Mira Sharma, a bank officer, slumped into the chair one morning while getting ready for office. Her heart was racing, she was sweating and felt scared and was unable to understand what was happening. After consulting the doctor Mira found out that it was a panic attack caused by acute anxiety due to work stress, hectic schedule and sleep deprivation.
What is Anxiety and Panic?
Anxiety is a normal emotion, essential for our survival. As hunter gatherers, humans had always to be on guard to defend themselves through F3 or the Fight-Flight-Freeze response, the body’s in-built response to protect from threat or danger.
This response was critical for our survival in case of real threat or danger. In the prehistoric times the body required the adrenaline to fight or race through the jungles. However, once the animal was killed or a safe place found, the body would become normal. Today, we neither fight the attacker or physically run, we tend to fret and fume.
Anxiety becomes an issue when a person starts worrying intensely and incessantly about everyday life situations.
Anxiety triggers F3 response if we believe there is threat even if there is none. For example, you may be anxious about the office presentation and yell at your child for no apparent reason (fight). Or you leave the office cafeteria when you notice someone you don't get along well with, join the group (flight), or your mind goes blank while giving a lecture(freeze). These situations are not dangerous situations but your system may go on high alert.
Too much anxiety leads to panic. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks stem from the same cause but manifest differently. The symptoms include palpitations, breathlessness, chest pain, headache, fatigue, trembling and insomnia.
Panic attacks are sudden and diminish after some time, but after an anxiety attack, the anxious feeling doesn't completely leave and can get triggered anytime.
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental disorders characterized by feelings of fear, GAD or generalised anxiety, panic disorder, phobias especially social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Doctors believe that genetics, hormonal imbalance, endocrine disorders, personality type, social causes and addiction to drugs as probable causes.
The constant overstimulation of the nervous system due to work pressure, deadlines, perpetual background noise, overexposure to artificial light and sleep deprivation can cause a variety of physical, mental and emotional problems. Difficult life situations like divorce, losing a loved one, financial issues, major illness or prolong exposure to war, abuse or violence are some other causes.
According to a study in 2015 by WHO, the global prevalence of anxiety disorders was estimated to be 3.6%. The study also found that incidence of anxiety disorders is more in women as compared to men.
The Charaka Samhita says that the body and mind are both responsible for health and disease. Harmonious interaction between the mind and body results in total well-being.
Ayurveda believes that physiology and psychology are interwoven and inseparable and need to be addressed in the treatment of any disease. Every patient is distinct and requires a different treatment to achieve healing on every level.
Anxiety known as Chittodvege in Ayurveda is a result of imbalance of vata dosha. Each Dosha affects mental health. Aggravated vata creates anxiety, aggravated kapha creates depression and aggravated pitta is marked by anger. Pacification of vata helps in decreasing anxiety.
Ayurveda recommends the following. Always consult a medical expert before embarking on any new health regime.
- Follow regular mealtimes
- Eat warm cooked meals in oil. Avoid dry foods like popcorn and chips
- Include beetroot, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, sweet corn, pumpkins and radish.
- Legumes like mung beans, mung and pigeon peas can be included but need to be cooked properly.
- Include homey, milk, ghee, fresh butter and buttermilk
- Avoid sugar, caffeine, artificial fizzy drinks, raw and frozen food and deep fried foods.
- Drink warm water
- Get fresh air and sun shine. Exposure to natural light is essential
- Massage warm sesame oil on your forehead and temples. Abhyanga or full body oil massage before bath is helpful.
- Follow a regular de-stressing practice
- Take a warm water bath at night before going to bed.
- Drink a glass of warm milk with honey and saffron before bed to pacify vata.
- Make a paste of 2 almonds soaked overnight and peeled, 3 tsp grated fresh coconut, 1 tsp fennel powder, 1/4 tsp black pepper powder and 3-4 tsp of rock candy (Mishri). Mix all ingredients and drink with saffron milk.
- Add a few fresh rose petals to a cup of boiling water. Let it cool. Add 1/4 tsp of sugar and drink twice a day.
By following the Ayurvedic practices, our self-healing abilities get enhanced. When the three doshas are balanced, all the body systems work in harmony to cope with stressful situations without getting agitated or overwhelmed. A calm nervous system is your best defence against anxiety and panic.
(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer, and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting and travel.)
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