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Each of us has experienced stress in our lives, which can be brought about by so many reasons: financial concerns, family problems, work pressure, and so on. Stress can also be brought about by environmental factors, such as not receiving sufficient natural light and air, chemicals from food, and the intake of stimulants, including caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol.
According to Ayurveda, stress is a state where the mind is imbalanced. The mind is considered to be balanced when it is not agitated, and is firm and stable. When the mind is in a stable state, the individual has the maximum potential to act or behave in ways that continue to keep the mind in a balanced state.
More specifically, the mind has three states or "gunas". They are "sattva" (knowledge, purity), "rajas" (action, passion) and "tamas" (inertia, ignorance). Mental disorders or imbalances are caused when "sattva" decreases and "rajas" and "tamas" increase. As "sattva" decreases, mental strength, determination, and the power to discriminate (to distinguish right from wrong) also decrease. When such a state is prolonged, the mind becomes stressed. This may then lead to other mental disorders like anxiety, depression, fear, and nervous debility.
As mentioned earlier, in this jet age, each one of us is exposed to some amount of stress. Some of us can handle stress in a better way than others. In our own lives we come across situations when we can efficiently deal with high amount of stress. There are also occasions when a little stress is difficult to overcome. This depends on the quantity of "sattva" we have at a particular time. When situated in a state of high "sattva" a person is calm, thoughtful, patient, tolerant and demonstrates a high positive attitude. On the other hand, high level of "rajas" and "tamas" leads to a state of hopelessness, despair, impatience, fear, and anxiety. In such a situation, a person becomes confused, lazy and weak in mental power. Such a person demonstrates a negative attitude, and is unable to deal with mental stress.
To conclude, one should try to attain the state of high "sattva" and minimize "rajas" and "tamas". "Rajas" and "tamas" also have a role in various functions in the body like action (passion) and sleep. When "sattva" is in abundance, the functions of "rajas" and "tamas" are positive and constructive. In this state they help us in attaining a state of balance or health. For example, while expressing anger or negotiating a business contract, you do express passion (rajas) but if "sattva" is high, one can come back to the balanced state. In other words, negative emotions appear only externally and will not harm your mental health. In the decreased state of "sattva", the functions (actions) become negative and create a state of imbalance. In this state the person is overcome by "rajas" or "tamas" and may express destructive actions, such as stabbing while fighting, feeling envy towards your own family members, exploiting your juniors, violence, or even murder. Therefore the state of "sattva" plays an important role in attaining mental health.
Below are some methods of increasing "sattva", which if followed, will bring about results remarkably fast.
In Ayurveda, food is considered to be an important medicine for both mind and body. In order to reduce stress, one should try to choose foods that increase "sattva". Fresh fruits, fruit juices, vegetables (raw or cooked or boiled), vegetable juices, sprouts, nuts, dry fruits, honey, milk, ghee, fresh butter, and buttermilk are the best to increase sattva. Do not be misled by "fresh frozen" food items available in stores and try to get "fresh seasonal" items.
Try to cut down, or if possible stop, the use of black tea, coffee, white flour products, chocolates, white sugar products, deep fried foods and hot spices. These items increase "rajas".
The foods that increase "tamas" are foods that contain no "prana" or life energy. These include meat, fish, eggs and foods that are spoiled or contain chemicals. Some of these foods may contain nutrition for the body but their effect on mind is detrimental. Ayurveda cares for the complete person (body, mind, soul) and therefore advises vegetarianism. Vegetarian food does not mean bland, tasteless or raw vegetables and salads. There is a huge range of tasty and satisfying recipes that are easy to prepare and are "sattvic" in nature.
Mind has a very close relation with breathing. A person has short and shallow breathing when anxious or stressed and has deep breathing when relaxed and happy. Next time you become stressed, watch your breathing. Try to slow it down. Take a relaxed position and breathe deep using the abdomen muscles. Let the diaphragm expand while breathing in, and contract while breathing out. This will immediately relax you. It is always good to take short breaks at regular intervals from the busy schedule and relax (by abdominal breathing) for a few minutes.
Exercise is not only good for physical health, but is also good for recreation and relaxation of mind. It changes the levels of hormones in the blood and may elevate the mood affecting brain chemicals. It is advisable to do some exercise according to your strength at a regular time of the day, preferably in the morning. The exercise should initiate action in all parts of the body. Brisk walking is a good exercise to start with. Yoga is also a very good form of exercise Playing indoor games and swimming (not for competition) is also relaxing.
Meditation is a method of calming your thoughts by focusing on an object for a period of time. One can concentrate on an object, picture, sound or "mantra". One should sit in a lotus position or a comfortable posture while meditating. According to the research performed in recent years, it has been found that meditation slows down the breathing process, normalizes blood pressure, relaxes muscles and helps to reduce anxiety and stress.
It is very important to take short breaks from work and relax the mind. A Yoga posture known as "Shavasana" or "dead body pose" is a simple way to relax. Lie down on your back with legs a bit apart and hands making a 15-degree angle with the body. Let each and every muscle of the body be relaxed. Close your eyes and focus your mind on your breathing. Breathe deep and watch your breathing in your mind. This posture can be done for five minutes once or twice a day.
A gentle massage on the head (with or without oil), using your favorite aroma or fragrance, listening to soft music, chanting of "mantras" and prayers also help to relax the mind.
Applying oil on the body (abhyanga) at least once a week is a good method to relax the body and mind. Pouring oil on forehead (shiro dhara) is another popular Ayurvedic remedy for relaxing the tension in nerves and head. If you have access to Ayurvedic herbs you can use Brahmi or Shankhapushpi in powder form internally.
Keeping a record of what causes you stress and then eliminating that cause from your routine helps to manage stress. Generally we live either in the past or in the future and our mind is not even aware of our present actions. It is beneficial to focus the mind on the present actions. This helps one to become aware of the negative thoughts and other causes responsible for stress. We can then try to eliminate these by thinking rationally and positively.
Another way of increasing the state of "sattva" and stabilizing it is learning about self. Reading spiritual books and exploring spirituality can put things into perspective, and help in reducing stress.
Although all these remedies provide some relief from the mental stress immediately, it is important that you make them a part of your life process. That will keep your mind in a state of high "sattva", and you will be healthy, happy and peaceful always.
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