Filed under: Stress
Ever notice that pain isn’t as bad when you are doing something: hanging out with friends; playing video games; taking a walk? Simply put, distraction works—sort of like having a busy signal for your brain. Distraction may not have the other benefits of exercise and meditation, but it can help you manage pain and other problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and anger.
A couple tips:
- Choose healthy distractions that make your life better, such as exercise, fostering good friendships, art...
- Don’t use too much distraction. Save it for when it can benefit you the most. If you use it too much, it loses its effect.
Worrying is normal. If you tend to think that worrying will help you prevent stress later, you're not alone. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. Worrying can become a problem all by itself, especially when you're worrying about something that can't be solved. Try this instead: Make a habit of writing your worries down. Keeping a journal or a record, like some people do for weight loss or a training regime (see Rule #9 in OSOK’s 10 Rules of Engagement), can help you see patterns and trends, mark progress, and simply get things off your mind. For some, seeing a concern written down allows them to "forget" it. Keep a journal in a place where you find yourself worrying a lot (except in your car—limit your writing to someplace safe), such as the dinner table or the nightstand beside your bed. When you find yourself worrying, start jotting, and over the course of the week, see if it hasn't helped you get a handle on worrying. If it helps you take action or let go, you've done your mind a favor.
Being able to communicate effectively with those around us is a great way not only to enhance our relationships but also to ward off unnecessary stress. When having a conversation with a partner, friend, or coworker, most of us forget to communicate that we’re listening and that we understand what the other person is saying, which, can lead to arguments and/or misunderstandings. Show the other person that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say— asking questions and showing supportive reactions will help the other person feel understood. The Kansas National Guard has a video that demonstrates four ways of responding, including one that is both active and constructive (the best way!).
The physical and emotional stress associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can raise your blood pressure and cholesterol and increase body mass index, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Veterans suffering from PTSD are more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack than those without PTSD. While the exact relationship between PTSD and heart disease is not fully understood, we know that regular exercise can help prevent heart disease and other risk factors, which could be helpful for those with PTSD. Some types of exercise can be effective in reducing psychological symptoms associated with PTSD and also can play a role in reducing unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, being overweight, and physical inactivity—sometimes byproducts of trying to cope. If you think that exercise might help you or a loved one cope with PTSD, speak with your healthcare provider to assess how much and what kind of exercise is best!
Think about this: Not getting enough sleep has a serious impact on how and what you think—your memory and concentration suffer, as do your awareness of your surroundings and your reaction time. Sleep loss affects your ability to make good decisions and puts you on edge, making you susceptible to your emotions. There’s more: Sleep loss also affects your ability to think positively and solve problems effectively. All of these are key factors in managing stress. Making good decisions now reduces your stress over the long term, and this can be compromised when you’re not at your peak. Bottom line: Focus on getting enough sleep to help you manage your stress.
For more on how to get better sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics information on sleep management. For how sleep loss affects all the areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article on The impact of sleep loss on total fitness.
Yoga’s popularity is growing in the United States, but many Americans are still not familiar with the details of this ancient practice. Yoga roots are holistic in nature—body and mind are of equal importance, and the asanas, or poses, which define yoga for many of us, are only one aspect of practice. Together with meditation and breath control, yoga promotes strength, flexibility, and awareness of body and mind. Yoga can help achieve wellness through meditation, deep relaxation, stretching, and breathing. Several organizations are now beginning to provide yoga classes tailored to veterans and active-duty service members who suffer from combat stress. VA facilities, Warrior Transition Units, and civilian studios are using it to complement traditional treatment of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Individuals who struggle with PTSD describe it as a feeling of disconnectedness from themselves and others. Yoga, which means “bringing together parts as a whole,” helps people feel connected again. One traditional type of yoga that has been shown to decrease anxiety in the military population is sensory-enhanced hatha yoga, which involves breathing, meditation, and certain poses. A specific benefit reported by participants in sensory-enhanced yoga was a decrease in insomnia. Combat-stressed adults also experienced reduced hyperarousal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and rage. Integrative Restoration (iRest) is a yoga-based meditative practice that teaches a person to focus on breathing when a negative memory arises. Soldiers and marines have expressed satisfaction in these breathing techniques because of the method’s simplicity and ease. It allows a person to regain control over his/her thoughts whenever symptoms of PTSD present themselves. A study found that iRest decreases rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity all of which encourage negative thoughts and memories. Those practicing iRest also reported increased feelings of relaxation, peace, self-awareness, and self-efficacy. Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) was one of the first military facilities to research the outcomes of yoga for veterans and active-duty warriors suffering from PTSD. WRAMC immediately added iRest to its weekly treatment programs for soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI after observing its effects: increased calm and peaceful feelings, less severe reactions to situations, and increased outlook on life.
There are many more yoga practices than the ones mentioned here, and each yoga method is different, so you can find the right one for you!
Dealing with the stress of deployment and re-adjusting to home life post-deployment can be tough. It’s important to focus on managing your stress, finding ways to cope, and building your resilience. According to Real Warriors, you can get “behaviorally fit” by managing stress and reaching out to others. Among several tips offered is how to deal with problems as they come—head on. Don’t avoid discussing tough issues or finding ways to deal with them. For problems that seem too big, try breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps. For issues that you still find yourself struggling with even after breaking them down, the best bet is to get help from a professional, friend, or supportive family member.
It’s no news that stress can take a toll on your life and can affect your relationships—which may already be under a strain from repeated deployments and combat exposure. But unmanaged stress doesn’t affect only you; it can create a ripple effect in families, which is why learning to effectively manage stress is so important. Deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery, and body scanning are just a few strategies that can help you relax, manage your stress, and help you live your life better—and everyone in the family can learn and benefit from them.
For more tips on how to manage stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Control section.
Tobacco users often claim the reason they smoke (or chew) is to relieve stress. However, research shows that tobacco is not only ineffective for relieving stress, but tobacco users actually experience more stress than non-users. A study among military personnel showed that tobacco users use positive coping strategies—such as problem-solving skills—less often than non-smokers. So think twice before you light up (or chew) in order to relax—it may not be working as well as you think. Try some of the relaxation strategies found in HPRC’s Mind Tactics Stress Control resources instead.
PsychCentral’s March 2012 "Ask the Therapist" article addresses how mindfulness relates to military performance—especially important now that the military has been incorporating mindfulness tactics for enhancing Warfighter mental and physical resilience. Of particular note is a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology that demonstrated significant improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, etc. in veterans after completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The article also noted other studies that showed long-term stress-reduction, well-being, and positive experiences. Simply put, acknowledging emotional pain helps you overcome it. You are then able to focus and communicate with loved ones more effectively.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation and mindfulness, check out the Mind Tactics section of the HPRC website, which contains many resources related to meditation and mindfulness, as well as resources related to mental fitness, mental toughness, and resilience.