KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) — (Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series on how individual wellness contributes to mission success and why it’s beneficial for Reserve Citizen Airmen to preserve health, manage stress, create balance and find meaning.)
Stress is an inevitable part of life and military life in particular.
Nicole Mayzner, 403rd Wing psychological health director, said not all stress is negative, and the problems with stress usually arise when it is ignored and continues to build.
“It is very important to practice stress management and determine the techniques that work for you because unaddressed or unmanaged stress typically comes out negatively and can have a significant impact on overall health, relationships, mood and sleep,” Mayzner said.
Physical issues can include headaches, sleep disorders, upset stomach, increased blood pressure and weight gain or weight loss. Mood issues can include anxiety and short temper or increased irritability, depression and inability to focus or be motivated. Changes in behavior can include social withdrawal, increased drinking, outbursts and less time taken for positive self-care like exercising or healthy eating.
Stress is often increased for Reserve Airmen and their families when they are preparing for, undergoing, or returning from a deployment.
Mayzner said a key way to manage deployment stress is to prepare for it in advance.
“Regardless of whether it is your tenth deployment or first, every deployment is different in some ways,” she said. “If an individual goes into their deployment with the expectation of things being the same for themselves or those involved back home, they are likely going to experience increased stress and difficulties both on the deployment as well as on the home-front.”
Communication is also essential to minimizing stress before, during, and after a deployment. Mayzner suggested having homecoming and reintegration plans in place and then communicating those plans with friends and family members before returning from deployment.
“When individuals wait until after they return to start having these conversations, there are often conflicts that emerge from unrealistic expectations from both the person deployed and the people at home,” she said. “If things are discussed during the deployment and in advance of returning home, this has significant impact on reducing stress experienced by all.”
Mayzner also said it’s important for Airmen and family members to give themselves time to adjust. This includes adjusting to the new environment and routine during a deployment and the resumption of roles or re-establishing routines once back home.
“Both yourself and those back home establish new routines and habits during deployments, and it helps if you allow yourself and others some time to re-establish things and work together on the process of deciding the new normal,” she said. “Often, people feel they need a significant amount of time to set aside for stress management techniques, but it can be done in as little as a few minutes.”
Also, she said Airmen often report their means of handling stress in terms of future events, such as vacations or future time with family, and neglect to practice anything in the meantime.
“I compare stress management to brushing your teeth,” Mayzner said. “It is something you need to do daily, and hopefully more than once per day. It does not take long, but the benefits are well worth it.”
A few techniques she suggests are deep breathing, going for a run or walk, creating art, journaling, practicing yoga, blowing bubbles with kids, laughing, talking to a friend, listening to or playing music, taking a bath or anything that a person finds relaxing.
“It is important to take time out each day for some relaxation and quiet time for your mind,” Mayzner said. “It will have substantial impacts on you as even 10-15 minutes per day can help to rejuvenate and recharge your batteries.”
Mayzner also said that on a recent survey she distributed to the 403rd Wing the top three stressors reported were work, finances and weight/physical shape, and the top three means of handling stress were talking to friends, going to the gym or running, and talking to a significant other.
Patricia Jackson, 403rd Wing Airman and Family Readiness Center director, said it’s important to manage stress because when left unmanaged, stress can become detrimental to one’s body and mind.
“Stress can get the better part of a person when it becomes a problem,” Jackson said. “Remember, we cannot eliminate stress in our life, but what we can do is manage it.”
Techniques Jackson suggests for managing stress are eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising, meditation, setting aside leisure time to recharge, talking through problems with a counselor, avoiding large intakes of caffeine and sugar, and prioritizing what’s most important.
The Airman and Family Readiness Center serves as a hub for resources that can help reservists, guardsmen, active duty and their families to manage stress. They offer workshops periodically and can also connect Airmen and families with resources like the Military and Family Life Counselor program, Troop and Family Counseling Service, Mental Health Clinic, American Red Cross and Military OneSource.
There are also several phone applications that were developed to help people cope with stress:
Breathe2Relax utilizes hands-on diaphragmatic breathing exercises. It uses graphics, animation, narration and videos to deliver an immersive experience for the user. Some features include customizable backgrounds and music, immersive tutorial videos, a body scanner to display the effects of stress, graphing to track effectiveness and audio narration.
Mindfulness Coach was developed for people who may be experiencing emotional distress and for those wanting to maintain healthy coping practices. The app can be used on its own by those who would like mindfulness tools, or to augment face-to-face care with a health care professional. However, it’s not intended to replace psychotherapy or other treatment for those who need it. Some features include walkthroughs for nine forms of mindfulness meditation, a session log for tracking mindfulness practice and educational materials about the benefits of mindfulness.
LifeArmor features information on 17 topics including sleep, depression, relationship issues and post-traumatic stress. Brief self-assessments help the user measure and track their symptoms, and tools are available to assist with managing specific problems. Videos relevant to each topic provide personal stories from other service members, veterans and military family members.
Parenting2Go was developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology and the Veterans Affairs Office of Mental Health Services as part of the Department of Defense/VA Integrated Mental Health Strategy. Parenting2Go and the companion online course, Parenting for Service Members and Veterans, provides tools to help parents reconnect with their families after a deployment and build closer relationships with their children.
T2 Mood Tracker allows users to monitor and track emotional health and was originally developed as a tool for service members to easily record and review their behavior changes, particularly after combat deployments.
Virtual Hope Box supports behavioral health in service members and military families and was designed for use by patients and their behavioral health providers as an accessory to treatment. The VHB contains simple tools to help patients with coping, relaxation, distraction and positive thinking.