6 Ways to Comfort Autumn Nerves (& the Pervasive Problem of “Subtle”)

Vāta season is upon us again. Autumn is abundant in the qualities of Vāta dosha: dry, light, rough, cold, mobile, subtle and changeable. The dry leaves falling, the mobile winds, the cool nights, and the changeable temperatures all contribute to elevated Vāta within us.

One of the most pervasive Vāta qualities right now, in my view, is the “subtle” quality. The term “subtle” in Ayurveda is a tricky word to define – which is, not coincidentally, an aspect of its meaning. It’s hard to pin down. 

“Subtle” refers to less substantive or tangible things, ephemeral even, yet powerful in their influence. Subtle things can shrink to enter small spaces and then expand, like smoke. Addictive substances like nicotine, sugar, or alcohol are notably subtle. So is technology, which for most of us has quietly penetrated into the very center of our lives, and expanded. 

Another excellent example of the subtle quality in action is anxiety. Anxiety resists being defined or made concrete. It shape-shifts under examination. It worms its way into consciousness, lurking around the edges until it has overtaken more territory than we realized. Suddenly it’s everywhere. When autumn hits and Vāta gets aggravated, anxiety often gets kicked into high gear.

And here’s the thing: interacting with anything subtle, by virtue of the “like increases like” principle, increases Vāta dosha. The more we hang out in dry, light, subtle conditions, the more those qualities increase within us, elevating our inner Vāta. Cause becomes effect, which becomes a new cause, in a self-perpetuating loop.

The beautiful thing about Ayurveda is that it gives us so many ways to interrupt that loop of imbalance. When anxiety is high due to Vāta elevation, if we bring Vāta down by soothing any of the Vāta qualities (such as the cold, dry or light aspects), it can help take the edge off anxiety. (And when it doesn’t, we may need more support – working with a good therapist, counselor or health care practitioner may be necessary to adequately resolve persistent or severe anxiety. Don’t try to face it alone if you are suffering.)

So this week, or any time you feel a little anxious, nervous or stressed, try one of these 6 simple Vāta-pacifying ideas and notice if it helps reassure you in some way…

  1. Have a warm, cozy mug of something. The quickest way to bring Vāta down is through warm beverages. Fluid permeates the body quickly, spreading its warmth and hydrating dry tissues. Make sure your warm drink contains ZERO caffeine, which makes anxiety worse – aim for an herbal tea with nervine support, like chamomile, oat straw, or an adaptogen like tulsi (holy basil).
  2. Wrap up in a sweater, scarf or blanket. There’s a reason almost every child has a security blanket – it’s the perfect Vāta band-aid! Same with the “thunder shirt” for anxious pets. For an effective adult human version, try a thick shawl or poncho, or a simple heavy sweater. Weight and the sensation of wrapping are key. Covering your neck and ears in wind (even a slight breeze) is particularly Vāta-protective. 
  3. Layer on some body oil. You knew I was going to say it, didn’t you? If you hang around here with me long enough, you know eventually I’ll sing the praises of oil massage! Organic sesame oil is the classic Vāta-pacifying oil, particularly nourishing to dry skin. If you don’t have time for a full body abhyanga, then at least give yourself a grounding foot massage with oil at bedtime and cover your feet with cotton socks, then dream the night away.
  4. Speaking of sleep… get more!  I can’t overemphasize the importance of getting at least7 hours a night during autumn – and if you’re struggling with anxiety, make it 8. EVERY NIGHT. This is a must, and must become non-negotiable if you’re serious about shifting your anxiety. Honestly – nothing is more important than your mental health, and sleep is the foundation of every coping skill your system has.
  5. Sit still – or rock. Make at least 2 stillness anchors in your day: times when you will sit still and do very little…. or try rocking while you sit. Simply sway back and forth, side to side or front to back. There is a reason we rock babies – the rhythmic moving helps restore organization to our nervous system. You could also meditate if that’s your thing, or do some slow prānāyāma like alternate nostril breathing, or make a cup of tea and hold it close enough to smell it. No technology (too much subtle!), just some soothing, quiet sitting and rocking.
  6. Share a hug. Giving and receiving love and reassurance through physical touch makes a world of difference. It’s important to know, and physically feel, you are not alone, especially when we may feel like we are in our anxious mind. Seek out at least one trusted person or animal today, and ask for a hug – and then take a few full breaths IN the hug, letting your body relax in the embrace. Soak in the sweet contact, and in knowing that you are giving as much as you are receiving.

Vāta season does not have to be a threat to your nervous system and sanity. These simple steps WILL make a difference. Let me know which of these you’re ready to try in the comments below. Sending you a big, warm hug…

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