Expert-Backed Daily Routines That Will Reduce Stress During Fall and Winter

Source: Pexels | Mikhail Nilov
Source: Pexels | Mikhail Nilov

Whether your family has practiced it your whole life or you’ve dabbled in a little tongue scraping here and a little yoga there, most of us have at least heard of Ayurveda. The ancient natural system of medicine (dating back more than 5,000 years) is a holistic mind-body-spirit approach to health and well-being, providing tools to live your best life physically, mentally, and spiritually. Consider it the OG of wellness practices. Based on the foundation that each person has a unique combination of the three Ayurvedic doshas (AKA health types or energy patterns)—vata, pitta, and kapha—the goal of Ayurveda is to strike the right balance of each element to achieve optimal health.

If you’ve been feeling sad, scattered, or more anxious than usual, Ayurveda has an answer for that too. Fall is considered to be vata season, and is known as a time of heightened anxiety since vata is most susceptible to the ups and downs of life. The good news? Shrankhla Holecek, an Ayurvedic expert and Founder of UMA Oils, let us in on Ayurvedic anxiety tips that can help reduce stress holistically—through diet, exercise, and transformative self-care rituals. It’s time to restore.  

Meet the expert
Shrankhla Holecek
Ayurvedic Expert and Founder of UMA Oils
Raised in India, Shrankhla Holecek has been immersed in the knowledge and cultural traditions of Ayurveda and holistic medicine since birth. As world-renowned expert on Ayurveda, organic skin care, and holistic health, she has been interviewed and featured in dozens of multimedia platforms. In 2016, Holecek founded UMA Oils, a luxury Ayurvedic skincare company.

1. Maintain a daily schedule

A change in season calls for updated routines to maintain balance and alignment with nature. And because Vata’s stability can be offset by disorganized scheduling and lack of sleep, Holecek suggested penciling in extra downtime and getting solid Zzzs. Not getting optimal sleep is known to affect mood and emotional health, which may worsen anxiety, after all. So you know the drill: Follow a consistent sleep schedule, get eight hours of sleep, and establish a wind-down routine. “Rubbing your feet with oil at night, especially one infused with relaxation-inducing botanicals, can support your body and make the day-to-night transition more seamless, setting you up for a night of uninterrupted rest,” Holecek said. 

As for your morning routine, try out various practices to identify what your body is craving right now. From meditating and tongue scraping to drinking warm lemon water and dry brushing, there are many Ayurvedic rituals that are beneficial for morning time. However, adding too much to your daily routine all at once can cause more stress than anything, so start slow. No matter how you choose to spend the beginning of your day, being in tune with your mind and body is key. For example, if you feel most energized and motivated in the early afternoon, don’t force yourself to get in a workout or check off difficult tasks. Wake up slowly, fit in some time for enjoyment, and save your workouts and difficult tasks for the afternoon. 

2. Get some sun

According to Holecek, sunlight can help keep your stress levels in check. The bad news: With fewer hours of daylight and cloudy forecasts (read: less sun exposure) on top of Vata‘s characteristics, we’re more prone to anxiety in the fall and winter. Ayurveda to the rescue. The system of medicine also offers a daily schedule, or when to do certain activities based on energies throughout the day. Especially in fall or winter, it is recommended to wake up with the sun for more time to get exposure to sunlight. So resist the urge to snooze when your alarm goes off, and get sunlight within an hour after waking up. 

Still not convinced? Soaking in the sun’s rays has been found to increase the calming and mood-boosting hormone serotonin and can help you get the best sleep of your life. Bottom line: Treat your mind and body to more sunlight on the reg, whether that looks like walking around the block, downward-dogging at the park, or sipping your warm lemon water outside. 

3. Move your body

With the transition to colder weather comes changes in the body, and for good reason. “Ayurveda honors change—internally within ourselves and externally within our environment,” Holecek said. “This time of year shares many qualities that distinguish Vata: cold, dry, rough, mobile.” To balance out Vata‘s energy, stick with light, calm, and heat-generating exercises, like hot yoga, Pilates, or brisk walking. Getting your heart pumping affects your brain chemistry, increasing anti-anxiety neurochemicals, like serotonin. 

“Regular, gentle exercise controls the movable character of Vata,” Holecek explained. “Include basic seated forward-folds like Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) in your practice. To increase strength and stability, try experimenting with standing positions like Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II).” As always, pay attention to your body’s cues, and lean on restorative poses or stretching if you’re feeling worn out or overstimulated.

4. Switch up your diet

Heads up: Only hot PSLs are welcome. With the cold, dry vata vibes, shifting our eating habits to primarily warm, grounding foods and drinks and in-season produce is ideal. We’ve all heard the saying “Food is medicine,” and eating seasonally takes it a step further by creating a greater sense of harmony and balance with our environment. The result? It can help us be more adaptable to change and practice mindfulness, which counteracts rumination and worrying (more on that to come). “Lean toward oily, moist, and smooth foods,” Holecek recommended. “Add healthy fats and oils to dishes, such as avocado, coconut, olives, buttermilk, cheese, eggs, whole milk, nuts, seeds, berries, melons, squash, zucchini, and yogurt.” Reach for cooked whole grains, root vegetables (think: sweet potatoes, carrots, and turnips), and hearty soups. Save the cold foods, iced bevies, and dry snacks for the summertime. 

Also, don’t pass on the digestion and mental health-enhancing effects of Ayurvedic herbs. “Adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha and Brahmi are particularly helpful in Vata season as they help balance an overactive mind and empower the body’s natural stress management responses,” Holecek said. Add them to baked goods, oatmeal, or your morning cup of coffee. Lastly, take notes from hack #1 and set a consistent time for your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and avoid heavy meals at dinner to prevent disruptions in your sleep patterns.  

5. Practice mindfulness

In our fast-paced, hustle culture, we’re either going full speed ahead or on autopilot. So how do we focus our attention on present experiences and become more aware of our sensations, thoughts, and feelings without judgment? “Joy and calmness happen when you turn your attention away from problems and instead concentrate on tangible things that you can experience with your senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste),” Holecek said. Mindfulness aids in reducing anxiety and depression by teaching us how to respond to stress with awareness of what is happening in the present moment.

Aside from breathing exercises, meditation, and movement, Holecek pointed to warm oils to help bring us back to the present moment. “Oils can be powerful allies in supporting your mindfulness practice through the olfactory and transdermal benefits of their powerful ingredients. A tactile element such as aroma can be a wonderful reminder of your commitment to remain grounded and balanced throughout the day.” Keep essential oils on hand throughout the day for a quick sniff or rub on your temples to bring little moments of mindfulness into your day.

6. Listen to your skin

It’s time to layer more than just our clothing. This time of year, the skin needs additional support to stay hydrated and nourished because, as Holecek explained, “Vata skin tends to be dry, darker, and cooler to the touch with a tendency for roughness.” Think of your skin as the check engine light to your internal health. When your skin glows, chances are your emotional well-being is on par with it. And, ICYMI, taking care of your skin is a form of self-care, and going through the steps of your skincare routine can dramatically reduce stress levels. How’s that for a win-win? 

That’s not to say you need to overhaul your entire skincare routine—a few minor adjustments will do the trick. “Keep the body and skin hydrated from within by drinking plenty of water,” Holecek suggested. As for ingredients and products to look out for? “Nourish from the outside [in] with gentle cleansers that won’t strip, aloe and rosewater-based toners, and nurturing oils that maintain an effective moisture barrier,” she said. “Rose oil is excellent at hydrating and nurturing dry or maturing skin, while Frankincense essential oil works at the cellular level to promote cellular regeneration necessary for battling fine lines. Pomegranate oil, rich in fatty acids, restores firmness and elasticity.” 

7. Implement self-massage

When it comes to Ayurvedic self-care, self-massage reigns supreme, especially in the fall, as an effective vata-pacifying method. “Loving, generous, Ayurvedic self-massage, also known as Abhyanga, is one of the most beneficial exercises for our well-being,” Holecek affirmed. “It grounds us and allows for a moment to appreciate the body and mind. When doing so in a deliberate, therapeutic way, it can help to increase circulation, reduce inflammation, boost longevity, and clear any bodily obstructions, including stagnation, heaviness, and blockages.” A recent clinical trial studying the effects of self-massage echoed Holecek’s sentiments, proving Abhyanga to be an effective way to decrease stress levels, improve quality of sleep, and enhance one’s overall quality of life.

To give self-massage a go, Holecek suggested using warm sesame or mustard oil during the fall and winter months for their deep-tissue-de-stressing and mind-body-wellness-promoting properties. Start by rubbing the warm oil between your hands, then massage it into your scalp. Next, move from your face down to your feet, using circular movements along your joints and bones. Check out this video tutorial for more details on the technique.