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, about 48% of Americans 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. Since the pandemic, many Americans, for example, cite money, inflation and current events as major stressors.4 For others, it might be family or relationships.

When you face a stressor—be it a critical family member, a high-stakes meeting or a life-altering event—it triggers a natural biological response, commonly known as "fight or flight" mode. Your brain sends hormones like adrenaline and cortisol (the “stress hormone”) throughout your body, causing your heart rate to accelerate, pumping blood to your muscles and vital organs, and making you feel energized and hyper-aware.5

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 found that men with moderate to high chronic stress levels were about 50 percent more likely to die prematurely.9

Wearable wellness devices like the Oura Ring can help you stay more in sync with how your body is performing, helping you make better daily decisions to improve your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Reserved Living & Giving members receive $30 off an Oura Ring and a complimentary one-month user subscription.

7 Smart Ways to Manage Stress

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

Here are seven strategies for ensuring stress does not control your life.

1.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

2.GET MOVING. Exercise reduces cortisol and increases endorphins, both of which can aid in stress relief, and you only need to work out for 30 minutes per day to reap all of the mood-boosting benefits.11, 12 Bonus points for exercising outside, as a mere 20 minutes in nature has also been shown to lower levels of cortisol.13 Don’t have time to get to the gym or outside? Reserved Living & Giving members receive a free session and discounted packages at Barry’s fitness classes.

3.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

4.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 pointers). It is also important to learn how to set boundaries so you can establish healthy relationships. This can help you avoid the stress and anxiety that comes from feeling powerless and lacking control.16

5.UNPLUG (AT LEAST A LITTLE). Constant use of technology has been associated with higher stress levels.17 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. If you’re looking to embrace the present and focus on mindfulness to the fullest extent, try a wellness resort with programs and treatments. Reserved Living & Giving members have access to discounts and perks Miraval Berkshires Resort & Spa as well as Canyon Ranch Resorts.

6.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).18 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.

7.EAT DARK CHOCOLATE. Eat dark chocolate: Researchers from Loma Linda University found that dark chocolate consumption can reduce stress levels. While the study was not peer-reviewed, it's a welcome excuse for a treat on a tough day. Reserved Living & Giving members receive 20% off Sugarfina’s luxury candy shop, including its selection of premium dark chocolate.

When Selye defined stress 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 as we experience milestones such as homeownership, promotions, marriage, parenthood and retirement.

The trick 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.




















This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC does not guarantee their accuracy or completeness. This article does not provide medical advice. Please consult with your physician to discuss your personal situation.

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC is not implying an affiliation, sponsorship, endorsement with/of the third party or that any monitoring is being done by Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”) of any information contained within the website. Morgan Stanley is not responsible for the information contained on the third party website or the use of or inability to use such site. Nor do we guarantee their accuracy or completeness.

© 2022 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Member SIPC.

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