Story by: Lt. Col. Judith A. Hamrick, USAPHC
Hassles. Deadlines. Short suspenses. Life today is full of stress. What is stress, and how does one manage it? Stress is anything that makes one feel tense, anxious or excited. This includes good things, too, like vacations and holidays. Lots of things can cause stress – short suspenses, unrealistic expectations, over-commitment of time or finances, even relationships with other people.
Stress can cause symptoms in many areas of life, including physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual. Stress can make one ill or leave one susceptible to injuries. It can cause headaches, stomach discomfort, trouble sleeping or leave one feeling run down, irritable or forgetful.
The bad news is people cannot avoid all stress. The good news is some stress is healthy. It motivates people to accomplish things and to make necessary changes. It also is something a person can influence.
A person's attitude can help him or her handle stress. Sometimes one needs to gain perspective by stepping back from a problem and asking how important it is. What will it matter 100 years from now? Sometimes one needs to grieve the loss, theft or death of a person, object, opportunity or status. Sometimes one needs to go with the flow and be flexible, accepting the things he or she cannot change.
At other times, it helps to do something. In such times, a person must first determine what is causing the stress. Is it a shortage of time, energy, money or space? Is it a conflict of values? Is the stress coming from one's job, environment, personal relationships or personal expectations? Where is it possible to make a change?
If there are many stressors, it helps to choose one or two areas to change. Changing too many things at once often causes more stress. Making changes that affect the biggest stressors often has the added benefit of relieving stress in other areas.
The most critical factor in dealing with stress is control. Knowledge and planning are important aspects of control. The most difficult things a person will face are the unanticipated and the unavoidable. However, one can prevent or lessen some problems by planning, and this can lower stress.
Next, one can plan ways of coping with the stress. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, a healthy diet and lifestyle, and interacting with others help to keep one healthy and to regain perspective and the mental energy necessary to solve problems.
Taking care of one's spirit also helps in managing stress. Many things like journaling, meditating, time management, play, hobbies, laughter and singing can help refresh the spirit. Trying something new occasionally will help to avoid boredom.
One must put his or her plan into action in order for it to be effective. A person should allow at least three weeks for his or her plan to bring some relief. After three weeks, it helps to reevaluate one's stress level and adjust the plan as needed, by trying different ways to lower stress in the same area or by dealing with another area that is causing stress. Those unable to find relief from their stress are encouraged to speak with a chaplain or mental health provider.
For more information on ways to manage stress, visit Medline Plus at www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/stress.html; the Mayo Clinic at www.mayoclinic.com/health/stresssymptoms/SR00008_D; or the American Institute of Stress at www.stress.org/.