Commander, chaplain talk about holiday stress

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The holiday season is almost upon us and some Airmen may find themselves wrestling with a combination of stressors during the 40 or so days between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Many Airmen can find themselves overwhelmed with feelings of sadness or depression because they miss friends and family back home and are struggling with personal relationships. Or they are dealing with financial problems that are difficult and weigh on them heavily.

Whatever the case, all Airmen are strongly encouraged to seek out and help their fellow Airmen with holiday stress.

"Our job during the days between Thanksgiving and the new year is to pay attention to one another, Airman-to-Airman," said Brig. Gen. Steven Kwast, the commander of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Supervisors and wingmen should look out for signs of stress and reach out to each other if things become even a little overwhelming.

"Make sure you're looking each other in the eye," General Kwast said. "If somebody is struggling, make sure that you're there and talking with them about it."

Signs of stress may vary from person-to-person and situation-to-situation. Some significant signs of stress may include:

-- Behavioral changes such as social isolation, deterioration in an Airman's appearance or work performance.

-- Cognitive changes such as slow or poor decision-making, decreased memory or concentration.

-- Mood changes such as being constantly angry, sad or irritable, and frequent mood fluctuations.

-- Expressed feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

If you begin to feel "stretched thin" emotionally or physically, don't wait until you reach the point of helplessness or hopelessness. Seek help from a supervisor, friend or loved one. You can also enhance your ability to manage stress by eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting adequate rest, and remaining within your financial means.

"We've got organizations on base to help us with stress, mental help professionals and chaplains, but there is nothing more important or powerful to solving this problem than one friend to another," General Kwast said.

"A friend who notices something isn't quite right and is there to listen and find assistance during tough times is what being a good Airman is all about. Be a good wingman and pay attention to your brothers and sisters, especially during this holiday season," he said.

People may not believe it, but even chaplains can feel down with the onset of the holidays.

"I feel those same feelings of loneliness and wishing I were home with my family like anyone else," said Lt. Col. Randall Kitchens, a 455th AEW chaplain. "I have a 19-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son. I'm looking into the eyes of many of our Airmen here who are about that same age. In their eyes I see my son and daughter, and in that moment I think to myself that, if they were here I hope someone is going to be here for them," he said.

"That thought redirects me, instead of me being down on myself, I turn around and think how I can help someone else, the chaplain said. And generally when I go to help someone else I feel better. It lifts my spirits because that is part of who I am as a person.