Unpacking Anxiety and Depression

You and I both know that Anxiety and Depression aren't rare conditions anymore. There is a lot of data showing that these issues are on the rise in the US, especially in children and teens. SSRIs are common medications and mental health is becoming a national epidemic, along with obesity. 

From an Ayurvedic perspective, Anxiety and Depression are simply imbalances that can be corrected through how we are living (which ultimately impacts our brain chemistry and nervous systems).

Anxiety is a Vata imbalance where the elements of Air and Space are too elevated, leading to feelings of overwhelm and ungroundedness; like you are going in too many directions at once. There is too much movement in the mind and the energy is moving up and out, like everything is being tossed around in a powerful wind. 

Depression, on the other hand, is an imbalance of Kapha where the elements of Earth and Water keep a person feeling heavy in their mood and body and dull in their mind. Nothing seems worth doing and expending energy seems pointless. The energy is moving down and remains stagnant. 

Often, Anxiety and Depression co-exist. Really, the labels aren't necessary, but living in rhythm with the energies of nature heal both imbalances. 

I have struggled with both Anxiety and Depression in the past, and I think for a long time, I wasn't able to conceive of things being different. I just thought something was innately wrong with me. I felt anxiety as waves that would wash over me, and in college I even had a panic attack. I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) because I felt so low and uninspired in the winter months. Everything got so bad by my mid-30s that I resorted to taking a small dose of Zoloft for a year-and-a-half.

Then I found Ayurveda!

Side note: SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) can be helpful in the short term. They were actually never designed to be used long term. Yet, our modern medical system is handing them out like candy, as if they provide the ultimate solution.  However, they have many side-effects, not the least of which is hormonal fall-out for women, and are quite hard to stop taking once you have started.

The fog of confusion cleared and I was able to see how I could make different choices and bring myself into balance in a way I never dreamed possible. Since learning these tools (some of which I share below) I have been inspired to help others heal in the same way. The 10 Habits of the Vitality Circle are designed to bring us back into balance - easing Anxiety and Depression is often a side effect of focusing on healing other health issues, when addressed Ayurvedically.

Here are some suggestions of things you can apply right away to help yourself. This is not an extensive list, but a place to start the process:

- Both Anxiety and Depression ease when there is structure or routine and a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. Eat your meals at consistent times, and plan your day so you don't becoming uninspired or get lost in overwhelm.

- Choose wisely and protect yourself from what comes in through your senses (especially with Anxiety). Avoid what overstimulates your nervous system: be it listening to/watching the news, getting on social media, or being around large crowds/loud music as it could further stimulate and overwhelm your nervous system. Sensory overload is not helpful. 

- Wake before the sun and allow the morning time to be precious and easy, not rushed. Walking toward the rising sun is especially beneficial for Depression because of the exposure to the cooler spectrum of light.

- Move your body. Exercise. Build heat and let go of wound up energy from Anxiety or move out stagnant energy from Depression. Walk, run, bike, go to the gym, do yoga, do 30 jumping jacks, just move!

- Massage your body daily with sesame oil for Anxiety and dry brush your body daily for Depression. Oiling calms and grounds. Dry brushing stimulates and uplifts. Both are detoxifying.

- Use Alternate Nostril Breathing (nadi shodhana) as it balances the hemispheres of the brain and the solar and lunar channels of the body. Try 5 minutes in the morning and the evening. 

- Avoid refined sugars and processed foods. These lead to further Vata and Kapha imbalances. 

- Connect to a deeper purpose each day, or several times throughout the day. What are your unique gifts to share with the world? You are not here by accident! The focus of purpose grounds Vata, the inspiration uplifts Kapha.

These epidemics of our time beg some personal examination. If you or someone you know is struggling with Anxiety and/or Depression, know that you are not alone. As we get pushed by modern life into deeper imbalances, we can wake up to the choices we have and empower ourselves toward a more thriving future. I am here to support and guide you!

Are you with me? Do you believe you can heal yourself? Which one of the practices above are you going to try out? Get curious and notice the difference tiny habit changes make. There is so much to learn from Ayurveda, so start small and simple and trust your path. 

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