And so it begins. You deck the halls, prepare the food, get gussied up, and … whoosh! There is that debilitating wave of anxiety, aggravation, and … dread? Even for those who enjoy celebrating with family meals and company parties, this time of year can be triggering. Who hasn’t had a celebratory meal turn sour due to long-swallowed resentments or overwhelming fatigue?
Changing your daily routine, visiting family and friends, traveling, managing obligations, and adjusting your diet can have serious physical, mental, and emotional effects. The effects of these stressors on the human body include:
- Sleep issues
- Digestive problems
- Muscle pain
- Lack of motivation
Some amount of stress is good and leads to increased alertness, improved performance, and improved memory. Most of the long-term effects of stress, however, are detrimental and lead to a greater likelihood of disease and disorders. With that in mind, especially at this time of year when the weather changes and your routines change, you could benefit from being a bit more compassionate with your family, friends, and yourself.
One way to approach the potentially unbalancing effects of the holiday season is through Ayurveda. Ayurveda, which means “knowledge of life,” is an ancient, holistic health system. It has its origins in India and is considered the sister science of yoga.
Through Ayurveda, you honor the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space/ether—both within the environment and within your own body. You use the food in your kitchen as a medicine cabinet, along with herbs and oils, and focus on healing all parts of your being: body, mind, and spirit.
In Ayurveda, healing is approached according to your dosha, or your constitution and personal nature. You can take a quiz online or visit an Ayurvedic practitioner to find out your dosha. The doshas are various combinations of the elements. You have all five elements within you but you will have more or less of one or the other.. The doshas are:
The main goal in Ayurveda is harmony and balance. If there is a disturbance that causes disease in the body or mind, you simply don’t feel balanced. From an Ayurvedic perspective, to find balance you need to know that like increases like and opposite actions balance. So, as you look to manage holiday stress based on your primary dosha, remember that you’re striving for balance!
Ayurveda is quite intuitive. As you consider the following guidelines for managing holiday stress based on each dosha, don’t think about it too much. Remember, whatever foods, practices, people, and activities allow you to feel energized, awake, and healthy is what you should do, eat, and practice. You can trust yourself.
The following is a guideline for managing holiday stress based on each dosha, with recommendations for exercise, diet, and essential oils.
Vata dosha is characterized by the air and space elements. If Vata is your predominant dosha, you are very affected by wind, cold, and dryness. This time of year, Vata people may be especially prone to anxiety, a sense of ungroundedness, general uneasiness, constipation, or gas. Vata types need routine, grounding activities, and warm foods for balance.
Exercise: Do exercise that is grounding, warming, and allows free-flowing movement. For example, try the following activities:
- Yin yoga
- Vinyasa yoga
- Tai Chi
- Low-impact aerobic exercise
Diet: Vata people need to favor warm foods. Try these Vata-balancing practices:
- Eat foods with sweet, sour, and salty tastes.
- Favor rice, quinoa, wheat, and cooked oats (dry oats can be aggravating).
- Minimize consumption of astringent, dried, and raw fruits (cooked, sweet fruits are fine). Favor cooked or steamed vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots.
- Cook with sesame oil, olive oil, and ghee; and use warming spices such as ginger, garlic, and cayenne pepper.
- Drink warm, chamomile herbal and ginger tea, and stay away from alcohol and sugar.
- Other sweet, warming oils
The Pitta dosha is characterized by the fire and water elements. If Pitta is your primary dosha, you are very affected by heat, warm air, and spicy food. This time of year, Pitta people may be particularly prone to anger, irritation, seasonal affective disorder, diarrhea, or neck pain. Pitta types need stability, grounding practices, and cooling foods for balance.
Exercise: Do exercise that is relaxing, cooling, and restorative. For example, try the following activities:
- Weight lifting
- Martial arts
- Restorative yoga
- Yin yoga
Diet: Pitta people need to favor soothing, cooling foods. Try these Pitta-balancing practices:
- Eat foods with sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes.
- Favor rice, quinoa, and wheat.
- Minimize consumption of sour fruits and favor bitter vegetables, cooked or raw, like kale, broccoli, squash, cucumber, and peas.
- Cook with ghee, sunflower oil, or coconut oil, and use cooling spices and herbs such as fennel, coriander, cardamom, and dill.
- Drink warm peppermint herbal tea and stay away from alcohol and sugar.
Essential oils: For aromatherapy, try the following oils:
- Clary sage
- Other sweet, cooling fragrances
The Kapha dosha is characterized by the earth and water elements. If your predominant dosha is Kapha, you are strongly affected by the darker days of winter and often find the couch or bed very inviting. This time of year, Kapha people may be prone to sluggishness, depression, tiredness, congestion, and bloating. Kapha types need some inspiration and motivation, and may need others to help them get up and get them motivated to move.
Exercise: Do exercise that is energizing and invigorating. For example, try the following activities:
- Heated yoga
- Rock climbing
- Aerobic sports like basketball, tennis, or ultimate Frisbee
Diet: Kapha people need to favor warming, spicy, and astringent foods. Try these Kapha-balancing practices:
- Eat foods with bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes.
- Favor corn, millet, rye, and buckwheat.
- Minimize consumption of sour, juicy fruits and favor steamed vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and eggplant.
- Cook with sunflower, safflower, or canola oil, and use fragrant spices such as garlic, ginger, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. Use spices in general while cooking as they are pungent, astringent, or bitter and therefore balancing for Kapha.
- Drink warm ginger tea or chai herbal tea and stay away from alcohol and sugar.
Essential oils: For aromatherapy, try the following oils:
Whether you’re traveling or staying home, partaking in the pleasantries or skipping it all, as the holidays come and go, and as you prepare for the end of the year and celebrate the season with loved ones, it’s important to practice self-care. Remember: self-care is not selfish! When you show up for yourself and treat yourself with kindness and compassion, even if it’s just for an hour each day, you are better able to show up as the best version of yourself for your family, friends, coworkers, communities, and the world.
Consider using the basic guidelines of Ayurveda and the doshas to bring balance and peace into your life. Perhaps make just one change or try out a new essential oil. May you have a holly, jolly season after all!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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