Not only does each one of us react differently to stress, but different types of stressors may also elicit completely different reactions from the same person.
Stress can make one person feel anxious to the point of devouring a stash of Halloween candy, while someone else may experience a loss of appetite but want to blame and lash out at their significant other. Yet another may feel hopelessly powerless and resigned to inaction and lethargy!
Similarly, different types of stress may evoke different reactions from the same person. For example, a looming deadline may make you feel one type of stress while a traffic jam could trigger a completely different kind.
While Ayurveda believes our reaction to stress is determined by our dominant mind-body or ‘dosha’ type, for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to boil stress down to 3 distinct stress types and give you the Ayurveda recommended remedies for each of these three. Now, you may experience one, two or all three of these types of stress at different times, depending on the stressor and your mind-body state. So, the key to effective stress management is to quickly recognize what kind of stress you’re experiencing so you can deal with it in the most effective way possible.
The Three Stress Types
This is when stress turns you into a crazy person. Your thoughts race, you feel distracted and anxious, you check your email nonstop and can’t sleep.
According to Ayurveda, this kind of stress is caused by a ‘Vata’ (air element) imbalance. As like attracts like, dealing with stress requires providing stimulus that’s opposite in nature to the ethereal, air and space elements that are out of whack. In the case of a Vata imbalance, that means plenty of warmth and grounding. Here’s what your hyper stress needs:
- Food: warm, thick oily foods such as hot stews, creamy soups, or warm milk with nutmeg and cardamom
- Activity: anything that keeps your body warm. If you need to burn off your nervous energy take a yoga class or a leisurely walk or then just dance it out in your living room
- Herbs and oils: you guessed it, it’s the warming ones such as ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom that balance Vata
- Pranayam (breathing exercises): Ujjayi breathing to ground the mind. That’s when you keep your mouth closed and begin by imagining you are breathing in from the base of your throat to create a sort of whispering sound that lengthens your natural breath.
- Yoga: Slow, meditative practice, including Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Vrkasana (Tree Pose), Balasana (Child's Pose), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), and Halasana (Plow Pose)
This is the kind of stress that makes you angry, critical and borderline obsessive (you can’t let it go!)
According to Ayurveda, this kind of stress is caused by a ‘Pitta’ (fire element) imbalance and needs to be balanced by finding ways to cool down as below:
- Food: cooling foods such as cucumbers, melon, fresh mint and raw fennel and drinks like coconut water or aloe vera juice
- Activity: swimming or a walk if it’s cool outside
- Herbs and Oils: lavender, jasmine, sandalwood and rose
- Pranayam (breathing exercises): alternate nostril breathing to cool down. Close the right nostril with the thumb, and exhale your natural breath out the left nostril. You will keep the hand where it is, and simply inhale deeply through the left nostril. Then closing the left nostril with the ring finger, exhale out the right. Continue on like this, alternating the inhale and exhale from side to side for 5 minutes.
- Yoga: Mild hatha, gentle vinyasa, restorative, or Iyengar Yoga; include twists and seated forward folds like Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Janu Sirasana (Head-to-Knee Pose), and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend).
Finally, this is the kind of stress that paralyses you into inaction and can even make you feel borderline sad or depressed. You don’t feel like getting up and doing anything – except eating.
According to Ayurveda, this kind of stress is caused by a ‘Kapha’ (water and earth element) imbalance and needs to be balanced by finding ways rev up your system as below:
- Food: light foods such as artichokes, broccoli and cranberries; avoid sweets, nuts and full fat dairy
- Activity: Hit the gym! Anything strenuous and stimulating is good for you
- Herbs and Oils: Rosemary and frankincense
- Pranayam (breathing exercises): Kapalabhati (Shining Skull Breath). Breathe in but not all the way to the top of the lungs, just a normal inhale, and then exhale forcefully such that your belly is pushed in. Repeat, focusing on the exhale and letting the inhale happen as a matter of course.
- Yoga: Heat producing, vigorous movement including Sun Salutations, backbends, and inversions; practice chest-opening poses, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) and Ustrasana (Camel Pose), and heart-opening poses, such as Matsyasana (Fish Pose) to pick up your spirits.
And finally, for the Universal Stress Buster (this works on ALL types of stress).
Acceptance. What you resist will persist. Don’t resist stress, accept it fully. As Susan David, Ph.D., a Psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and author of the book Emotional Agility says:
“Only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure. Tough emotions are part of our contract with life. You don’t get to have a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
On a happier note, this daily affirmation helps us accept and even embrace our stress:
"All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation only good will come. I am safe." – Louise Hay
You’ve got this. Now get back to being super woman.