Stress Relievers That Work
Relieving Stress Is Just As Important As Training
March 21, 2014 by David Khan
Whoever said that the military isn’t that rough has never spent a day in the service! Long deployments from home and loved ones, frequent moves from one duty station to the next, separations over birthdays and holidays, fast paced and sometimes hazardous work environments and more…they all come with the job. All of those simple stressors by themselves can be mitigated; it’s when they compound that they start to be a problem. The simplest advice is ”avoid stressful situations.” Those of us who have served in the military laugh when someone who hasn’t served gives us that prescription for stress management.
The truth is, stress isn’t always a bad thing. It keeps your senses keen and taps into the competitive nature that many service men and women possess. It’s when stress becomes too much to handle that things break down. For some, the quick answer is to turn to unhealthy outlets such as alcohol or other substances. Neither are a healthy or sustainable solution.
Instead let’s just go back to the basics of what we were all taught from day one in recruit training, there is a simple solution for any foreseeable scenario. Stress happens! Stress management needs to be part of a self-care regiment for every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine to keep him or her fully ready to do the job when called upon.
Before we reported for recruit training, being physically active was a high priority. As soon as they could after we reported to boot camp, our Drill Sergeant/Recruit Division Commander/Military Training Instructor/Drill Instructor started working us out like crazy. Most think it’s because they wanted to “break us down to build us back up,” or to weed out those who couldn’t hack it.
While fitness is small part of the experience, military indoctrination is typically a stressful process for most recruits. Many of us were away from the safety and predictability of home for the first time, and the stressors of learning the military way to do things can be overwhelming for some. The answer to that stress? Exercise.
Exercise releases endorphins, which can dramatically improve a person’s mood almost instantly. That’s why the military forces all that serve to maintain a healthy BMI and lifestyle of fitness. So when you’re having a stressful day and want to clear your head, go for a run, lift some weights or maybe hit the heavy bag for a while. You’ll be amazed at how much better you will feel
As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” When we are stressed, we tend to skip meals or make poor food choices out of convenience or by using comfort foods as an attempt to boost our moods. Sadly, that usually ends up doing the opposite in the long term because stress levels and diet are very closely related.
Instead of grabbing that bag of double-stuff chocolate cookies from the vending machine, make a tuna sandwich on wheat—the omega-3 fatty acids are exactly what your brain needs and a nice multi-grain wheat bread has plenty of fiber to fill you up. Find other ways to replace those unhealthy foods for better choices and you might be surprised how well they work.
When military members conduct their physical fitness training, what’s the one thing the medic/corpsman is always preaching? DRINK MORE WATER!
To function at our peak efficiency we needed to constantly rehydrate. Our brains are electrochemical machines, which means they need hydration to work. Most of us walk around slightly dehydrated, which can affect our mental acuity and stamina, as well as our mood. So make sure you consume eight, 8oz. glasses of water (sorry coffee and sodas don’t count) every day to keep your ‘grey matter’ wet and happy.
Take a breath
Yes we all hate to be told to do this in a moment where we feel like we’re going to pop. Maybe we’re mad, scared, confused, sad or a combination of several emotions.
One of the symptoms of stress is shallow breathing, which can reduce the oxygen levels in our blood. Less oxygen means our brain isn’t working with everything it needs to make the best decisions. (Is anyone else seeing a trend yet?) So taking a breath is actually the best course of action!
The next time you feel really stressed, slowly take in a chest full of air, exhale and repeat several more times.
LAUGHTER IS NO JOKE
Laughter is one extremely potent medicine that can help stimulate your immune system, alleviate tension in your muscles, relieve pain, and improve your mood. The Mayo Clinic and other organizations have done studies on the health benefits of laughter—it’s that important to our well-being and health.
Show me a group of junior enlisted folks forced to fight boredom or fear and I’ll promise you that someone will inevitably break out some jokes or funny-ribbing. After all, there have been the off-color (sometimes even vulgar) jokes that service members have shared for centuries. If you’re really stressed, talk with a buddy who is a joker, watch a funny movie, or listen to a silly tune that you can’t help but laugh at.
Operation Counting Sheep
We’ve all been witness to someone who is sleep-deprived. They are typically either snarly or to put it nicely, a little off their game. Lack of sleep not only causes stress but can also make it harder for you to get sleep later on, turning into a vicious spiral that, if not put in check early, may require a doctor's assistance.
Good sleep is probably the most effective tactic to combat stress, and perhaps the one most people need the most. Eight hours of sleep a night helps our bodies to repair and allows our brains to disconnect and recharge.
The experts say a good night of sleep involves turning off the TVs and putting away the smartphones and the iPads at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This gives your mind time to wind down and provides for the best environment to get good night’s reset. All of us know how recharged we feel after we’ve had a good night’s sleep, so make it a priority.
Rest and Relax
Finding activities that are relaxing and fun are good for our spirits and excellent stress busters. For some it may be physical activities like mountain biking or lifting weights. Others may enjoy outdoor activities like camping, fishing or hiking. Still others may just enjoy reading a book, journaling or painting. Whatever the hobby, make it a part of your self-care plan to ensure that you have a regular chance to decompress.
All of us who have served know that everyone has a breaking point. By incorporating a leisurely activity regularly, you can alleviate some of the risks that come with stress. Why do you think there are so many on-base activities through MWR! Even Uncle Sam knows how important it is to wind down.
Regardless of how you choose to relieve your stress, the important thing is to make it a regular part of your routine. Humans aren’t machines--even if being a product of military training might make that hard to remember for some of us.
Now go blow off some steam and have some fun.