It comes at us from seemingly every direction: home, work, school, even traffic … destroying the rhythm and serenity of a normal day with demands, irritations and annoyances. It hides inside computer screens, on the other end of telephone lines and in stacks of paper, piled high on desk tops.
What most people have come to recognize as stress can take over a life. Twist it, eat it and spit it out, forcing its victims into bouts of hysteria or sullen stupors.
“Stress can inhibit us from performing our daily duties,” said Christina Stump, community readiness consultant at Schriever’s Airman and Family Readiness Center. “Most of us are presented with work-life stress, deployment stress, financial stress and marriage or relationship stress at any given time. When it gets in the way of our daily living it has become a problem. That’s when we need to address it and find ways to cope with it.”
Stump and her fellow consultants will soon have a new tool for helping people who suffer from the debilitating effects of stress. Called “Heart Math,” the new de-stress workshop, planned for introduction early next year, will present something rather unique for attendees.
During the event, A&FRC consultants will connect participants to a heart monitor, ask them to think of stressful events in their lives and then watch the computed indicators.
“The heart has its own nervous system,” Stump said. “It’s called the ‘Heart Brain.’ The heart sends information to the brain and vice versa. These electromagnetic waves can be tracked and visually represented. So we hook people up to the wave monitor and it measures their stress level.”
Once participants reach a high-stress level, consultants initiate a short break. Then the participant is instructed on heart-focused breathing techniques.
“Imagine breathing through your heart,” Stump said. “You close your eyes and take long, slow breaths and imagine a positive experience. After a minute or so, participants are asked how they feel. Have their stressful feelings calmed at all? If so, they are asked to try and anchor those feelings of calmness.”
According to workshop literature, the breathing and positive thought exercises become more effective with repetition.
“What’s amazing about it is, you can actually watch your stress level drop,” Stump said. “The idea is that stress puts your heart and brain out of sync, but with practice and repetition you can pull yourself back into sync.”
The timing couldn’t be more perfect for military members and their families, explained Stump, as service members are tasked with more deployments and organizations are asking workers to do more with less, work-life stress levels typically rise as a result.
Stress reveals itself through specific indicators. According to the American Psychological Association stress can cause high blood pressure, anxiety, sleep deprivation, irritability, fatigue and abnormal eating behaviors.
“What’s even more alarming for people is that stress presents a reciprocating impact,” Stump said. “If people are dealing with a health issue, or their spouse is sick at home, the stress from these events don’t just affect them at home. It’s going to affect how they handle their relationships at work. It covers all areas of a person’s life.”
Once people understand where stress comes from and begin to recognize its symptoms, they can then begin to address those causes and learn how to better cope in their daily lives.
This new workshop is designed to help people increase their coherence and manage stressful emotions, improving their health and well being.
“The important thing to realize is that people can take a break from stress,” Stump said. “And when that happens they come back with a fresh perspective on life. It’s amazing how people don’t realize the level of stress they’ve been dealing with until it’s suddenly removed. This workshop represents another tool for people to hold in their own toolbox.”