Written by Pailin Thivakon – Integrative Pharmacist and Naturopath -M Pharm. B PharmSc. B Hsc (Naturopathy)
Stress is a normal part of life and is the body’s natural way of responding to pressures we may face everyday. It may be related to work, study, relationships, health issues, finances or activities like driving in traffic! Unfortunately, its something we can’t avoid but we are able to improve the way we respond to stress. Small amounts of stress can be healthy as it encourages us to adapt, problem solve and build resilience to challenges that we may face. On the other hand, too much stress for extended periods can trigger unpleasant emotional, physical or mental symptoms; for example we can get overwhelmed, develop muscle tension or have ruminating thoughts. [1, 2]
When we are stressed our body goes through a process called General Adaptation Syndrome [2, 3] (GAS), it consists of 3 stages :
The initial fight or flight response, prepares us physically to either face the challenge or run away. The body releases adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol; we get more blood pumping through our body, increased breathing rate, pupils dilate, increased blood pressure, glucose is released into the bloodstream and our muscles can become tense. There is a general feeling of being stressed and we become hyper-alert, agitated and will have trouble relaxing.
Resistance development (Adaptation)
If the stress does not subside but remains steady and persistent we develop adaptation and resistance. Our body attempts to replenish depleted nutrients and detoxify wastes toxins that may have built up but cannot do it effectively as our resources continue to be diverted towards stress rather than recovery. As the body continues to produce cortisol in response to stress, it keeps us in alert mode and prevents us from resting and digesting effectively. This is why in high stress states we may not eat or sleep well and this depletes us further. If we are not able to give ourselves the resources (relaxation, time, adequate nutrients, self-care etc) to recover we can develop the negative effects of stress that include fatigue, irritability, moodiness, poor digestion and feeling overwhelmed. If the stress is chronic and we are unable to manage it effectively, it wears down our capacity to cope which can lead to the next stage where exhaustion occurs.
The exhaustion phase is reached when the stress response persists for longer than the body is able to cope. Everybody has a limit and poorly managed stress will wear down our capacity. For most people, this may present as feeling mentally and physically drained or burnt out. Body systems begin to falter and the adrenals become depleted – this may involved waking tired despite getting enough sleep, low stamina, heightened stress response to everyday stress, increased susceptibility to infections, digestive disturbances, issues with libido, weight gain and social withdrawal. During this phase we may be reliant on stimulants such as coffee to function and might reach for high sugar, salt and fat foods as our body attempts to re-fuel quickly, however this will lack the essential nutrients needed to support recovery.
Supplements to help support stress and mental well-being
Although supplements do not replace eating a good quality diet and getting adequate rest and self-care in, they are beneficial to help support a healthy stress response and may be necessary during times where there is depletion due to chronic stress. Below are just a few supplements that may help to support stress, please speak with a health professional for more guidance on what may be suitable for you.
The body utilises more vitamins and minerals during stressful times, we expend more energy and thus resources. Nutrients including Vitamin B5, B6, B12, Folate (B9), Vitamin C, Magnesium, Zinc and iron are needed to support the stress response . Getting extra nutrients in with a good quality multivitamin has been shown to reduce stress perception and enhance emotional recovery following stress . AC Pharm’s Essential Multi-vitamin contains high strength doses of B vitamins needed to support energy production with added Vitamin C, Zinc and Magnesium to help assist with stress recovery. It has also been formulated with antioxidants Vitamin A and E as well as trace minerals Selenium and Molybdenum to support detoxification.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is critical in the body, it relaxes muscles and has a blood pressure lowering effect . For stress, it helps to modulate the Hypo-Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) Axis which communicates between the brain and adrenal glands to release chemical messengers during stress . In a highly stressed individual, the HPA axis may be dysregulated, resulting in a heightened stress response . Magnesium will help to modulate our stress reactivity, improving symptoms of anxiety and sleep problems caused by stress. A dosage of 300-350mg of elemental magnesium daily for at least 4 weeks can be beneficial for stress . At AC Pharm we have a unique Magnesium formulation made with Magnesium Glycinate. It has the added benefit of Glycine (glycinate) which supports relaxation, sleep and detoxification. Each capsule contains 195mg of elemental magnesium and is gut friendly, it can be taken 1 capsule daily for general well-being and 2 capsules daily during times of stress. This relaxing formula is best taken in the evening. [2, 4]
Adaptogens are unique medicinal plants that can be used to help improve our resilience to stress, reduce our sensitivity to stress and improve our physical/mental performance. They have a stress protective effect and alter the activity of the HPA axis so that we are better able to cope. Adaptogens essentially make us fitter to deal with stress and this combined with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective effects of many of these herbs creates a synergistic action that improves our recovery. There are many herbal adaptogens suited for different constitutions and varying stages of stress. Some personal favourites include Withania, Siberian Ginseng, Rhodiola, Schisandra which have been shown to increase attention, enhance mental work load and improve tolerance to fatigue during stress. 
Tips for stress management
Deep breathing and meditation – Practising deep breathing techniques such as box breathing can help to move the nervous system into a more relaxed phase during times of stress . Guided mediation is also useful to help with stress and anxiety .
Reduce caffeine and alcohol – Caffeine and alcohol can deplete nutrients and minerals needed to maintain a healthy stress response. Caffeine can actually make stress worse as it increases release of adrenaline and cortisol . Alcohol and caffeine negatively impact the quality of our sleep as caffeine keeps us from falling asleep  and alcohol affects our body’s ability to maintain deep restorative sleep.
Exercise – Physical activity (30-50 minutes daily of moderate exercise) can help to reduce stress levels and assist with mood regulation and sleep .
Social support – Having good social support networks and people you can talk to with will help to improve your resilience to stress and mental health.
Time spent outdoors in nature – “Forest bathing” or spending time out in nature has been shown to improve mental health, particularly anxiety. Make it part of your self-care to spend some time outside!
Importantly, if you notice yourself getting overwhelmed and easily stressed, know that this can be managed. If you would like more help with supporting your stress, or have any other health concerns; Naturopath and Pharmacist – Pailin is available for consults by appointment and would love to help you out. See www.akesonaturopathics.com for more information.
1. MediHerb, Patient information booklet July 2019. Building Resilience – A simple guide to help you and your family feel calm, centred and in control.
2. Braun, Lesley. Mental Wellbeing – The Essential Guide to Using Herbs and Nutritional Supplements. Blackmores Institute, a division of Blackmores Limited. 2021.
3. Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors, 2010. General Adaptation Syndrome. Sourced from https://www.aipc.net.au/articles/general-adaptation-syndrome/ July 2023.
4. Osiecki, Henry. The Nutrient Bible, 9th Edition. Chapter 3 – Minerals: Magnesium. Pages182-185.
5. Russo, M. A., Santarelli, D. M., & O’Rourke, D. (2017). The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe (Sheffield, England), 13(4), 298–309. https://doi.org/10.1183/20734735.009817
6. Patel, R. Ryan. S. April 2017. Study: Caffeine, Stress and Brain Function. The Ohio State University. Sourced from: https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2017/04/19/study-caffeine-stress-and-brain-function/ August 2023.
7. Summer, Jay & Vyas, Dr Nilong. (2022). Adenosine and Sleep – How sleep works. Sourced from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/adenosine-and-sleep#references-83598 August 2023.
8. Colrain,Ian M., Nicholas, Christian L., Baker, Fiona C. (2014). Chapter 24 – Alcohol and the sleeping brain, Handbook of Clinical Neurology, Elsevier, Vol 125, 415 – 431. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-62619-6.00024-0.
9. Kotera, Y., Richardson, M. & Sheffield, D. Effects of Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy on Mental Health: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Int J Ment Health Addiction 20, 337–361 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-020-00363-4