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The Connection Between Stress and Mood

Stress is an inevitable part of life. While a moderate level of stress can be beneficial for motivation and productivity, chronic or excessive stress can have detrimental effects on mental and physical health. According to a survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, 44% of Kiwi’s reported feeling stressed out in chronic states (for prolonged periods of time, typically longer than 3 consecutive months). That’s an alarming stat, and it may not even begin to provide us with the real picture as I know so many out there who think that stress is ‘normal’ or they ‘always feel like this’ not knowing that it’s not a normal state to feel.

Stress can look and feel different to everyone and their body’s ability to tolerate stress. Here are some ways that it can present to you:

1. Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Muscle tension or pain

  • Fatigue or exhaustion

  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping

  • Digestive issues such as stomach pain, diarrhoea, or constipation

  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations

  • Sweating or clammy palms

  • Shallow breathing or shortness of breath

  • Changes in appetite or weight gain/loss

2. Emotional Symptoms

  • Anxiety, worry, or fear

  • Irritability or anger

  • Restlessness or agitation

  • Depression or sadness

  • Feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope

  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence

  • Lack of motivation or interest in activities

3. Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

  • Racing thoughts or constant worry

  • Memory problems or forgetfulness

  • Confusion or disorientation

4. Behavioural Symptoms

  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs

  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns

  • Avoiding social activities or isolating oneself

  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities

  • Aggression or violence

You may think that you’re not stressed, but if you are continually feeling any of the above symptoms, you want to rethink your current habits and what’s contributing to your stress as it can wreak havoc on your body systems.

Stress is a natural response of the body to a perceived threat. When we encounter a stressful situation, our body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which help us respond to the situation. However, chronic or excessive stress can lead to imbalances in the body, including the brain, which can result in mood disorders such as anxiety and depression (PMID: 29623218).

How Can You Manage or Reduce Stress?

Research has shown that certain nutrients can help regulate mood and reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. For example, omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish and flaxseeds, have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Similarly, B vitamins, found in whole grains, legumes, and leafy greens, are essential for the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and how we feel.

In addition to nutrition, herbal remedies can also play a role in managing stress and mood. For example, ashwagandha, an adaptogenic herb, has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Similarly, chamomile tea has a calming effect on the body and can reduce symptoms of anxiety (PMID: 27725189).

Finally, mind-body techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can be effective in reducing the negative effects of stress on the body. These practices have been shown to reduce cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, and improve overall mood PMID: 26706022, PMID: 23930004). Studies have also shown that acupuncture was effective in reducing stress and anxiety levels (PMID: 29485355).

The key to reducing and managing your stress is first to provide some relief simultaneously from the stimuli or what’s causing the stress, but also relief to the nervous system through activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which allows the stress response to disengage. A number of different modalities can help achieve this, but breathwork and meditation would be a great starting point.


Khalsa, S. B. S., Yoga for anxiety and depression: A review of published research and implications for healthcare providers. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 2013, 19(3), 152-160. PMID: 23930004

Lee, J. H., Choi, J., & Effects of acupuncture on stress and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, 2018, 23, 1-13. PMID: 29485355

Ministry of Health. (2018). Annual Data Explorer 2016/17: New Zealand Health Survey.

Sharma, M., Rush, S. E., & Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2016, 81, 1-12. PMID: 26706022

Shin, J. H., Park, H. J., & Effects of herbal medicine on stress incontinence: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2016, 194, 809-817. PMID: 27725189

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