Mood, stress and anxiety are all closely related. However, stress and anxiety are not the same thing, although they often go hand in hand. Stress is something we have all felt sometimes and it is not necessarily always bad. A good level of stress will motivate us and keep us focused. Stress becomes a problem when it becomes more long term and begins to impact your mood, relationships and quality of life.

Anxiety is an emotional state, or feeling, which is unpleasant and ranges from mild unease to intense fear. While fear is a rational response to real danger, anxiety often lacks a realistic or clear cause. Although some level of anxiety is normal, high levels of anxiety can affect our ability to function on a daily basis. Long term stress may often be a contributing factor to anxiety.1, 2

What causes stress and anxiety?

Stress and anxiety may arise from a range of factors. We can become stressed by the busy pace of modern life, financial problems, work, relationship issues or ill health.

  • Major life events such as moving house, divorce, job redundancy or the death of a loved are common causes of pronounced stress. Anxiety may be triggered by any of these events.
  • People with certain personality traits such as low self-esteem and perfectionism may be more prone to anxiety, particularly if there is a family history.
  • A deficiency in some nutrients such as B Group vitamins and Magnesium may also contribute to anxiety.3

Symptoms of stress and anxiety

Everyone is affected differently by stress or anxiety. Some may have one or two symptoms, others may be affected by a range. Symptoms accompanying poor mood, stress and anxiety may include:4

  • Low energy
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleep issues – difficulty falling asleep and broken sleep patterns.
  • Aches, pains and tense muscles
  • Headaches – often related to muscle tension in the back and neck.
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhoea, constipation and nausea
  • Other symptoms of anxiety may include dry mouth, dizziness, cold or sweaty hands and/or feet and/or feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness.5

How to prevent or reduce stress

Preventing or reducing stress on your life can be achieved with a few healthy lifestyle tips. A healthy lifestyle helps protect against stress and anxiety and maintaining a healthy mood.

  • Learn to relax – yoga, meditation and muscle relaxation techniques help. Give yourself some time to relax every day.
  • Social support and hobbies – it’s important to take time out to connect with friends and have some fun.
  • Exercise – regular physical activity may help ease the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Choose something you enjoy, ideally outside to get some fresh air. Exercise may increase “feel good” endorphins in the brain and reduce the levels of stress chemicals in our body.
  • Sleep – ensure healthy sleep practices such as regular bedtimes and avoiding caffeine late in the day. You may consider a bath or listening to relaxing music before bed.
  • Eating well – you know the drill, plenty of nutritious fruit, vegetables and whole foods. Avoid alcohol, sugar and processed foods.

A healthy lifestyle including regular exercise and a healthy diet help to reduce the likelihood of stress and anxiety, as well as lifting your mood. Consider also the following options:

  • Learn to manage unhealthy thoughts – Consider counselling if anxiety and stress is affecting your quality of life. A counsellor may assist in managing unhealthy thoughts and identifying what is making you stressed and anxious.
  • Eliminate caffeine, nicotine and stimulants completely. Caffeine is a stimulant and even the smallest amount such as that found in decaffeinated coffee is enough to affect some people and produce symptoms of anxiety. Stimulants prompt your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which is one of the main stress chemicals.3
  • St John’s Wort (Hypericum) – is a natural approach to relieving irritability and nervous unrest. It may assist mood balance and help promote healthy mood balance.
  • Withania somnifera – this Ayurvedic herb also known as Ashwagandha may provide a natural alternative in managing mild anxiety.
  • Chamomile – helps to reduce the effects of mild anxiety and nervous tension.
  • Korean Ginseng – has been traditionally used in Chinese Medicine to help relieve stress.
  • Rhodiola Rosea – during times of stress it helps to maintain normal mental and physical performance.
  • Nutritional support – a deficiency in B Vitamins and Magnesium may contribute to stress and anxiety. Our body excretes more Vitamin C during times of stress which may increase the body’s need during these times. You may like to consider supplementing these important nutrients during times of stress.

Frequently asked questions:

Why can’t I cope when everyone else seems to be able to manage?

Stress and anxiety affects everyone differently. It mainly depends on the way we perceive a situation and our attitude towards it. If stress is long term it may become overwhelming and lead to problems with anxiety. Some people are more prone to anxiety.

When should I see my healthcare practitioner?

If stress and anxiety is affecting your quality of life, seek support.