Managing stress naturally: Naturopathic strategies for stress resilience

Sandy Watts

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‘Calm down’, ‘relax’, ‘go with the flow’…When it comes to stress, that might be easier said than done! If you’re feeling stressed, you’re certainly not alone. Stress is a normal, at times overwhelming part of life. If it’s not managed properly, it has the potential to not only ruin your day, but over time, stress can wreak havoc on all body systems and overall health and wellbeing.

The good news is that you can proactively manage your stress levels using a natural, holistic approach that works with your body’s systems rather than against them, so you can feel calm, relaxed, energised, and ready to cope with whatever life might throw at you!

Here we’ll explore a selection of simple tools and strategies that you can use to help you take control of stress. Firstly, understanding the hidden impact stress has on the body is crucial to overcoming its effects.

How stress affects your body

Stress is a natural response and a normal part of life.  Moving in and out of stress is a normal human experience.

Stress can be positive. We need a certain level of stress to motivate us to work towards goals and feel a sense of purpose and achievement. However negative stress can leave us feeling overwhelmed and struggling to cope.

A healthy response to stress allows us to move fluidly from a stressful situation, back to a position of safety and calm.

Stress acts to motivate and sharpen your focus in situations where immediate action is needed. The greater the intensity or urgency of a situation, the greater your stress response will be. If you are faced with immediate danger, your body switches on your acute stress response, also known as ‘flight or fight’, to give you a burst of energy to help you deal with the danger by either running away or fighting back.

When faced with a threat or danger, such as a near-miss in the car, your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body, prompting your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. Your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and glucose levels all increase, to ensure you’re physically ready to respond to stress.

This ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response activates the sympathetic nervous system and comes at the expense of the ‘rest and digest’, relaxation response which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Digestion, relaxation, and reproduction are deemed to be of minor importance during a fight-or-flight situation!

The immune response is also affected with a dampened-down inflammatory response.

This complex natural alarm system also communicates with brain regions controlling mood, motivation, and fear.

Stress can occur in any situation that threatens physical or emotional wellbeing. It can be caused by physical stressors such as injury, surgery, sudden loss of blood, infection, pain, intense exercise, extreme temperatures, as well as emotional stressors such as anger, grief, depression, anxiety, and even guilt.

Once a stressful event or emotion has passed, the body returns itself back to balance, calming down and relaxing. The body is designed to withstand small amounts of stress. As long as stress is short-term, no negative effects are caused.

Chronic stress puts your health at risk

With chronic stress, there’s no downtime. If stress is ongoing, experienced consistently at a high level, your body is effectively trapped in fight or flight mode, and the constant wear and tear of stress hormones can impact your long-term health, increasing your risk of illness and diseases such as heart disease.

Part and parcel of everyday modern living, with emotional triggers popping up around every corner, many people are faced with ongoing stressors. 

Stress comes in a variety of forms including work challenges, financial pressures, endless emails, being stuck in traffic, negative news stories, family and relationship issues, personal injury or illness, death of a loved one, and significant change such as moving house or changing jobs

Chronic stress affects every system in the body

The key hormone which allows you to stay in an active, attentive state for long periods of time, to handle the stress at hand, is cortisol.

Long term or poorly managed stress, with accompanying high levels of cortisol, results in a decrease in digestive secretions and an increase in blood pressure. The body remains in a constant state of stress which, if not addressed, will burn out the adrenal glands, stress the digestive tract, lead to exhaustion, and cause rapid ageing.

Adrenal dysfunction affects our short-term response to stress, and impairs hormone production and balance, vital for long-term health and wellbeing. The body can’t make the cortisol it requires to keep inflammation, oxidative stress, and fatigue at bay.

Stress can trigger a cascade of reactions throughout the body – it’s not just the mind that’s affected! 

Stress may impact:

  • Mental wellbeing and mood
  • Sleeping patterns (your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep)
  • Energy levels
  • Digestive and immune function
  • Heart function
  • Reproductive and thyroid hormones
  • Skin health
  • Body weight      

Stress and digestive health

Over 2000 years ago Hippocrates stated that ‘all disease begins in the gut’ – a concept that is increasingly relevant today with good digestive health setting the foundation for overall health and wellbeing.

The gastrointestinal tract is directly connected to our emotions. Emotions such as anxiety, and anger can trigger symptoms in the gut, and what is going on in the gut affects the brain and our mood.

‘Butterflies in your stomach’, feeling nauseous before an event, that ‘knot in your stomach’, or ‘gut-wrenching experience’ all illustrate this microbiome-gut-brain connection.

Your digestive system is extremely resilient and can tolerate a lot of stress. However, it can reach a point where it becomes more and more difficult to cope and symptoms of poor digestive function may start to manifest.

Initially you may start to notice symptoms such as bloating, gas, reflux, and altered bowel movements (constipation and/or diarrhoea).

Longer term, this can lead to further inflammatory digestive issues such as ulcers, irritable bowel disorders, poor nutrient absorption, gut infections; and weaken our immune system defences, leading to recurrent colds and increased risk of infection, food intolerances, autoimmune conditions; as well as impaired concentration, mood, and cognition.

Tips to calm your mind and nourish your body

Everyone is unique in how they respond to, and experience stress. Naturopathic support looks at how stress is manifesting for you, considers the sources of your stress, and helps you to build your body’s resilience, restoring balance.

You may not be able to completely avoid a stressful situation, but you can learn how to better manage your response.

Behavioural stress management techniques combined with tailored herbal medicine and supplements can help you manage stress and its symptoms, while supporting resilience.

These natural options are examples of daily support strategies you can use to keep yourself healthy and able to adapt to difficult challenges in your life.

Healthy eating and meal planning

The food we eat can be our most powerful ally, or our biggest downfall.

In times of high stress, we tend to pay less attention to what we’re eating. It’s easy to fall into the trap of convenience and ‘comfort’ foods which are often lacking in key nutrients.

A naturopath can help ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to resist and healthily manage stress. An optimal, nutrient-dense, whole food diet can also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, giving you the best chance to support optimal health and mental wellbeing.

A core nutritional foundation provides fuel for the body, supports healthy brain and nervous system structures, brain chemistry, as well as strong digestive and immune function.

A dietary pattern rich in fruit and vegetables provides valuable nutrients and can help to boost a sense of wellbeing. Getting organised with meal planning can make the world of difference in being able to prepare simple, nutritious meals as easily as possible when life becomes stressful.

Easy on caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods

Cut down on caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, white rice, pasta) and unhealthy fats (deep fried foods, margarine) as these can amplify your physical response to stress.

Make sleep a priority

Sometimes sleeping when you’re stressed seems impossible, however making sure you’re getting enough quality sleep is key to stopping stress from getting the best of you.

Sleep hygiene, or creating an environment that supports good sleep, is a critical first step, if sleep is a struggle. Examine your sleep environment (consider temperature, darkness, noise) as well as your evening wind-down routine including avoiding screen-time, not eating too late, and setting a consistent bedtime.

Move your body

Exercise boosts production of your body’s feel-good neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine, which have a positive effect on mood and stress. Your body also naturally creates endorphins during exercise, which can relieve stress and pain.

Try adding a 20-minute walk into your daily routine. Fresh air, movement and sunlight can do wonders for improving mood, and can lead to better sleep.

Spend time in nature

Stepping outside and spending time in natural environments can benefit health and wellbeing. Taking time to water your plants, pottering in the garden for half an hour, or walking barefoot on your lawn for a few minutes can help create a sense of calm.

Joy and laughter

What brings you joy? Where can you create pockets of joy in your day? This could be as simple as enjoying a cup of tea in the sunshine or listening to your favourite music.  

Shown to reduce the physical effects of stress, laughter really is the best medicine. Spend time with a friend who makes you laugh. Or choose something funny to watch whether it’s a movie, comedy show on TV, or funny cat video.


Humans are social beings. We’re hardwired for connection and any interaction is important, even a smile as you walk past someone in the street, or a daily chat with your local barista.

Spending time doing activities you enjoy, with people you enjoy spending time with, helps with relaxation and stress relief, reminding us life can be fun!

A good support network of trusted individuals or professionals can provide emotional support, alleviate stress, and help you see things in a different way.

Not everyone has family or friends living nearby, so connecting with people in your local community can create a ‘local family’ who look out for each other, fostering a sense of belonging and safety. Consider joining a local sports club, helping with a fundraiser, signing up for a class, or adopting a puppy!

Focus on your breath

You spend all day and night breathing, yet how often do you stop and notice how you’re breathing?

Becoming mindful of your breath involves noticing how the rhythm varies as your mood or emotions change. It’s possible to become calm simply by slowing your breathing rate and taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths which signal to the body that it is safe. Breathing deeply is a proven stress-reducing strategy you can take anywhere to help you feel more centred and relaxed.

Nourish your nervous system with herbal medicine

Finding inner calm in the face of adversity is never easy. Adaptogenic herbs come to the rescue by helping your body to respond appropriately to stress. These powerful plant allies help to build your body’s resilience to stress, boost energy, and re-establish balance. There are many ideal choices, depending on the individual and their need, including Withania, Rhodiola, Siberian Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, Astragalus, and our native Kawakawa.

Rehmania and Licorice can offer beneficial support for struggling adrenals, while herbs such as Passionflower, Kava, Lavender, Zizyphus, Lemon Balm, Chamomile, and California Poppy can be used to calm the nervous system to help reduce anxiety, lift mood, and support healthy sleep.

A registered naturopath who is a qualified, skilled medical herbalist can mix an individualised herbal tonic to suit your specific needs that’s safe and appropriate for you. A tailored formulation supports normal nervous system function and allows you to cope with whatever life throws at you!

Stress-busting nutrients


Magnesium levels may be depleted when you’re stressed, as the body uses and excretes more magnesium than usual at these times. Found in foods such as grains, legumes, and leafy greens, many people still don’t obtain enough. Supplementation can support symptoms of stress, supporting mood and sleep. Many people are aware that magnesium is beneficial for muscle relaxation and reducing muscle cramps and spasms, however magnesium also supports cellular energy production. When you have a lot on and energy reserves are low, magnesium can give a much-needed energy boost.

B vitamins

B vitamins are needed to be able to cope with stress effectively and can become depleted in chronic stress. Typically available as a ‘complex’, acting in synergy to support improving low mood, irritability, and improving concentration and energy levels. Food sources of B vitamins include meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and leafy greens.

Next steps to stress resilience

Stress resilience doesn’t arise from one single action. Diet, lifestyle and behaviour change, as well as tailored herbal medicine and certain supplements can all play a role in protecting you from the adverse effects of long-term stress.

I’d love to work with you to create the best plan for your unique situation and needs to help you get re-centred, achieve a sense of inner calm, and renew your energy and zest for life again!

Book an initial consultation with me today.


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