By Vic Shayne, Author: Stressing Out Over Happiness
If we take a few minutes to reflect on stress, we find that it is an idea; a thought. Because thoughts arise spontaneously out of consciousness — a fact that you can discover by just sitting still and observing how they move in and out of the emptiness — it’s clear that stress also comes and goes.
The next question is: Why is stress seemingly so persistent, and what can be done about it? Of course, there are some wonderful, calming, Ayurvedic herbs that address chronic stress, and these are very helpful, but if we are going to get to the bottom of this ubiquitously experienced phenomenon, then it’s best to take a holistic approach using natural remedies.
In the Indian healing system of Ayurveda, wrote Jennifer Barret for Yoga Journal, “…stress reduction hinges on a complex understanding of each person. No two people perceive experiences in the same way, which means that each individual requires a different stress-relief strategy.” Ayurveda provides specific lifestyle, dietary, herbal, and yogic solutions for each individual that can not only diffuse tension but also help build a foundation for lasting peace of mind.”
Where does stress come from?
We can begin by thinking of stress as an effect, a reaction by the mind to situations that seem to be taking place “out there” in the big, cold world. But is it really out there?
The actions of others, demanding jobs, money, and health problems, so little time, computer crashes, dazzling speeds of incoming information, and so on, are interpreted by the sense of self — also called the “egoic self,” or what Carl Jung called the “persona” — as impositions. The impact is perceived as interfering with the egoic self’s idea of what it desires. Although we want to be happy, loved, and at peace, when something gets in the way of this, then we find it to be disturbing and often intolerable.
Stress upsets the applecart. It moves the egoic self into a place wherein it must deal with one situation after another. As a result, the mind doesn’t like it. And when the mind does not like something, the body is affected. There is no getting around this mind-body connection.
Even so-called good things create stress — getting married, buying a new house, having a baby, and greeting a loved one at the airport.
When the mind does not like something, the body is affected. There is no getting around this mind-body connection.
Stress causes too many physical, emotional, and mental problems to list, all of which are the result of a mind-body chain reaction. The egoic self perceives something as stressful, and then the body creates inflammation, headaches, restricted oxygen throughout the body, stomachaches, digestive problems, premature aging, and a host of psychosomatic illnesses with very real symptoms.
Tackling stress can be stressful
Ironically, people understand what stresses them out and the maladies that stress causes, but they seem to be too busy to take the time to de-stress. And even more ironically, the pursuit of stress-relief is also now also a cause of stress. New research shows that overemphasizing happiness can make people more likely to obsess over failure and negative emotions when they inevitably do happen, and this results in heightened stress levels in the long run. The fact that it is so difficult for stressed-out people to sort out their own stress also creates problems.
Brock Bastian, a social psychologist at the University of Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Australia, told Time magazine, “Happiness is a good thing, but setting it up as something to be achieved tends to fail.” This changes how people respond to their negative emotions and experiences, leading to ruminating on them more. This doesn’t mean we should give up and just accept the fate of a stressful life, however, because the answer to this problem may very well lie in the oldest philosophy known to humankind.
The solution for stress is right here
If we look at stress as opposing happiness, then we may very well be going in circles. While it may be possible to alleviate stress by distracting the mind, all distractions are only temporary. And if we try to let go of stress by trying to still our thoughts, what happens when the meditation is over and you have to go back out into the world again?
The modern-day sage HWL Poonja explained, “Nothing known has ever given us lasting happiness so far. Anything that has a name and form is impermanent. Let us choose nameless and formless Emptiness this time, in this blessed span of life.” Applying this to stress, you may simply observe what is going on as it is happening. In this act of observation, is an emptiness that is prior to thought itself.
Neither the stressful event nor the stress itself affects this emptiness that is you at the core, prior to thought. In other words, before thought arises there is an emptiness, a pervading silent stillness. Even when the thought appears and disappears, it is against the background of the emptiness that is ever-present.
Ultimately, every thought, feeling, stress, worry, anxiety, and even pleasure is preceded by emptiness. By just making a practice of observing without letting the mind be judgmental, critical, or prejudicial will keep stress where it belongs, in the broader field of consciousness.
Further, when you are merely observing from a place of emptiness, then you are living consciously, and this is when solutions present themselves. This is happening right now, as you have set aside your stress to read this article.
In addition to practicing choiceless awareness of what is, there are a number of other great ways to relax in this world of stress: dance, music, laughing, sports, helping others, yoga, breathing exercises, walking in nature, and using the right herbs to uplift the mind and body.
What is the right herb for stress?
Calming herbs that help us handle stress are known as adaptogens. Adaptogenic herbs have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as natural remedies to promote and support health.
Brenda Powell, MD, of the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute explained that nature’s plant adaptogens help the body handle stress. She said they may do for your adrenal glands what exercise does for your muscles.
The adrenal glands are naturally activated during moments, hours, and days of stress, and this leads to health issues. Adaptogenic herbs help your body deal with the effects of heightened stress levels by calming you down without adding to your body’s burden the way that pharmaceuticals do.
If you’re wondering what Ayurvedic herb is good for chronic stress, it’s the Indian plant called Tulsi. So, what is tulsi? Ayurveda has placed Tulsi at the top of the list of adaptogenic herbs. In a research paper for the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Marc Cohen wrote, “Ayurveda’s use of medicinal and culinary herbs draws upon India’s incredible biodiversity with a variety that is unsurpassed by any medical system; yet, of all the herbs used, none has a status comparable to Tulsi.” In other words, the benefits of tulsi in herbal medicine can reduce stress and enhance emotional well-being.
Cohen reported, “There is mounting evidence that Tulsi can address physical, chemical, metabolic and psychological stress through a unique combination of pharmacological actions. Tulsi has been found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion, ischemia, physical restraint and exposure to cold and excessive noise.
Tulsi has also been shown to counter metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels, and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and antidepressant properties.”
What’s there to stress about?
Our modern lifestyle and the ways in which we regard everyday challenges should be an indication that we as a society need to reassess our priorities and cope with stress. But until that happens, and as we work on this, at least it’s good to know that there are definite things we can do to feel better about the world by taking a mind-body approach. So if you are looking for an herb for mood enhancement, try Tulsi. Tulsi is perhaps the most remarkable Ayurvedic herb for helping the body through difficult times, especially when combined with right eating, good sleep, exercise, and the simple observation that, like all thoughts, stress merely seems to arise and fade without any sense of permanence.