We feel stressed when there is a conflict between the demands we face and our ability to cope with them, and especially when we feel that we don't have the time, resources or skills to deal with our commitments and responsibilities, or that factors in our lives are outside of our control. Living or working in an environment that is emotionally or physically challenging may also be a source of stress.



  • Our bodies are programmed to respond to dangerous or threatening circumstances with a 'fight or flight response', and the symptoms of stress reflect this. When we feel under threat (from whatever cause), the hormone adrenalin is released from the adrenal glands, causing levels of physical tension to escalate, and heightening our sense of mental alertness
  • These reactions, along with other physical effects, such as raised blood pressure and heart rate, are appropriate when danger is imminent, but are less productive when the source of stress is longer term, as work or financial difficulties often are
  • Some health problems increase our susceptibility to stress (for example, people with an over-active thyroid gland may feel stressed more easily), while others are more prone to feeling stressed due to negative life experiences, poor coping skills or an inadequate support network
  • Poor dietary and lifestyle habits may also reduce your ability to cope with stress by limiting the resources your body has to rely on when under pressure
  • Deficiency of magnesium, vitamin C or the B-complex group of vitamins may contribute, especially as these nutrients are required in greater quantities during times of prolonged stress

Nutritional & Herbal Support

  • Rhodiola relieves stress and helps promote vitality, energy and mental clarity. It has traditionally been used to support the body's natural defences against both emotional and environmental sources of stress, and also supports mood, concentration, immune function and libido . For stress support, it is often taken in combination with B group vitamins, which are essential for healthy nervous system function
  • Take a high potency multivitamin that provides a broad spectrum of nutrients to support energy production and help combat nervous tension and stress. A formula that also includes Korean ginseng may be particularly beneficial for men, because this herb has traditionally been used to raise energy levels and improve the ability to withstand stress. Siberian ginseng has similar properties, and is an ideal inclusion in a multivitamin supplement for women
  • Magnesium is involved in many of the body's mechanisms for coping with stress, and also helps tense and contracted muscles to relax. We need more of it when we're under pressure, so it's easy to become deficient during stressed or anxious times
  • Kava is a relaxing herbal remedy that's traditionally been used to support the nervous system during stressful or anxious times, and is particularly recommended when stress and Anxiety cause Insomnia. Look for kava tablets providing 2400 mg kava standardised to contain 60 mg active kavalactones
  • Valerian is also beneficial for sleeplessness or Insomnia associated with stress, and is an effective but gentle sedative with additional anti-anxiety properties.
  • Valerian is sometimes taken in combination with other herbal sedatives such as skullcap and hops, and the minerals potassium phosphate, calcium phosphate and magnesium phosphate to relieve Anxiety, nervous tension, restlessness and irritability, and to promote relaxation and a sense of calm
  • If stress is causing you to feel depressed or anxious, St John's wort may be able to assist. It has been clinically proven to relieve mild to moderate Depression, and studies show it is just as safe and effective for the condition as some prescribed medicines. However, it is important that you do not stop taking prescribed medicines without prior consultation with your doctor, and nor should you take St John's wort and prescribed medicines simultaneously, as it may interfere with the actions of some drugs (including certain antidepressants and the oral contraceptive pill)
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) may help to maintain emotional wellbeing by supporting optimal levels of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, and has been clinically proven to relieve symptoms of Depression. It is often taken in combination with folic acid and vitamin B12, which are required for the body's own production of SAMe

Diet & Lifestyle advice

  • If stress is causing relationship problems, or interfering with your ability to perform your daily activities or enjoy life, it's important to seek counselling or other professional support to help you cope
  • Stress is a signal that elements of your life are not working. Take stock of the issues that are causing or contributing to your stress levels, and wherever possible, reduce or eliminate them. Even if major issues cannot be resolved, eliminating smaller, nagging issues may improve your ability to cope
  • Regular exercise and activity are vital for mental health, and can help to improve stress levels, Depression, low moods and Anxiety. Even a brisk 30-minute walk has health benefits, but other options include swimming, yoga and going to the gym. Exercising with a friend offers a valuable opportunity to combine socialising with physical activity; talking to someone you trust can help you to let off steam and explore solutions to your problems
  • Your requirements for key nutrients increase when you're under pressure, so avoid junk foods and refined sugars and carbohydrates, and don't skip meals. Instead, eat plenty of whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and high quality proteins. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are an excellent choice because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed for healthy brain function. Inadequate consumption of omega-3s may contribute to mood imbalances
  • Learn and practice meditation or relaxation techniques in order to improve your ability to cope with stress, and to help you wind down in the evening. Playing a hypnotherapy or relaxation CD at bedtime may help you sleep
  • Massage, especially with aromatherapy oils, can be a pleasurable way to relax and let go of tension. Aromatherapy oils can also be used in the bath or in an oil burner. Try lavender, bergamot or rose geranium oils, all of which have relaxing properties
  • Avoid the use of stimulants such as coffee, tea, chocolate and other caffeine-containing substances, as well as cigarettes and recreational drugs - besides stimulating your adrenal glands to produce more stress hormones, these substances further deplete your body's nutrient levels

If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.

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