Monday, March 30, 2020

Coping with Change & Anxiety: Ayurvedic Tips

By Dr. Leena Athparia, ND, AAWC 

We are currently living in a time of constant change. With the recent pandemic, it may feel like life has turned upside down for some and for others it can be a scary time of uncertainty. You may be scared about getting sick or worried about finances and job security or you may be concerned about the wellbeing of your loved ones. Whichever the case, fear is a natural response to the unknown - a natural instinct to a perceived threat. While it is normal to experience stress, long term anxiety can be consuming, exhausting and detrimental to your health. It can also spill over into your daily life and relationships.

In this blog, I want to share a few tips from the wisdom of Ayurveda & naturopathic medicine to help you cope during this time and make this an opportunity for positive change and raising consciousness. We won't elaborate on the symptoms and causes of anxiety in this blog, but you can read more in this previous blog Is Change Causing Your Anxiety?.

Stress Response

In times of stress, what is your response? Choose from the below options if any sentence resonates with you:

1. I feel anxious, restless, edgy. My mind is racing and I can't fall asleep.

2. I feel frustrated, irritable and angry. I don't like when things are not under control.

3. I feel defeated, lethargic and unmotivated. I feel like 'giving up' and 'what's the point of doing anything'.

Do you relate to any particular sentence? #1 is primarily a Vata response to stress. These types of people are naturally worriers and feel anxious quickly. They may feel tightness in their chest, have trouble taking deep breaths and feel 'wired and tired'.

#2 is a Pitta response to stress. These types are generally very organised and like things in control. When things get out of control, they may feel frustrated and angry and take it out on the people around them.  They need tools to help them 'cool' down and make room to 'allow'.

#3 is a Kapha response to stress. These dosha types may handle stress the best - at least on the outside. However, their coping mechanism is to shut down and feel defeated. They may stop exercising, doing activities and can get depressed. If you have friends and family like this, you need to support them by keeping them motivated and checking up on them.

When you understand your constitution and your response to stress, it becomes easier to take charge of what you need to do to stay balanced. Here's a link to a brief Ayurvedic Quiz if you want to learn more about vata, pitta, kapha and which dosha may be dominant at this time. Rather than wait and hope for the problem to go away, we can take ownership of our body, mind & emotions to improve our resilience to stress. Below are some of the tools that you can use.

Ayurvedic Tips to Stay Grounded 

Regardless of whether you are anxious in the midst of a pandemic or general life stress, Ayurveda has many tools to support a healthy, balanced body, mind & spirit. There is a lot of information circulating around including health tips, so it is important to pick a few tips that you can do on a regular basis to keep yourself healthy.


With recent changes in lifestyles or routines, you may feel more easily 'thrown off'. Working from home, adjusting to new schedules can be initially chaotic until you find your new pattern. Incorporate these fundamentals into your day to help stay balanced.

  • Set Routine: you may find it helpful to plan a schedule of your day to include work time, exercise, meals, breaks as well as time for self-care (warm bath, reading a book, listening to music, or Ayurvedic self-massage).
  • Sleep: set a goal for bedtime, ideally by 10-11pm and ensure around 7-8 hours of sleep. According to the the Ayurvedic clock, 10pm-2am is the Pitta time of the night. If you stay away during this time (watching tv, reading news etc), you may be more prone to insomnia, anxiety and poorer quality sleep. While most Canadians are sleep-deprived, over-sleeping can be lead to fatigue and lack of motivation.
  • Limit News: while it may be tempting to keep up to date with the latest happenings, news can make you feel worried, upset, anxious about the future. Especially if you are vata dominant, news can have a significant impact on your nervous system. Set a limit as to how much you read and limit to 1-2 times/day, ideally not before bed. 
  • Nature Time: as many people are limiting their commuting and staying more indoors, it is crucial to get fresh air and connect with nature - earth element, which can help balance vata and pitta doshas. Find a nearby park where you can walk safely, maintaining social distancing.

Diet & Nutrition

Food plays a vital role in managing anxiety and supporting you through change. Here are a few Ayurvedic tips:
  • Dosha Diet: the best diet is a diet that is suited to your dosha type. In times of prolonged anxiety, many people will benefit from a vata diet which includes grounding foods. Those who are feeling sluggish or gaining weight will often benefit from a kapha-friendly diet. 
  • Support Agni: essentially, healthy eating is about keeping healthy agni - or digestive fire. By keeping your agni in good shape, you are also able to digest well. Read more in this blog about supporting agni.
  • Fasting: if you find yourself at home and constantly craving food, you may want to consider doing a cleanse or juice fast o reset your system. This needs some planning and guidance from your ND to see what is safe for you. This is especially great for Kapha types who are concerned with gaining weight during social distancing/working from home.

Mental, Emotional, Spiritual Wellness

While lockdowns and efforts to maintain social distancing have their purpose, many people are already experiencing the impacts of reducing social contact. Humans are social beings and when they are restricted, many people start to anxiety, frustration, restlessness and depression. Mental health is critical to holistic wellness. Yoga, the sister science of Ayurveda is a deep science that looks beyond the physical body to support the subtler aspects of life and is an excellent way of building ojas and prana. Below are some resources and tools to help you take charge of your wellness.

  • Breathing: when we feel anxious, we tend to hold our breath. Gaining awareness over your breathing can help you manage anxiety and promote oxygenation and lung capacity. You can try this simple but powerful technique, known as pranayam, which helps promote relaxation: Nadi Shuddhi - alternate nostril breathing
  • Yoga & Meditation: many yoga studios are offering live online yoga classes.  If your gym is closed and you're needing some motivation, this is a great way to improve physical activity while dissolving stress. If you don't already have a favourite yoga studio, you can check out this studio currently offering online classes. You can also check this resource for many free yoga & meditation practices geared towards building health & immunity.

Herbs & Spices

Many herbs, spices and supplements can support your nervous system and immune system, but remember, no two bodies are the same! Herbs and spices are easily accessible, can even be grown at home and add lovely flavour to your food.

  • Tulsi: known as Holy Basil is a very popular Ayurvedic herb used for lung health as well as for stress. It is soothing, calming and very easy to take as a tea. 
  • Brahmi/Bacopa: a therapeutic Ayurvedic herb that supports the brain and nervous function. This is an excellent tonic that reduces cortisol levels and elevates mood.
  • Saffron: this exotic spice can be warmed in a little milk or alternative milk as a bedtime drink with other spices according to your dosha. Saffron has been studied to improve depression and is a great tonic for the nervous system. 

While you may be experiencing anxiety and worry about the future, keep in mind that many people may be experiencing the same. Be patient and understanding with your friends, family members, colleagues and don't be afraid to ask for support. Speak with your naturopathic doctor if your worry or anxiety is getting in the way of your daily activities. There are many ways we can help and provide you with ways to build your resilience to stress - whether it is through counselling, customised herbs or re-evaluating your treatment plan.  Together, we will get through challenging times and come through stronger and more resilient!

Dr. Leena Athparia is a naturopathic doctor with advanced training in Ayurveda and can help you identify your constitution to guide you on a customized health plan – whether you have specific health concerns or just want to promote general wellness. Please contact Naturopathic Foundations Health Clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.

Safety and Efficacy of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for Treating Mild to Moderate Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis: