Dear Ayurvedic Abbie: Can Ayurveda Help My Anxiety?

February 10, 2015    BY Kathryn Templeton

Dear Ayurvedic Abbie:
I have been diagnosed with anxiety and am taking medication prescribed by my medical doctor. I don’t like taking medications and I was wondering what ayurveda says about treating anxiety. 

I have always been a little on the nervous side. It seems that my ability to sleep, relax, and focus have all gotten progressively worse since my mother died last year, at age 75.  She was always there for my family and me. 

I have lost weight (not such a bad thing really), and have had trouble with what my family calls “getting all worked up over nothing."

Any tips you can share to help me? Will I be on medications for the rest of my life? I love my yoga classes and used to do a little meditation, but lately it seems I just fall asleep in meditation and cannot seem to get to class. 

Flustered,
Nervous Natalie

Dear NN:

First let me say I am sorry that someone you love, your mother, has died. Loss strikes all of us differently. The relationships that we had with loved ones who have died may have served us in ways that we didn't realize while they were alive (I want to come back to this point in a moment). 

One great thing about ayurveda is that it can support Western medicine with lifestyle choices and healthy seasonal eating without conflict. I cannot answer your questions about medications. Only the doctor who made the diagnosis and prescribed the medication can answer those questions. I would suggest you consult your physician, if you haven't already, to inquire about medication management and the trajectory of your current treatment plan.

One great thing about ayurveda is that it can support Western medicine with lifestyle choices and healthy seasonal eating without conflict.

When I review the recent life changes that you shared, it seems to me that you're having an increase in the qualities of vata dosha. (No surprise, I'm sure!) Now, I would need to know more information about you in order to give really specific advice here; however, I can offer a few suggestions to help manage vata and support your ojas (deep vitality and immunity), even without a full ayurvedic consultation.

Hang on—I'm going to nerd out for a bit... 

Our mind-body connection is organized on many platforms, or koshas. In yoga and ayurveda, we use various techniques to increase coordination and communication between these systems to enhance our ability to be calm and aware. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) work together to help us navigate life. The SNS “heats us up” to get going when opportunity strikes or when we feel threatened, while the PSNS “cools us down” to feel safe, empathetic, and attentive. These partners in our nervous system feed two neural networks, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the amygdala hub, that further create how we view, respond, and react to our lives. 

When the ACC and the amygdala hub are not in sync, there is a disconnect that we might describe as a miscommunication between the head and the heart. While anatomically speaking it's true that both of these complexes are located in the brain, ayurveda designates the mind and the heart as the same organ. And so, from an ayurvedic perspective, it becomes apparent that any lack of coordination between the  ACC and the amygdala hub is capable of creating all kinds of difficulty in our ability to feel safe, attentive, motivated, empathetic, and aware. However, when the two are in sync, the logical ACC and the emotional amygdala complex work together to create the type of tranquility and steadiness that we rely upon to function healthily. 

And so, quite understandably, it sounds as if your head and your heart are having difficulty working together in your attempt to move forward. Grief for the loss of your mother, among other issues, might be creating some of the phenomena troubling you: sleeplessness, weight loss, lack of mental focus, and a decrease in emotional durability. 

I invite you to listen to a little talk about grief and I suggest that you start to take three meals a day, the largest at noon, composed of only warm and moist foods. And try this nighty-night drink too—please don’t skip the saffron as it, along with the warm milk, ghee, and sweet honey, will really help to build and support your vital ojas!  

And by the way, taking your medication is often an important part of the healing process. It can be tough to take medication everyday, but that medication is what will support your tarpaka, or white matter, panchaka, or grey matter, as well as your PSNS. Sometimes we need outside support to help us get through the day, get to therapy, get to yoga class, or be able to manage the “sway of the wave.” After a while, with support, self-care, and tenderness, we can paddle out in the surf and get up on the board ourselves. 

It can be tough to take medication everyday, but that medication is what will support your tarpaka, or grey matter, as well as your PSNS.

Until then, a little yoga nidra, warm abyhanga (self-oil massage), and mindful nourishment of digestible foods will go a long way toward getting you ready to ride the waves of joy.

Blessings,
Ayurvedic Abbie

Send your question to: AyurvedicAbbie@Yogainternational.com

Kathryn Templeton
Kathryn Templeton, MA, RDT/MT, E-RYT 500, is an Ayurvedic practitioner who has devoted her life to the health of others. A psychotherapist for more than 30 years, Kathryn is a master teacher in the field of Drama Therapy and continues to work both clinically and as an educator specializing in the treatment of individuals with complex trauma. As an E-RYT 500, NAMA Certified Ayurvedic practitioner and senior Para Yoga teacher, Kathryn has worked to develop specialized treatments integrating the... Read more>>