Yesterday I spent the day at a seminar learning more about the impact stress has on our brain and our health. Not only is stress a driver of numerous chronic health conditions (including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease), it also causes structural changes in our brain including atrophy of our prefrontal cortex (responsible for planning complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behaviour), our hippocampus (responsible for motivation, emotion, learning and memory) and initial hypertrophy and later atrophy of our amygdala (responsible for the response and memory of emotions, especially fear). These changes in our brain sensitise our brains and heighten our stress response which means that our bodies reaction to a stressor becomes heightened and more severe.

When people think about stress, they often just think of emotional stress however stress by definition is a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tensions. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). What this means is that we also have to consider physical and environmental stressors such as temperature extremes, circadian light-dark cycle, travel (jet lag), accidents and injuries, inflammation, infection, toxins, food, medications, alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep, over-exercising, pollution, air quality, noise, surgery and disease processes- each of these things act as stressors to our body. 

The way stress manifests in our lives is different for everyone, but common symptoms of stress include:

  • Poor sleep, nightmares, disturbing dreams
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Mood disturbances, lack of motivation, anxiety and depression
  • Frequent crying
  • Feeling overwhelmed, out of control, easily agitated or frustrated
  • Gut symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, reflux or abdominal pain
  • Immune dysfunction such as frequent infections or autoimmune conditions
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Hormonal disturbances such as PMS, irregular periods, low sex drive
  • Chest pain, palpitations or rapid heartbeat
  • Forgetfulness, disorganisation and inability to focus 
  • Light-headedness, faintness or dizziness
  • Rashes, itching or hives
  • Chest tightness, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing

The good news is that there are plenty of things we can do to reduce the negative effects stress has on your life and improve the way your body reacts to stress. 

One of the best tools we have as naturopaths when working with clients who are experiencing symptoms of stress is herbal medicine. Herbs have the ability to increase resistance to stress, protect against the effects of stress, protect the brain against atrophy and promote regrowth of nerve cells, stimulate the immune system, improve cognitive function, improve energy levels, promote sleep, improve mood and reduce anxiety and the list goes on! 

You do not have to put up with negative effects stress may be having on your life and on your health. If you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms or would like to know more about naturopathy, I would love to see you. Book a complimentary 20-minute appointment at ReMed in Lower Plenty or a phone or skype appointment by calling 1300 173 633 or online at