Work Hard, Stress Less: A Naturopath and Nutritionist's Guide

by Tiffany Wee, In-house Naturopath & Nutritionist, SuperNature
29 Nov 2023

Often defined as the inability to cope with the challenges in life, stress is a term that has been bandied around much and one that I find doesn’t quite fit what most people face today.

Many who present with stress symptoms are extremely capable people and are passionate about life – committed to contributing to the community, dedicated to their careers, all while making time for their loved ones. Their schedules are packed with endless tasks, leaving them with insufficient rest. Oftentimes, this lifestyle is a voluntary choice.

As a naturopath, my aim is to support these individuals by maintaining optimal balance in their body so they can live life to the fullest in good health. The main challenge is that the body is unable to distinguish between a real threat or ongoing mental/emotional busyness. In either case, a fight or flight response will be triggered, as our natural physiological response to a threat is to fend it off or run from it.

As a result, blood pressure and volume increase to boost focus and alertness. Blood sugar levels rise to energize our limbs. Other functions – from digestion and reproduction, to sleep and mood regulation – that are deemed unnecessary for immediate survival will take a backseat.

(Related: This pocket-sized wellness device will help lift your mood)

Left unchecked, these stress-induced responses can take a toll on your physical and mental health in the long run, developing into chronic issues including:

Mental disorders
Such as anxiety, depression and insomnia

Cardiovascular problems
Including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke

Digestive problems
Ranging from Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to acid reflux

Weakened immune system
Resulting in increased susceptible to illnesses due to a weakened immune response

Weight gain
Due to stress-induced overeating or changes in metabolism

Skin conditions
Including acne or psoriasis

Cognitive issues
Such as poor memory and cognitive function

Chronic pain
From headaches and muscle tension, to back pain

Hormonal imbalances
Leading to menstrual irregularities or infertility

To mitigate these long-term effects of stress, it’s crucial to manage and reduce the body’s fight or flight response with relaxation techniques and lifestyle tweaks. An effective way to minimize stress-triggered symptoms is to stimulate the vagus nerve. Also known as the ‘wandering nerve’, it plays a key role in regulating various bodily functions, including digestion, heart rate, and inflammation. While there are no specific foods that directly stimulate the vagus nerve, there are dietary choices that can boost its function and overall health. Here are some recommendations:

Omega-3 fatty acids
Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts

Vibrant-hued fruits and vegetables, including berries and leafy greens

Yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi

Whole grains, legumes, and vegetables

Eggs, liver, and soybeans

Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale

Foods with anti-inflammatory properties
Ginger and turmeric

Dark Chocolate
High-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or more contains compounds that may have a positive impact on mood and overall well-being

Supplements that support the nervous system
Nervine herbs like chamomile and passionflower, and adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, maca, and reishi

Diet aside, the vagus nerve can also be stimulated through mindful practices like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga. Making an effort to incorporate mindful minutes into your day and maintaining a balanced and healthy diet can also ease stress.

The effectiveness of the above tips and techniques can vary from person to person, depending on your individual needs and preferences. Experiment with different approaches and consider consulting a healthcare professional or therapist for personalized stress management strategies. A holistic approach that combines these techniques is often the best way to manage stress and promote overall wellbeing.