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7 Ways to Conquer Stress

The word "stress," in its current form, was originally coined by Hans Selye in 1936. He defined it as "the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change."1 Today, however, the word is used to describe a very broad range of emotional responses.

In fact, roughly two-thirds of Americans under 50 said they "experienced stress a lot" during the previous day, according to a recent Gallup poll.2

Even if you don't fall into that category, it is likely that, at some point, you've said you "feel stressed" — perhaps without truly understanding the science behind its causes, the effect it has on your body or the remedies you can use to manage it.

What Is Stress, Anyway?

Humans undergo different types of stress, according to the National Institute of Mental Health: routine stress from school, work, family and other daily responsibilities; stress from sudden changes, such as divorce or job loss; and traumatic stress from accidents, wars or disasters.3

While the causes of stress, known as "stressors," are particular to each person, certain themes crop up frequently. Many Americans, for example, cite work, money, health care and current events as major stressors.4 For others, it might be family or relationships.

When you face a stressor — be it a critical father-in-law, a high-stakes meeting or a life-altering event — it triggers a natural biological response, which is commonly known as "fight or flight" mode. Your brain sends hormones like adrenaline and cortisol throughout your body. This causes your heart rate to accelerate, pumping blood to your muscles and vital organs, and making you feel energized and hyper-aware.5 (Cortisol, the "stress hormone," can even be detected in your saliva.)

Historically, this stress response helped us outrun and outwit predators, and even in modern times, it can be both necessary and positive. Consider the last time you were on the slopes and needed to react to a downhill skier, or the last time you were compelled to work harder by a looming deadline.

As Morgan Stanley's Chief Medical Officer, David Stark, admits:

"Some degree of stress is inevitable. In these situations, it is best to remember that stress is a normal physiological response that serves to optimize performance in the moment."

How Chronic Stress Harms Your Body & Mind

Chronic stress, however, is a different story. When you are constantly under duress, those initially beneficial reactions can wreak havoc on everything from your gut and muscles to your immune and reproductive systems.6 Like a car whose engine is constantly revved, a stressed body experiences significant wear and tear.

Unfortunately for us, we don't have a "check engine" light, and the signs of stress are not always clear. Especially in today's always-on environment, it is possible to experience chronic stress without knowing what it is. Some common symptoms include an upset stomach, headaches, changes in appetite, lack of focus, insomnia and irritability.7

Although those might not sound too threatening, chronic stress can eventually cause serious health issues. It can increase your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, and is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.8 One longitudinal study, in fact, found that men with moderate to high chronic stress levels were about 50 percent more likely to die prematurely.9

7 Smart Ways to Manage Stress

So, while you might complain about stress in a lighthearted way, the truth is it's no joke. And learning how to recognize and manage stress is vital for your physical and mental health.

Besides eliminating stressors — removing yourself from a toxic work environment, for example, or addressing a tense situation with a relative — here are seven strategies for ensuring stress does not control your life.

  • JUST BREATHE. As it turns out, your mother was onto something when she told you to take a deep breath. Deep abdominal breathing can slow your heartbeat and lower your blood pressure, helping to reduce stress.10

  • GET MOVING. Exercise reduces cortisol and increases endorphins, both of which can aid in stress relief,11 and you only need to work out for 30 minutes per day to reap all of the mood-boosting benefits.12 Bonus points for exercising outside, as a mere 20 minutes in nature has also been shown to lower levels of cortisol.13

  • TRY MEDITATION. Science suggests that meditation can reduce symptoms of stress.14 To get started, download one of the many mindfulness apps and podcasts that have launched in recent years. Yoga, a form of moving meditation, is a proven stress reliever, too.15

  • LEARN TO SAY NO. Though some stress is inevitable, some stress might be due to the fact you have too many balls in the air. Free up time and mental space by only accepting responsibilities that excite you. (Watch "The Art of Saying No" for some pointers.)

  • If you’re looking to meditate or work out at home, take advantage of Reserved Living & Giving’s exclusive offer from Namaste Wellness. Empower and take care of yourself in new and different ways with wellness practices that keep you thriving amidst challenging times.

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  • UNPLUG (AT LEAST A LITTLE). Constant use of technology has been associated with higher stress levels.16 You can take small steps to curb your addiction by creating tech-free zones and times: forbidding phones from the dinner table, for instance, or avoiding technology for an hour before bed.

  • SPEND TIME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Make it a point to enjoy the people in your life who aren't a source of anxiety. (Laughing helps, too.17) Bond over one of the activities above — a hike, some yoga — for an experience that's all but guaranteed to put you in a state of bliss.

  • EAT DARK CHOCOLATE. Eat dark chocolate: Researchers from Loma Linda University found that consumption of dark chocolate can lead to reduced stress levels. While the study was not peer reviewed, it's a welcome excuse for a treat on a tough day. Just make sure you're opting for 75% cacao or higher.

If you’re looking to meditate or work out at home, take advantage of Reserved Living & Giving’s exclusive offer from Namaste Wellness. Empower and take care of yourself in new and different ways with wellness practices that keep you thriving amidst challenging times.

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When Selye defined stress as the body's response to "any demand for change" more than 80 years ago, there's no way he could have imagined the world we live in today. The modern era demands change on a near constant basis, especially for those of us in the period of life filled with milestones such as homeownership, promotions, marriage and parenthood.

With this ever flowing river of change — from barrages of emails to frequent career pivots to midnight baby cries — it should come as no surprise when your body responds. That's what evolution trained it to do. The trick, therefore, is not to make futile attempts to eliminate stress entirely, but to recognize and manage it before it becomes overwhelming.

So take a deep breath, go for a walk or call a friend. And then maybe eat a piece of chocolate. Your health, after all, depends on it.

  • https://www.stress.org/what-is-stress

  • https://news.gallup.com/poll/249098/americans-stress-worry-anger-intensified-2018.aspx

  • https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml

  • https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2019/stress-america-2019.pdf

  • https://www.healthline.com/health/stress#definition

  • https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body

  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987

  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress

  • https://www.oregonlive.com/health/2011/10/stress_can_shorten_your_life_a.html

  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response

  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/16-ways-relieve-stress-anxiety#section1

  • https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/09/22/349875448/best-to-not-sweat-the-small-stuff-because-it-could-kill-you

  • https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190404074915.htm

  • https://nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/mind-body-stress-science

  • https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002239561500206X

  • https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/technology-social-media.pdf

  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

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