking behavior in men, while for women they include indecision, sleeping problems, and lack of general satisfaction.

Now that we have a better understanding of how these conditions might manifest in each of us, let’s dive deeper into the diseases themselves.

Depression

It’s perfectly normal to feel sad, low, or unmotivated from time to time. However, if such feelings persist for more than two weeks, you may have depression. 

You are also likely at a greater risk for developing depression if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • An immediate family member with depression
  • Disordered sleeping
  • Chronic disease or chronic pain
  • A history of abuse
  • Lack of social support
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Are taking certain medication such as
    • Blood pressure medication
    • Sleeping pills
    • Sedatives
    • Steroids
    • Prescription painkillers
  • Have experienced major life events such as
    • The loss of a loved one
    • Relocating
    • Getting divorced
    • Losing a job
    • Retiring
    • Having a baby

However, sometimes people who don’t have typical risk factors end up developing depression, so here are important symptoms of depression to watch out for:

  • Feeling prolonged hopeless, helpless, emptiness, or sadness
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Over- or under-sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed by small tasks
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, and moving
  • Significantly reduced or increased appetite leading to weight loss or weight gain
  • Fixating on past failures
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble thinking, remembering, concentrating, and making decisions
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

If left untreated, depression can lead to many complications, including

  • Pain or physical illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Weight gain or obesity, which can lead to heart disease or diabetes
  • Social phobia
  • Family conflicts, relationship difficulties, and work or school problems
  • Self-mutilation 
  • Anxiety and/or panic disorders
  • Suicide attempts or suicide
  • Conflicts with family, relationships, school, or work
  • Premature death from medical conditions.

For these reasons, if you think you have depression, it’s imperative to get help as soon as possible.

Anxiety

Anxiety can come in many varieties, such as panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and general anxiety disorder. However, all of these anxiety disorders have the same general symptoms and risk factors. Some of the risk factors include

  • Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events 
  • Facing stress due to illness
  • Stress buildup
  • Having blood relatives with anxiety disorders
  • Abusing drugs and alcohol
  • Being of low socioeconomic status
  • Having depression.

If any of these factors apply to you, be sure to watch out for the following symptoms of anxiety disorders:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Inability to stay calm or still
  • Panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive worrying
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Cold, sweaty, numb, or tingly hands and/or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trembling
  • Crying
  • Irritability
  • Tense muscles
  • Irrational fears
  • Antisocial behavior
  • A strong feeling of impending doom
  • Feeling like you’re going crazy

Unfortunately, if left untreated, anxiety disorders can lead to some troubling complications, including

  • Depression and other mental disorders
  • Insomnia 
  • Substance abuse
  • Digestive issues
  • Chronic pain and headaches
  • Social isolation
  • Inability to function at school or work
  • Poor quality of life
  • Suicide.

Because these complications can be quite serious, if you think you might have an anxiety disorder, be sure to seek professional help as soon as possible.

man in bed stressed

Chronic Stress

One key condition that lies at the core of both anxiety and depression disorders is chronic stress. Stress occurs in the body when we feel threatened by either physical or mental sources. As soon as stress comes into our experience, our bodies quickly gear up for a fight or flight response.

When this happens, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, triggering the rapid release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones unlock our body’s stored glucose reserves, filling us with the energy we need to respond to the stressful event at hand.

Unfortunately, this response disrupts nearly every area in our bodies, including our immune, cardiovascular, digestive, and reproductive systems. If the stress response is constantly activated, as it is for many in the modern world, these systems can fall into disarray. This can lead to complications such as

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Sleep disorders
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Digestive issues
  • Skin conditions
  • Heart disease
  • Weight problems
  • Reproductive issues
  • Trouble with thinking and memory

In order to avoid these challenging complications, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors and symptoms associated with chronic stress. Some key risk factors include

  • Major life changes such as
    • Death of a loved one
    • Divorce
    • Imprisonment
    • Injury or illness
    • Marriage
    • Job loss
    • Retirement
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Experiencing conflicts or confrontations
  • Being overworked with work, school, or family commitments
  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Perfectionism
  • Being pessimistic.

If you have any of these risk factors, be sure to watch out for the symptoms of chronic stress, which include

  • Headaches
  • Acne
  • Chronic pain
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid, disorganized thoughts
  • Feeling helpless and not in control
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss of libido
  • Frequent sickness
  • Appetite changes
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nervousness.

Now that we better understand the warning signs and symptoms of each of these three mental health conditions, we’re ready to take a look at the existing treatment options that Ayurveda provides.

rainbow over valley at Art of Living Retreat Center

Ayurveda

+ Anxiety, Depression, & Chronic Stress

Ayurveda is a complete and complex system of healthcare that stands apart from western medicine. As such, it has its own unique understanding of disease development that fully integrates the mind, body, and spirit. Because of this, Ayurveda has a valuable perspective to explore when it comes to understanding anxiety, depression, and chronic stress.

In fact, Ayurveda has long known what Western medicine is just beginning to discover: our gut health is directly linked to the well-being of our entire mind-body-spirit system. As such, Ayurveda maintains that all illnesses start as imbalances develop in the gut, which is seen as the first of six main stages of disease. 

Imbalances in the Three Doshas

Ayurveda understands that our bodies are always maintaining a balance of three key components known as the three doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha. Vata consists of the air and ether elements, pitta is made up of the fire and ether elements, and kapha is a mix of the earth and water elements. Each of these doshas plays a key role in maintaining our vitality and can become imbalanced if they’re not managed properly. This can eventually lead to mental health issues.

These imbalances will build up in weak or defective areas in the body, known as khavaigunya. Khavaigunya can occur due to previous illnesses that leave us weak in certain areas, or due to factors that are passed down to us by our parents, such as genes, diet, and lifestyle. If our parents were prone to certain imbalances, it’s likely that we will be too.

Eventually, these imbalances become so pronounced that they promote the accumulation of toxins, which create breeding grounds for disease in the body. For example, a disproportionate amount of vata dosha in the body creates vata-type depression, which manifests as insomnia, hyperactivity, or weight loss. A pitta imbalance breeds pitta-type depression, which is characterized by irritability, anger, and self-criticism. Finally, kapha imbalances give way to kapha-type depression, which includes oversleeping, melancholy feelings, and emotional eating.

Other Imbalances in the Body

In addition to the three doshas, Ayurveda also recognizes 20 gunas, which are the fundamental properties of nature. When the gunas that promote life fall out of balance, we also fall into a state of disease.

Substance abuse, especially with alcohol, is one of the easiest ways to promote anti-life gunas in the body. Unfortunately, one third of people with depressive disorders also have substance abuse disorders. From an ayurvedic perspective, stopping all unnecessary drug and alcohol use is imperative for the promotion of mental health. 

Ayurveda also recognizes yet another system element of the body that is prone to imbalances: our chakras. Chakras are centers throughout the body that purify and distribute energy. There are 114 chakras in our body, however, most people are primarily concerned with the seven main chakras, which run from the base of our spine to the top of our head. 

When these main centers are over- or under-functioning, we run into many physical, mental, and spiritual issues. For example, our root chakra, which resides at the base of our spine, represents our material security in life. If it isn’t functioning properly, we feel quite anxious, fearing that our needs won’t be met. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the seventh chakra, which is seated at the top of our heads, signifies our connection to our higher spiritual source. When this energy center falters, our feelings of inspiration, creativity, and purpose dwindle, leading us toward depression.

So, as you can probably tell, Ayurveda’s main approach to treating all diseases, including mental health disorders, involves bringing these many factors in the body back into balance. This can be done through a number of avenues, which we’ll start to explore now. 

Ayurveda Treatments

Options for Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic Stress

One of the major critiques of Western medicine’s approach to anxiety, depression, and chronic stress is that it does not address the underlying lifestyle factors at the root of these conditions. For this reason, as previously mentioned, 40% of treatments fail to help people recover from mental health issues.

In addition, pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for anxiety and depression have troubling side effects such as

  • Tiredness or extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Dizziness 
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling restless
  • Headaches
  • Nausea 
  • Sexual problems including reduced libido or erectile dysfunction 
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep
  • Digestive issues such as constipation
  • Increased blood pressure 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors

Thankfully, Ayurveda works to address the root causes of all issues, without the use of medications that create additional complications. Although some Western doctors are just beginning to embrace this approach today, Ayurveda already has thousands of years of wisdom to draw from when it comes to making healthy lifestyle recommendations.

Ayurveda’s Approach to Depression, Anxiety, and Chronic Stress

Ayurveda offers many natural and holistic treatment options for depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. Let’s explore some practical solutions that you can start implementing in your daily life in order to return to an optimal state of mental health. 

Ayurveda and Anxiety

In general, Ayurveda considers anxiety to stem from an imbalance of vata dosha in the body. Vata dosha is characterized as light, dry, cold, and changeable qualities. As such, enjoying activities or foods that embody heavy, moist, warm, and steady qualities are an excellent way to quell a vata imbalance and avoid anxiety.

Some easy ayurvedic recommendations for reducing anxiety include

  • Avoiding coffee
  • Decreasing time spent in front of screens
  • Prioritizing peaceful down-time
  • Practicing slow, deep breathing
  • Walking in nature
  • Warming your body up with hot tea, food, blankets, or a bath
  • Adding healthy oils into your diet such as ghee
  • Avoid refined sugar
  • Avoid raw, cold, or frozen foods
  • Favor sweet, sour, and salty tastes
  • Avoid bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes
  • Practice slowing your thought process with meditation

As you embrace these tips, you’ll likely to notice a steady decline in your anxiety.

Ayurveda and Depression

While anxiety typically stems from a vata imbalance, depression is caused by an aggravation of kapha dosha. Kapha’s qualities include heaviness, slowness, steadiness, and oiliness. So, imbibing opposite qualities such as lightness, quickness, changeability, and dryness are a great way to balance kapha and overcome depression. Some easy ways to do this include

  • Exercising regularly 
  • Eating a diet comprised of light and fresh foods
  • Decluttering your space
  • Keeping a daily routine that includes waking up and going to bed early, as well as practicing fun, creative hobbies
  • Seeking new sources of stimulation such as music, scenery, or experiences
  • Practicing meditation.

All together, following these tips can be a big help in the healing journey of anyone with depression.

Ayurveda and Chronic Stress

When stress strikes, many of our body’s main systems shut down. To combat this condition, we need to bring our bodies into a state of deep relaxation in order to reawaken these systems. From an ayurvedic perspective, some excellent ways to do this include

  • Slowing down
  • Practicing self-care
  • Committing to a daily routine
  • Practicing yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques
  • Eating a diet that naturally balances your dosha.

All of these practices work together to restore our bodies to an optimal state of health, thus reversing the negative affects of stress.

 

Ayurvedic Practices That Promote Strong Mental Health

No matter what mood disorder you might suffer from, Ayurveda has many lifestyle recommendations that can help almost anyone on their journey toward achieving an optimal state of wellness. Keep reading to find some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine to start leading a holistically healthier life. 

Exploring Yoga

Yoga, meditation, and spiritual practices can have an enormous impact on mental-health levels. There are certain yoga poses that help with depression and anxiety, as well as poses designed to alleviate chronic stress. In order to avoid injury, before diving into these poses, it’s best to work with a trained instructor to ensure that you understand the proper physical alignment for each pose.

Practicing Meditation

When it comes to meditation and breathing techniques, certain practices such as the Art of Living’s own Sudarshan Kriya (SKY) technique can have an enormous positive impact on people with anxiety and depression. However, nearly all meditation and breathing techniques have at least some positive mental health benefit.

Having a Spiritual or Religious Practice

Additionally, having any kind of spiritual and or religious outlook has been associated with quicker recovery times from depression and anxiety. This could be for any number of reasons—spiritual and religious groups provide a sense of community and a foundation of faith, which help us stay positive and grounded during tough times. No matter if you have a formal spiritual practice or not, spending time in nature is a great way to connect to the world in a deeper way, which can bring about many mental health improvements.

Eating Herbs and a Proper Diet

Keeping to a proper diet is also essential for maintaining positive mental health. There are many foods known to help reduce depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. Some specific foods include walnuts, turmeric, dark chocolate, beets, bananas, and whole grains.

In addition to food, taking the proper herbs can also vastly improve your mental health. Some helpful ayurvedic herbs include holy basil, ashwagandha, brahmi, and bhringraj. 

Fixing your Sleep Cycle

For many suffering from anxiety, depression, and chronic stress, oversleeping or undersleeping can be a major issue. Ayurveda suggests many natural remedies for improving your quality of sleep. A few great tips include waking up and going to bed early, avoiding napping, and turning off electronic devices a couple of hours before going to bed.

Getting Creative

Ayurveda maintains that engaging in creative activities has a positive impact on our mental health. Being creative gives us a sense of transcendent purpose, which helps us find the strength to overcome challenging obstacles. So, feel free to engage in any creative path that you enjoy, such as music, dance, writing, drawing, chanting, or painting.

Take Care of Yourself During Pregnancy

One in seven women will experience postpartum depression (PPD), a condition characterized by feeling stressed, sad, anxious, or lonely after their baby’s birth. Thankfully, if proper measures are taken while pregnant, PPD can be avoided. Some great tips for steering clear of PDD include getting plenty of B vitamins, exercise, and rest both during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.

Resources

Dealing with Mental Health Issues

There are many great and easy treatment options for anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. However, factors such as shame, embarrassment, or social stigma stop many people diagnosed with these conditions from seeking treatment. Because of this, those with mental health issues feel alone with nowhere to turn—contributing to the rise in suicide rates amongst all age groups in the United States.

If you are feeling anxious, depressed, or stressed, know that you’re not alone and that there is nothing inherently wrong with you. These are conditions that many deal with, and with the right treatment, they can be overcome. However, if you are feeling hopeless or helpless, be sure to make use of these resources as soon as possible:

  • Depression Hotlines
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
    • Call a 24-hour crisis center on 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
    • Text MHA to 741741 (the Crisis Text Line)
    • The Samaritans. Call (877) 870-4673 (HOPE)
    • Trevor Project Lifeline. A hotline for LGBTQ youth. Call 866-488-7386
    • If you don’t feel able to make a call, you can visit the Crisis Chat website to talk to someone online
  • Anxiety Hotlines
    • Crisis Text Line. Text CONNECT to 741741
    • Call a 24 hour crisis center on 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
    • The Samaritans. Call (877) 870-4673 (HOPE)
    • Trevor Project Lifeline. A hotline for LGBTQ youth. Call 866-488-7386
    • If you don’t feel able to make a call, you can visit the Crisis Chat website to talk to someone online.

Furthermore, if you or someone you know is in danger, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or contemplating self-harm, immediately do one of the following:

  • Call 911
  • Go directly to the nearest emergency room
  • Call a 24-hour crisis center on 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 
  • Text MHA to 741741 (the Crisis Text Line) 

Click here for more resources for anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. For additional resources on how to support loved ones with anxiety and depression click here. 

For long-term support, be sure to contact your doctor as soon as possible. After that, consider attending our upcoming anxiety, depression, and chronic stress retreat, where you will have the support of world-class Ayurvedic physicians as you learn to ease stress, improve your diet, practice yoga, and detoxify your body, and gain many other invaluable life skills for maintaining strong mental health.

Above all else, remember that it is possible to regain a life of happiness, clarity, and emotional stability.

We wish you all the best on your healing journey!

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