Stress: Don't let it control you

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFPN) -- Your air expeditionary force cycle is coming up. You just received permanent change-of-station orders. An exercise is around the corner and you still need to prep for the Unit Compliance Inspection.

And that's just work. Add a home life, and your demands and stressors seem endless.
It's impossible to eliminate everyday stress factors from our lives, and particularly stressful situations or time periods can easily become overwhelming, even to the point of being debilitating. These stress factors aren't even necessarily negative -- positive life changes like marriage, having children or buying a new home cause a stress that is healthy or fulfilling, called eustress. In the end, though, it's still stress, and if you're starting to feel like you have no control over that stress.

It may be time to step back, take a look at your life and its contributing stressors, and take control.

"We talk about four R's when dealing with stress: Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress, relaxation, reassuring thinking and relating assertively," said Capt. (Dr.) Lisa Selthon, the 92nd Medical Group mental health chief and a clinical psychologist. "As with anything, you need to be able to recognize that you're stressed before you can take action, and the last three are reactions to that realization."

Recognizing stress may seem like an easy step, but when it comes to military life, sometimes people become so accustomed to stressful norms that some may not acknowledge the amount of stress being carried.

"In the military, there are stressors associated with everyday life that, if not put in check, can lead to an overload," Captain Selthon said. "For instance, if we typically work 40 hours per week, an exercise that suddenly forces us to work 60 hours per week can often cause stress."

Add those types of extended work hours to regular moves around the world, rising deployment rates, a family that also needs time, etc., and a person has a sure recipe for stress.

That's where the last three R's come in handy as tools to manage your stress effectively.

First, take time to relax. "Yeah, right," you say. If you had the time you'd take it, right?

Well, if you're finding that you have absolutely no time to give yourself a break, you may need to rethink your schedule and drop some of your activities.

"Be assertive with people about what you're able to do, what you can realistically get done in a day or a week," said Captain Selthon, adding that a healthy schedule is really a balancing act. While you don't want to isolate yourself through total withdrawal, you also "don't want to be working too much and then be involved in so many extra-curricular activities that it makes you feel overwhelmed."

The doctor also said that exercise could be a great stress reliever, along with its other healthy lifestyle benefits.

"When you exercise your body naturally produces a natural anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety response. It gets those endorphins flowing and helps to regulate your appetite and metabolism," said Captain Selthon. "It's also common when you're stressed to feel that you're too tired to work out or that you don't have enough time to go to the gym. Those are actually the times you need to be working out even more; it's going to help you feel like you have more energy to combat the stressors in your life."

Building a social network like friends, family and even professional assistance through a chaplain or mental health professional; getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods; pre-planning for known upcoming stressful periods like base exercises or deployments; and maintaining a positive outlook are also powerful aids for overcoming stress.

"Being able to moderate your self talk is highly important," Captain Selthon said. "Choosing to have a positive attitude isn't supposed to be Pollyanath, where you're looking at everything through rose-colored glasses. But if you go through your day or week or life with very alarming and negative thinking, 'It's never going to get better ... I can't handle it ... Nobody understands me,' then you are going to feel bad, and that's going to be your emotional outcome. Negative self talk will leave you with feelings of negative self worth, frustration, irritability, and even anger and depression if it's not dealt with."

The wingman concept is also a stress aid that cannot be overrated. Taking the time to notice and interact with fellow Airmen, and offering a listening ear or helping hand when they're down or over-stressed, may be their saving grace. As a military family, everyone can also encourage military and family members to live healthy lifestyles, remind them that everyone is going through this life together, and help to brighten their outlooks on stressful situations.

If stress has morphed into uncontrollable anger or depression in you or someone you know, you're still not alone. Psychologists, social workers, chaplains, first sergeants and supervisors are available to help and guide you through stressful situations. Most base Health and Wellness Centers also has light therapy and a relaxation chair available for use.

When stress starts to build, you have the tools to control it.

(Tech. Sgt. Larry W. Carpenter Jr. of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office contributed to this story.)