Almost all of us know someone who struggles with some form of mental illness, be it anxiety, depression, or chronic stress. In fact, 46.6 million people in the United States suffer from some kind of mental health issue. Unfortunately, despite how widespread such conditions are, modern treatments fail to help 40% of people recover from mental health problems.
For that reason, it’s clear that our society needs to explore alternative treatment options for these conditions. Thankfully, Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of healthcare, has been leading patients towards optimal mental health for thousands of years. Here, we’ll discuss many natural, Ayurvedic tools that can help us treat these conditions.
Understanding Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic Stress
Anxiety disorders are characterized by a chronic sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread that can prevent patients from sleeping, concentrating, socializing, or even leaving their homes. From an Ayurvedic point of view, this condition is caused when excessive vata accumulates in the nervous system.
On the other hand, depression is characterized by feeling helpless, hopeless, or worthless for extended periods of time. Those with depression often have a hard time finding meaning in their life, be it in work, hobbies, family, or friends. Ayurveda often considers depression to be caused by an excess of kapha dosha in the body.
Chronic stress is one condition that lies at the root of both anxiety and depression. With chronic stress, individuals often feel like they have little or no control over certain aspects of their life. This causes the body to flood with stress hormones, putting us in a never-ending fight or flight response. Over a long period of time, this has a negative impact on almost every system in the body, contributing to both physical and mental illnesses. So, if we hope to cure anxiety and depression, it’s often important to first address the stress that underlies these conditions.
Thankfully, Ayurveda has tools for all three of these ailments. The first one we’ll explore is yoga.
From an Ayurvedic point of view, the best way to heal the mind and spirit is by relaxing the body. This is done through the ancient art and science of yoga, which works to stretch every muscle group in order to release our pent-up tension.
In fact, many alternative healthcare practitioners believe that repressed emotions are actually stored in different locations in the body. So, by releasing tension from our muscles, we may also be releasing feelings we didn’t even realize were there. Through this cleansing process, our worries can be replaced with deeper states of spiritual bliss.
To facilitate this process there are specific yoga poses for depression and anxiety, as well as poses for chronic stress.
Diving Into Meditation
Just as yoga heals the body, meditation heals the mind. Through the process of sitting still and actively watching your thoughts, you will be able to identify recurring mental patterns that might be plaguing you. For instance, you might tend to think in extremes or overgeneralizations that don’t accurately reflect reality.
With greater awareness of your mental processes, you’ll be able to address your inner critic and consciously retrain your brain to think more positively. One great way to do this is through mantras, or positive affirmations. Here are a few phrases that you can repeat to yourself as you meditate to help you find greater internal peace:
- It is enough to do my best.
- I can do it.
- I am enough.
- I choose peace.
- I love myself.
- Life is good.
- I am strong.
Ayurveda also recommends the simple practice of alternate nostril breathing, also known as nadi shodana pranayama, which translates into “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.” This method can be a great help when it comes to bolstering your meditation or yoga practice.
Its benefits include
- Reduced anxiety
- More overall well-being
- Relaxing the mind and body
- More focus and awareness
- Greater stress management
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Improved lung function and respiratory endurance
- Lower heart rate.
Here are some quick instructions for practicing alternate nostril breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight.
- Place your left hand on your left knee.
- Exhale completely.
- Use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your fingers.
- Open your right nostril and exhale through it
- Inhale through your right nostril and then close it again.
- Close your right nostril and open your left nostril, exhaling through it.
- Repeat this cycle for at least five minutes; always finish by exhaling on the left side.
This practice can bring you into a deep state of meditative relaxation. So, after you’re finished, sit quietly and enjoy the stillness.
Other breathing techniques can be helpful for meditation as well, such as ujjayi breath and Sudarshan Kriya. Feel free to explore these practices on your own!
Practicing Spirituality and Religion
Studies show that people with a spiritual or religious background tend to recover from mental health issues such as depression more quickly. One of the primary reasons for this is that these people naturally find a greater purpose in life, which motivates them when things get hard. Having faith in a higher power also prevents us from feeling that life is hopeless or meaningless.
Another great benefit of spirituality and religion is that it can provide us with community support through places like churches or yoga centers.
If you don’t consider yourself spiritual or religious, one great secular way to connect to something deeper is through meditation. Practices like Buddhism typically make no assumptions about the metaphysical nature of reality; rather it provides you with a simple, practical set of tools to come to these conclusions on your own.
Improving Your Diet
Ayurveda maintains that food is our medicine. As such, it stands to reason that what we eat can either contribute to or alleviate mental health issues. Scientists have found this to be the case. In fact, certain foods promote stress, and others relieve it. Some stress-promoting foods to avoid:
- Ice cream
- Canned foods that contain BPA
- Pressed juices
- Non-organic soy products
- Red wine
- Refined sugars
- High fructose corn syrup
- White flour
- Processed foods
On the other hand, certain foods reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Some of these include:
- Green Leafy vegetables
- Fermented foods
- Fruits and berries
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
- Red bell peppers
In addition to what you eat, how you prepare it is also important. When cooking, try to avoid deep frying and using a microwave. Instead, opt for light sautéing, steaming, or boiling.
Leading a Healthy Lifestyle
In addition to diet, Ayurveda believes that diseases are also rooted in lifestyle choices that are out of alignment with our body’s nature. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to lifestyle; in fact, everyone will follow something different based on their Ayurvedic body type. However, there are a few tips that everybody can incorporate in some fashion. These include:
- Eating right
- Sleeping enough
- Maintaining healthy relationships
- Aligning your work with your interests and natural gifts
- Connecting to nature
- Practicing gratitude
- Setting and working towards goals
- Using aromatherapy
- Getting creative
When you are grounded in a healthy lifestyle with these practices, it is much harder for the world to knock you off your center into stress, depression, and anxiety.
Taking Ayurvedic Herbs
For thousands of years before modern medicine became popular, humans used herbs to cure their conditions. In fact, did you know that many pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants? The reason for that is many herbs contain countless characteristics that promote well-being while also eliminating disease.
Certain herbs have a great potential to regulate our moods, thus helping to eliminate anxiety, stress, and depression. Some of the herbs that you should consider taking if you struggle with these conditions include:
- Holy basil
- Turmeric with black pepper
- Gingko Biloba
- Valerian root
- Lemon balm
- St. John’s wart
- Green tea
As always talk to your doctor before using any herbal remedy. Also, be sure to ask a trained herbalist or Ayurvedic practitioner about what dosage will be right for you.
Detoxing With Panchakarma
Oftentimes, mental health issues crop up when our bodies are run down. For that reason, although most wouldn’t expect it, to heal our mind we must first start with our body. Thankfully, Ayurveda has an intricate and effective system for cleansing and rejuvenating the mind, body, and spirit called panchakarma.
Through this intricate process, we remove toxins, thus strengthening our immune system and balancing the body. Some of the therapies included in this holistic treatment are:
- Daily Ayurvedic oil massage
- Herbal steam therapy
- Lymphatic massage
- Nasal administrations
- Personalized Ayurvedic diet
When the toxins are fully removed from our tissues and digestive tract, we feel a remarkable sense of mental clarity. If you’d like to explore panchakarma deeply, check out our upcoming panchakarma retreat at our center in Boone, North Carolina.
Getting Enough Sleep
When it comes to curing mental health conditions, getting enough sleep is paramount. Unfortunately, many people who have these conditions suffer from insomnia. Thankfully, there are many natural remedies that can help you get a good night’s sleep. Some of these include:
- Maintaining a regular sleep schedule
- Avoiding nicotine, sugar, and caffeine, especially in the afternoon
- Eating dinner at least three hours before bed
- Eating a warm, moist, grounding dinner
- Avoiding alcohol
- Creating a regular bedtime ritual
- Limiting or avoiding daytime naps
- Including physical activity in your daily routine
- Taking a long, warm bath before bed
- Meditating before bed
- Stopping the use of electronics at least one hour before bed
- Taking herbs such as Brahmi, Vacha, Ashwagandha, and Valerian
- Trying breathing techniques such as alternate nostril breathing
- Giving yourself an Ayurvedic self-massage before bed
- Drinking a warm cup of almond milk before bed
- Drinking chamomile tea before bed.
Start a routine that includes any of these and you’ll be on your way to a good night’s sleep.
Take Care of Yourself During Pregnancy
Although many women expect to feel joyful after giving birth, unfortunately one in seven women experience postpartum depression. This condition is characterized by feeling stressed, sad, anxious, depressed, or lonely after giving birth to a child. Thankfully, Ayurveda has many recommendations for staying in good spirits after your baby is born. After delivering your child, you should:
- Opt for light, easy to digest foods such as kitchari
- Seek time and support from friends and family
- Catch up on your sleep
- Enjoy an Ayurvedic massage
- Spend time in nature
- Enjoy your hobbies
- Eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids with foods such as:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Olive Oil
- Hemp seeds
- Brussels Sprouts
- Try herbs such as St. John’s Wart.
If you take some of these tips to heart, you’ll be well on your way towards enjoying lovely time with your newborn.
Modern psychologists understand that well-being and happiness are created when we set and work towards meaningful goals. One great way to find meaning in our work and avoid mental health issues is being creative. Whether its creating a business, visual art, music, or dance, there are many ways to find meaning in your life. At our core, we are all creative beings, so definitely find ways to tap into this energy in your life.
Spend Time in Nature
Ah, the great outdoors. We all know how refreshing it is to spend a day in the sun, among the plants and wildlife. In fact, in 1982 the Japanese made this practice, known as forest bathing, part of their national health program.
Forest bathing shouldn’t be confused with hiking; it’s not about how many miles you travel or how high you climb; rather, it’s about slowing down and simply taking in the environment with all your senses: the smell of the fresh air, the sounds of the birds, and the beauty of the trees. Doing so can lead to great mental health benefits.
Although it sounds simple, this practice is proven to reduce cortisol levels, pulse, and blood pressure, leading us to feel less stressed. Furthermore, spending extended periods of time in forests is proven to significantly improve the immune system. With these benefits in mind, if the world has got you down, try getting back to your roots by exploring a park or forest near you.
Try our Upcoming Mental Health Retreat
All in all, if you begin incorporating some of these natural and holistic treatments into your daily routine, your stress, anxiety, and depression levels should begin to fade. As always, before trying any new treatments for mental health, be sure to talk to your physician first.
To explore some of these great natural remedies for stress, anxiety, and depression first hand, we recommend that you attend the upcoming Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic Stress Wellness Retreat at our center located in the beautiful mountains of Boone, North Carolina. Here, you’ll receive the one-on-one support of both Ayurvedic and board-certified Western doctors who will guide you through personalized practices based on your body type and lifestyle.
We hope to see you there and wish you all the best on your healing journey!