Filed under: Stress
Exposure to a natural green environment can help reduce your stress levels and improve your health and well-being. So, feeling blue? Go green! Some of nature’s restorative benefits include improved positive mood, energy, and vitality; decreased anxiety, depressive thoughts, perceived stress, and hostility; as well as improved recovery times after surgery and less need for pain meds.
Exposure to nature can also reduce your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and stress hormones, as well as improve your sleep, immune function, and brain activity. Interestingly, people who live in neighborhoods where streets have more trees report feeling healthier, with fewer symptoms of poor health such as heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Neighborhood greenness has also been tied to longer life expectancy.
Depending on where you live, finding a natural environment can be tricky. You can find state and national parks online or look for local parks and gardens in your area. Even walking along a neighborhood street with lots of trees, spending more time viewing nature (through a window), or having indoor plants within view can make you feel better. You may want to experience nature on your own, with a buddy, or with a group of fellow service members or veterans. For group outdoor recreational activities, check out the Sierra Club Outdoors program (or, specifically, their Military Outdoors program). So if you’re feeling stressed, down, or not your usual self, get outside and go green!
When stress threatens to overload you, be careful it doesn’t spill over into your relationships. Stress can make you less patient with your loved ones, less able to solve problems well, and more disagreeable.
When you’re under a lot of stress, you’re also more likely to feel negative about your relationships. This generally leads to more fighting, which can be especially tough for military families if one of you deploys or leaves for training before you’re able to rebalance your relationship and de-stress. While you’re apart, negative feelings can fester and further damage your relationship.
But just knowing about how stress can impact your relationships is the first step. Next time you feel stressed out, don’t let it fester. Instead, do something about it. To ease your stress, you can try:
- Deep breathing or another mind-body skill that can switch you from your body’s stress response to its relaxation response.
- Exercise, which can make you feel better and lower your stress.
- Something just for fun, which can take your mind off your stress.
- Connecting with a loved one. Feeling loved and supported can also reduce stress.
Finally, if you’re apart from your loved one, set aside time regularly to connect to him or her, regardless of the last fight you had. Try to give each other benefit of the doubt and move past the argument. You can always finish discussing it when he or she returns.
Anxiety can help motivate you to perform better, but too much can become overwhelming and get in the way of living life to the fullest. When ignored or avoided, anxiety can actually become more intense rather than less. To keep anxiety under control, we have three letters for you: PFD. We aren’t talking about a Personal Flotation Device; we’re talking about first preventing anxiety, then facing it, and finally de-stressing. Read more...
Stress affects your body, and the condition of your body can cause stress. If you have PTSD, you could be so chronically stressed that it contributes to a heart condition. Or if you had a heart attack, you could feel so traumatized that you become anxious. What’s more, stress could have contributed to your heart attack in the first place. This back-and-forth relationship also occurs between physical pain and depression. You physically hurt, so you feel down…you feel down, and so you hurt more.
This link between mind and body is amazing. Sometimes it can feel like it’s working against us, but you can also use the mind-body connection to your advantage! For instance, you can learn to push through strong emotions with mindfulness, reduce your blood pressure with a self-driven technique called autogenic training, or turn on your body’s relaxation response through deep breathing.
There are lots more ways you can put the mind-body connection to work to reduce your stress. Get more ideas by exploring HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.
The holidays are often a flurry of festivities, a time when we interact with more people than usual while at the same time feeling more stressed than usual. When you feel stress, often one of the first outward signs is how you communicate with others. Watch for an edgy tone to your voice and notice if you stop using a lot of eye contact with people who are talking to you. You may even start forgetting what someone just said. These are common signs of stress. This holiday season, go back to the basics: When someone is talking to you, use eye contact; when someone asks you to do something, repeat it back (it’ll help you remember); and think about your tone of voice and body posture (think open and non-defensive). But if you do slip up from time to time, own up to it, ask for forgiveness, have a good laugh, and focus on moving forward and looking at the bright side.
Different people react differently to stress, especially when it comes to food, and depending on the cause, intensity, and duration of stress. Whereas some people lose their appetite and skip meals in response to stress, others either overeat or eat unhealthy foods. Under stress, people tend to choose snack-type foods that are high in fat and sugar instead of meal-type foods such as meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s essential to survival and part of being a Warfighter. The key is learning how to manage your stress. December is the Military Health System’s Stress Management Month, which is especially appropriate for most of us during the holiday season. Here are some tips to help you reduce your stress and the likelihood of overeating:
- Engage in physical activity most days of the week, and try stress-relieving exercises such as yoga and meditation. Or find other hobbies that you enjoy and that help you feel relaxed.
- If you’re finding it difficult to stop reaching for the kitchen cupboard or refrigerator, make sure you stock your shelves with healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, cut-up veggie sticks, and air-popped popcorn (without the butter).
- Try to keep a food diary to understand the connection between your mood and your food. Keep track of what you eat, when you eat, and your emotions at the times you want to eat.
Learning how to manage your stress can be beneficial in more ways than one. For more information on stress and your health, read the National Institute of Mental Health’s factsheet on adult stress and HPRC’s resources for stress management.
If you’ve ever gotten up to speak in front of a crowd or waited to take a test, you’re already aware of how your thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions can overcome you if you’re not aware of them or if you try to erase them. These are obvious examples, but this “mind-body interaction” is at work all the time, often in subtle ways. Thoughts can impact your emotions, how you feel physically, and even how you behave.
Here’s an example: You test for the APRT on a day when you’re sick and score worse than your previous time. You could possibly think, “I stink,” and feel defeated and worse than you did before the test, subsequently putting less effort into the next one. Or you could think, “Not bad for being sick; let’s see what I’m made of next time!” and likely feel excited and more energized to put in necessary training. The list of possible thoughts in response to this event is endless, and each thought has a different emotion, body feeling, and behavior attached to it.
When you’re not aware of what your internal experiences are to begin with, thoughts, moods, signals from your body, and your behavior can come together to form the “perfect storm” of stress, which can impact immediate and future performances. By being aware of each thought, mood, sensation, and behavior, you can slow the storm down and have more influence over what you do and how you perform. Avoid running on autopilot.
The “Mind-Body ABCs” is a technique that can help. Pay attention to some situations where performance matters, and log the following:
“A” stands for Activating Event—the event or situation you’re currently in (or looking at afterwards) that triggers subtle responses from your mind and body.
“B” represents Belief—your thoughts about that situation. Imagine yourself as a cartoon in the Sunday comics with a thought bubble over your head. Your “belief” about the situation you’re in is represented by what’s written or drawn in the bubble.
“C” is for Consequences—how your thoughts affect your mood, body sensations, and behaviors. Notice the specific emotion you’re feeling (such as fear, anger, or even happiness), what’s happening in your body (such as butterflies, tensing up, or letting go), and what you feel pulled to do (such as hiding from the situation, arguing, or giving your best effort).
For each ABC, try to tune into one Activating event, one Belief, and a short list of Consequences (emotions, body feelings, and behaviors). Rather than trying to log all this in your head, use HPRC’s new Mind-Body ABCs Worksheet or make a similar chart in a journal and practice tracking your own ABCs (and alternative responses to the same A) every day.
When performance matters, it’s common to feel amped up—your heart beats faster, for example. How you interpret these physical sensations can change how you feel emotionally, including your overall mindset, and ultimately make a difference in how you perform. Recent research into performance anxiety over tasks such as singing, public speaking, and math gives us some insights about performance anxiety in general.
It’s normal to interpret some physical signs as performance anxiety. When you feel amped up, it may be difficult—or even impossible—to simply “decide” to feel calmer, because it isn’t consistent with what is happening in your body. And trying to pretend you’re calm can actually make you feel more anxious. But because your body has some of the same reactions—increased heart rate, “butterflies,” etc.—when you’re excited, you can actually feel excitement and anxiety at the same time by simply saying “I’m excited!” or deciding to feel excited. This doesn’t make the anxiety go away, but adding a layer of excitement over it can be valuable to how you think and ultimately perform..
Excitement feels good and puts your mind on a different track. When you’re excited, it’s easier to become aware of opportunities instead of potential threats. And this “opportunity mindset” leads to better performance.
So when you feel anxious about performing on the PRT, with marksmanship, or for any other task, remember that it’s normal. Convince yourself to feel excited. Allow yourself to see the opportunities. And in turn, enjoy better performance.
The “relaxation response” is your body’s counterpart to the stress response you feel during critical situations. As the name suggests, the relaxation response has a calming effect on your mental and physical state, with benefits that include less anxiety, a more positive mood, a sense of calmness and well-being, and reduced heart rate, breathing and metabolic rates, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
Sound good? You can learn how to use your body’s relaxation response for health and well-being. Various mind-body techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai-chi, and qigong all train you to turn this response on. Practicing these mind-body techniques has been found to help with anxiety and depression, as well as physical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and types of cancer that are exacerbated by stress.
To learn more about mind-body techniques, check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can tear apart your sense of what is safe and of what is good.
Part of the diagnosis of PTSD is exposure to a traumatic event: death, serious injury, sexual violence, or the threat of any of these. PTSD symptoms such as intrusive memories, avoidance of situations or feelings, problems in thinking or mood, and feeling overly amped up are common reactions to abnormal circumstances. Think of PTSD symptoms as self-preservation instincts gone haywire. One theory holds that, because you nearly died or experienced something awful or could picture it because it happened to someone close to you, your mind/body tries to sound the alarm bells to keep you safe. But the alarm bells sound at the wrong times and in the wrong ways.
However, PTSD symptoms can come from sources other than fear of bodily harm. They also can arise from inner conflict, when emotions trigger feelings such shame and guilt or when you question fundamental beliefs (such as “the world is basically good”). Witnessing or experiencing betrayal (especially by a leader in a high-stakes situation), within-ranks violence, extreme violence, and incidents involving civilians are some of what can disrupt your world view. It isn’t just an event but the interpretation of an event that causes Warfighters to experience “moral injury.”
If you suffer moral injury as part of PTSD, you start believing you live in an immoral world, or you view yourself as immoral, irredeemable, and defective. If you’re a Warfighter experiencing these feelings, you not only feel lousy, but you are more likely to isolate yourself just when you need others more than ever. Isolation can lead to self-handicapping or self-destructive behaviors.
So how do you save yourself from experiencing moral injury as a part of PTSD? Having a healthy sense of self-esteem can be one of your best protectors. There are no quick fixes. But forgiveness—of others and of yourself—can help you to let go of moral injury. With the help of a psychotherapist, you can begin to wrap your heart and mind around what happened. And pursuing positive interactions, such as getting involved with charitable groups, can give you opportunities to relearn that you are good and the other people in the world are generally good too. Last but not least, connecting with your spirituality—in whatever way is comfortable to you—can help you navigate this difficult journey.