Commentary by Jeremy Roberts
What is stress? Stress is the mind and body’s response to a demand. In a Darwinian sense, it is an adaptation to change; when faced with a situation, the mind and body will adjust accordingly to cope with that situation.
However, some individuals are better at this adaptation process than others, which causes certain individuals to become increasingly more stressed. In regards to this adaptation, impacts can be both positive and negative. A common misconception is that stress is all negative and can take a negative effect on your body. However, there is stress that is considered positive.
Positive stress is short-lived and controlled as opposed to negative stress, which is uncontrolled and varies in duration. Negative stress can last for weeks, months or even years if not appropriately managed. Positive stress can be used to meet deadlines and short notice taskings and also during exercise. Negative stress can lead to health, family, work and legal problems, which can have a serious effect on one’s career and health.
There are many ways to manage stress and reduce the emotional, physical, psychological and behavioral effects of the stress response. Researchers have been studying stress since the idea of stress was identified as a possible health concern. It is important to note that everybody is different.
Exercise and meditation may work for one individual and have the exact opposite effect for another individual. Find something that works for you. A good example of this involves an Airman who attended stress management classes a few years ago. Her main technique for reducing stress was to exercise. For years, exercise has been considered the most effective and natural way to manifest the stress response because not only is exercise considered a form of stress, but it is also the enactment of all the physiological systems that the fight-or-flight response triggers for physical survival.
Exercise as a stress-reduction technique detoxifies stress related compounds, improves feelings of self-esteem and provides opportunities for social support. In the case of the Airman, she indicated that when she felt stressed at home or work, she would exercise by running. However, she said she absolutely hated to run. While what she was doing was a great way to decrease the stress response, it was not helping because she did not enjoy it.
When engaging in any physical activity to reduce stress, it is important to make that exercise enjoyable. Try something else, such as a team or individual sport or activity that you enjoy if running is not preferred. Engaging in physical activity in which you are dreading, is not very effective.
While exercise is great for stress reduction, some people are unable to exercise regularly due to injury or other circumstances. So what should they do instead? Monitoring diet and food intake is a good start. Research has shown that some food actually induce a state of stress.
Food with high amounts of salt, sugar and caffeine actually weaken the body and make the response to stress a lot less effective. Eating healthy has an effect on the level of neurotransmitters in the brain, the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain and also the ability of the brain to send electrical messages back and forth.
Nutritionists have found some interesting results concerning nutrition, with a few helpful regimens that most people had already known, but failed to follow. It is recommended to reduce fat, sugar and salt intakes, eat a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, reduce amount of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine and choose healthy, stress-relieving snacks. Eat only when sitting down and not doing another activity. People should eat regular, complete and healthy meals and control portion sizes. Take the time to look at the nutrition information on the package of favorites foods and see how much an actual portion size is. Some people eat three to four portions at one time without even knowing it.
The Family Advocacy Program can assist with stress and stress related problems if increasing exercise and improving diet is not the issue. Each quarter, the Family Advocacy Program offers a “Managing your Stress” course, which is open to all personnel, including active duty, civilian, contractor, reservists and family members, age 18 and older. This course can provide very beneficial information regarding stress and how to manage it effectively.
While exercise and nutrition are covered extensively during the course, other techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, are also addressed and explained. The course also addresses work-related stressors and effective ways to manage stress in the workplace which can be very beneficial especially for the active-duty population who can carry a wide variety of work-related roles in their work sections.
Along with “Managing your Stress,” the Family Advocacy Program also offers F.A.S.E.S (Family Advocacy Supporting Effective Solutions) which is also open to all personnel. F.A.S.E.S not only discusses some basics regarding stress and stress management, but also addresses anger, domestic violence, communication and active listening and parenting. This four-hour educational experience can greatly benefit not only those who would like to relieve a little stress, but also people who may be dealing with other concerns.
Managing stress is very beneficial to many areas of life. Not dealing with stress effectively can lead to many stress-related illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and insomnia, just to name a few.
For more information, call the Family Advocacy Program at 719-556-8943 or visit the office in Bldg. 725 on Peterson AFB.