Our physical health depends on several important factors such as the constitution we have inherited from our parents, the type of food we eat and the amount of exercise we give our body. Along with these, it is increasingly becoming obvious that the state of mind plays a major role in deciding how well the body functions. Stress can drastically reduce the ability of the immune system to defend the body against illness and therefore, it is vital to take steps to deal with stress. Here are a few natural remedies that can help you combat stress or deal with it in a healthy way.
Eat the right food
According to Ayurveda, food possesses three qualities or gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattvik food is light, fresh and nutritious, rajasik food is spicy and hot and fans emotions, and tamasik foods are stale and promote the sense of inertia. Obviously, the consumption of a diet rich in rajasik and tamasik foods is bound to keep you in a state of mind that is most conducive to stress whereas a sattvik diet helps with keeping the mind calm. So make sure you include foods such as pulses, fresh vegetables and fruits, milk and grains such as rice and tapioca. Avoid an excess of hot chutneys and pickles, sour cream, chicken, fish, meat, cheese, onion, garlic and urad dal and you will find a noticeable change for the better, in your ability to cope with stressful situations. (Read: Understanding Ayurveda: Know thy Doshas)
Use relaxing herbs
Certain herbs such as cardamom (elaichi), lettuce, celery, peppermint, chamomile and fennel (saunf) contain phytoconstituents that have wonderful relaxing properties. Make these a part of your diet in the form of herbal tea or by working them into the dishes you cook for some stress relief.
Ayurveda recommends the use of adaptogenic herbs (that help the body and mind adapt better to stressful conditions) over time can also help you cultivate a calm mind that does not easily get swayed by extreme emotions. Herbs such as aswagandha, jatamansi, guduchi, brahmi, tulsi and shankhpushpi help to restore the imbalance in the elements that make up the body and mind. However, it is important you avoid self-medication with these herbs – take them only under the prescription of a registered Ayurvedic practitioner who is well-versed with their use.
Have an oil massage
Remember the annoying oil massage and hot water bath your grandmother or mother insisted you have at least once a week? It may have been a cause of stress during childhood because you resented it, but according to Ayurveda, abhyanga – the application of oil to the entire body – at regular intervals is an easy way of relaxing not just the body, but also the mind. Use any oil – castor, sesame or coconut – heat it to make it warm and rub it into the scalp, hair and all over the body; allow the oil to remain for an hour or two and then bathe with hot water. You will actually feel the stress and strain wash out of your system. For even better relaxation, mix in a little powder of shankhpushpi or brahmi into the oil you use for the massage. (Read: Aromatherapy: Identify your essential oil with Ayurveda)
Cut down on unhealthy beverages
Most of us are addicted to some form of liquid stimulant that we believe makes us more alert and able to deal with the myriad things life brings our way. Caffeine and alcohol tends to increase feelings of anxiety and stress. Cut down on your intake of such beverages and you are sure to observe your stress levels becoming much more manageable.
In our constant rush to meet deadlines and do things on time? Your breathing might be the one to take the hit. A lack of proper deep breaths greatly reduces the amount of oxygen which is a major reason for increasing stress levels. To combat this, make it a point to breathe in slowly and deeply a few times every morning and night – feel your stomach and chest expand as you inhale, and fall as you exhale. Breathe in as you slowly count from 1 to 5, hold for five counts and then exhale while counting from 1 to 5. If possible, learn the techniques of pranayama from a qualified instructor and practice every day. Whenever you feel yourself getting tense, practice this deep breathing a few times and you will find the feeling of crisis tide over almost effortlessly. Over time, you will find it easier to cope better with unpleasant situations without getting stressed.
Stress is a natural response to situations we have to face, but the fact remains that a similar situation may leave one individual a mess but another, untouched. What this implies is that how stressed you feel largely depends on the way you choose to respond to a stressful situation. With the right diet, breathing techniques and the use of adaptogenic herbs, it is possible to alter this response and cultivate a positive attitude that will help us face life’s challenges with courage and strength, without losing our cool.
Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of stress.
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