Tag Archives: stress

Dealing with family stress through respect, communication

AF Healthy Family LifeBy Lesley Lanier, family life educator
502d Force Support Squadron

It is proven that when dealing with stress, perception is reality. Although we experience stress in many facets of life, the most frequent and intense stressor happens to be within our families. This is usually the hardest form of stress to contend with because of our own emotional investment. There are four main reasons that support the increased turmoil within families. They include:

  1. Different levels of power and status, leading to members frequently challenging each other
  2. Sacrifice and compromise are required for the good of the family as a whole
  3. Children grow, hence more changes
  4. Emotions leading to jealousy, control, love, pride, ownership and privacy

Knowing that stressful situations with family are inevitable, it’s how we manage it that can make the difference. What’s the most effective way to manage stress within your home? A common response would be constructively. But what does that entail? Simply put, identify the stressor, and choose your resolution. This can be achieved by basing your approach on mutual respect, communication and compromise.

Remember, as parents, it’s us who set the standard for resolving conflict. Our awareness of our parenting style will also help us as we go through challenging times. The Joint Base San Antonio Family Life Program offers a great class, called Screamfree Parenting, created by Hal Runkel, a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist. This approach enables you to “raise your children by keeping your cool.” Screamfree Parenting is based on three principles:

  1. Parenting is not about kids, it’s about parents
  2. If you’re not under control, then you can’t be in charge
  3. Growing up is hard to do, especially for grownups

To register for a Screamfree class at JBSA, call the Family Life Program at 210-221-1505.

PHOTO: The Novotny family gathers around the table before brothers, Lt. Col. Ryan and Maj. Reid Novotny, get together for a marathon run. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Carlin Leslie/Released)

Managing stress and anger

By Lesley Lanier
Family Life Program Educator

Working as an educator for the Family Life Program at Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA), it’s my passion and goal to help Service Members and their families obtain knowledge and provide family enrichment and resilience services.

With the holiday season here, being mindful of our anxiety and stress levels can prepare us for any event that may come along. With family members and other special guests in our homes, proper planning can arm you against the uninvited company of stress and anger.

This mindfulness includes being aware of our triggers as well as our own stress building beliefs. Such triggers can include disrespect, injustice, lack of control and misinformation. They are usually classified into four categories: SELF, SITUATIONS, OTHERS and/or a COMBINATION of ANY.

In regards to anger, it’s important that we understand that anger is what we FEEL not what we DO. Knowing this, we are able to change the negative thought playing in our head to something positive and realistic. How many times have you been in argument with someone to where the levels reached a point in which what you were arguing about in the beginning was no longer the topic? To prevent this, use “Thought Stopping”. This technique provides the opportunity to examine your feelings to see if they are caused by the present situation, or linked to previous situations.

Some steps to manage your anger include:

Admit that all angry expressions, whether they are good or bad,are the result of choices.

Let go of excessive dependencies so your anger management is inwardly-directed, rather than externally-determined.

Release your craving for control in exchange for freedom.
Set aside idealistic myths so that you have a foundation in truths.
Keep your lifestyle habits consistent with your emotional composure.
Live in humility rather than self-preoccupied pride.
Hold your defenses to a minimum.
Accept the inevitability of loneliness as your struggle to be understood.
Relate to others as equals.
Pass along to our next generation your insights about anger and stress.
Avoid rationalizing your anger and be accountable for who you are.
Be accountable for your own growth & be honest and open about your anger.

According to the Random House Dictionary, stress is defined as, “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension,” and, “a situation, occurrence, or factor causing this.” The word “stress” actually comes from a Latin word meaning, “distress.” Stressors can be hard to pinpoint because it is an individual thing. For me, family gatherings can cause stress – but it may be one of your great joys in life. With it being known that stress is different for everyone, your coping technique will be individualized as well.

The most important aspect of stress is the ability to handle it. Since most stress is self-induced, the ability to handle it rests, primarily, with the individual. Whether you encounter positive or negative stress, a way to manage involves understanding the Triple A Approach. With this approach you can choose to, Alter the situation or your approach to it, Avoid the situation or Accept the situation. Approaches to relieve stress can be divided into:

Physical:
Get regular exercise
Improve your diet
Listen to your body
Learn relaxation skills
Get adequate sleep

Social:
Develop a support network
Develop a social life
Volunteer your time
Develop a sense of humor
Relax
Develop hobbies

Mental:
Adopt a new attitude
Increase self-worth
Set realistic expectations
Keep a positive outlook
Improve your communication skills
Get organized

Research shows that if not managed properly, stress and anger can cause many physical side effects including but not limited to muscle tension, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, obesity and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The duration and levels of stress and anger attained play an important part on the increase of these effects. Having effective ways to reduce the effects of stress and anger on our body and mind is important.

In parting, I enjoy ending discussions with a quote. So I found one that fits my mantra to a “T.”

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
William James

You can find an abundance of stress and anger management articles and assessments on-line. Pertaining to this article, resources used include:
www.stress.org
www.militaryonesource.com
www.helpguide.org

Asking for help is courageous

Airmen demonstrate ACE: ask, care, and escort.
by Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Mazzone
6th Air Mobility Wing

In the 1990s, it was not uncommon for an Airman to hear the phrase: “Suck it up!” It was also rare to find the supervisor who would encourage Airmen to seek help to work through mental health concerns. It seemed the senior noncommissioned officers were worried more about maintaining the appearance of a strong and ready force. Unbeknownst to them, they were raising Airmen who would be exactly what they wanted: hard core NCOs who were afraid to show emotion, and even worse, afraid to get help. We have the opportunity to break the cycle. Are you up for the challenge?

In 2004, a technical sergeant found himself sitting in a corner of a darkened room in the back of his house, sobbing. He was alone, and his life had just fallen out from under his feet. For over 30 hours he sat there, cried there and slept there. He didn’t eat and he didn’t drink. He simply stared at the emptiness in front of him, wondering how this had happened. How had his life gone from seemingly normal to quiet chaos in less than a day? He didn’t know how to ask for help.

He was in no condition to dissect his situation, as he lacked rational thought and had just sustained fresh, deep emotional wounds. Sitting in that corner, he challenged his faith, asking how his God could allow something so wicked to occur. He challenged himself, wondering if he didn’t do enough to keep this from happening. The phone rang as he sat there. He thought about unplugging it, but it was too far away. He wondered about “making the pain go away,” but instead he rolled over to fall asleep yet again. This time he awoke to the sound of his name being yelled in his own house. He never cried out “I’m back here; please help me!”

When they found him, he was a wreck. His legs were weak and he didn’t want to move. He just wanted his life back … he wanted his family back. He wanted things to be the way they were before, even though he knew that was not possible. One person walked him to the living room couch. Another got him some water. They sat there in silence with him, waiting patiently, hoping he would say something. He was ashamed and didn’t speak. He couldn’t stomach the thought of people knowing about this, even if they were his friends. He felt they wouldn’t be able to do anything for him, and he never asked them to find someone who could help.

One of them contacted the first sergeant, who arrived soon after. Together, they started doing things for him … simple things. They turned on the shower, they got him clean clothes, they made him a bowl of cereal and they drove him to see his commander. He sat in the office, his commander making the time to listen to nothing being said, only the sobs of a broken man. Finally, he was asked if he would like to see a chaplain or someone from Mental Health.

I said “no,” because I was scared, and because that’s the way I was raised in the Air Force. I was taught that seeking help was a sign of weakness, that it hurt careers, and it could negatively impact the mission. My commander didn’t force me. Instead he made a deal with me. He made me promise to answer the door no matter what time there was a knock, and to answer the phone at any hour. He pulled me from the flight schedule to ensure my personal safety and the safety of my fellow crewmates. He knew my passion for history and instructed me to begin a research project for the unit. All the while, he reminded me constantly of my options to speak with someone, and that it was a path back to wellness. After weeks of not smiling and busy work meant to keep my mind occupied, I finally told someone I was ready to talk.

There was no pause. I was immediately driven the 15 miles to our supporting hospital, and met with someone who wanted only to learn about what happened to make me go through the pain I felt. She gained my trust, assuring me that these steps to heal myself were courageous. It took time, but I worked through it. It took friends who legitimately cared about me and did whatever was needed. It took a command team to let me know it was okay to expose my wounds, since that was the only way to heal them. It took more time, but I was finally back in the air, doing what I loved, safely. It took a lot of people doing a lot of things at just the right time to make sure I was cared for. They never let me feel as though I was on my own. It also took a patient and loving God to wait for me to come back, and to show me there is a purpose for everything.

Since then, I’ve tried hard to crush the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues by being an example of a compassionate leader. But it wasn’t until recently that I decided the best example I could use was my own. I intend to continue spreading the message that it’s okay to ask for help. After mustering the courage to seek the assistance others wanted for me, I took to the path. It led me on a journey of self-discovery and helped to rebuild my confidence. In the aftermath, I continued to earn positions of responsibility and maintained my high-level security clearance. I was screened and designated to work for a special mission unit, promoted to chief master sergeant and eventually selected to be a command chief.

The previous paragraph is not boastful pride. It’s meant to encourage those who may be sitting in a similar dark corner, with what appears to be no place to go. I promise you there is a safe place, and I challenge you to ask for help. If I can crawl from my own hell with the help of others, I know you can, too. I also have a message for the “dinosaurs” that remain entrenched in the belief that asking for help is weak: You’re keeping your Airmen from reaching their full potential. That is exactly the opposite of what good leaders do. We should be inspiring our Airmen and conditioning them to seek whatever help they need in order to succeed personally and professionally. Healthy Airmen accomplish the mission efficiently, and with pride.

There are so many men and women with whom we serve who have made a leap of faith and found fulfillment on the other side. All it takes is the courage to ask for help.

Photo:Airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., demonstrate the first step of Air Force suicide prevention, known as ACE. If you feel as though someone is considering hurting themselves, you should: Ask–engage them in conversation about their situation. Ask them directly if they are thinking of suicide. Care—calmly control the situation. Use active listening to show support to your wingman. Escort—don’t leave your wingman alone. Accompany them to their chain of command or the nearest medical facility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alessandra N. Hurley)

Looking out for your wingman during the holidays

By Staff Sgt. Jarrod Chavana
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

111208-F-SM817-001Editor’s Note: This is the first entry in a blog series on dealing with holiday stress, strengthening resiliency and linking Airmen to support networks and resources. Airmen are encouraged to seek help and know that they have an Air Force family ready to listen and provide support in times of need.

The holidays are meant to be cheerful, but for some Airmen it can be the most stressful time of the year. As it is most often a time spent with friends and family, this season can be a magnifier for those individuals with existing emotional or psychological issues.

Although we signed the dotted line and chose this life, it’s never easy to be away from loved ones. In 2009, I spent Christmas deployed to Iraq, while my pregnant wife and family were on the other side of the world. Even though I was able to watch my daughters open presents over the Internet, it wasn’t quite the same. For many Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, this has become a common place, but for others this can be the last straw.

There are countless reasons why someone may be feeling down. Some common causes could be: this is the first time he or she has been away from home on the holidays, financial problems or relationship issues.

Even though you may converse with your co-workers, do you really know what’s happening to them outside of work? We should be looking after our own throughout the year, especially during the holiday season. Each and every day we should look for warning signs, trying to find out the causes of why someone has become withdrawn or why someone is lashing out. 

Once you recognize that an Airman has a true problem, what next? You should try to talk to him or her, but more importantly – listen. If an Airman does not want to share his or her issues, provide reassurance and information on the various programs available to Airmen and dependents for private mental and spiritual care.

Each base provides mental health counselors. Chaplains and Military One Source are also good options. Base chaplains have a 100 percent confidentiality clause, while Military One Source provides up to 12 off-base counseling sessions per issue at no charge.

Other programs include the Suicide Prevention Line, which has a toll free number 1-800-273-Talk (8255). The Defense Centers of Excellence, available 24/7, is staffed by health resource consultants who provide information, resources and referrals for service members, veterans and their families. They can be reached at 1-866-966-1020 or resources@dcoeoutreach.com.

The holiday season is meant to be a joyous time in our lives, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed and powerless, please remember there is always a military support system.    

PHOTO:: Though Tech Sgt. Sonja Williams, 94th Airlift Wing Airman and Family Readiness specialist, simulates a depressed Airman, holiday depression is real. During this time of the year, people may experience heightened stress, fatigue, financial constraints and loneliness triggered by the holiday season. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Chelsea Smith)

Attacking Symptoms, Aug. 30, 2012

 

Pencil illustration attempting to visualize PTSD

By Capt. Scott Taylor
Air Force Legal Operations Agency

“I started to get really depressed and lacked the desire to do anything but sit around and play online to ‘escape’ the real world,” he said. “I was having dreams of planes crashing, the smell of burnt flesh and rotting bodies. I still tried to push through this even as my sleep started to dwindle down to a couple hours a night as I would wake up in cold sweats screaming. I decided something was wrong.”

These were some of the symptoms Staff Sgt. Collin Moore, a former air transportation craftsman, was experiencing shortly after he made a permanent change of station to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

“I would watch a commercial and start crying, then laugh, then get [upset] and then become enraged,” Moore said. “I went to the mental health clinic on base to get some advice. After a couple of sessions my counselor introduced the notion that I may be suffering from PTSD.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It can be triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience such as an interpersonal event like physical or sexual assault, exposure to disaster or accidents, combat or witnessing a traumatic incident.

The diagnosis did not sit well with Moore. He said he felt he had no reason to be experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Although he had deployed seven times in eight years, he still thought that only military who had been on the front lines or sweeping the streets of Iraq or Afghanistan would experience stress and trauma. For him this didn’t make sense.

“I had never considered myself a weak-minded person,” Moore said. “I accomplished everything I put my mind to, and to me, something like this could not be possible. Boy, was I ever wrong. I started to go to mental health two times a week to try and work it out and started a healthy dose of medication, however this did not work for me.”

There are many treatments for PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, but at this time there are two types of treatments that appear to be the most effective, medicines and cognitive-behavioral therapy counseling. Different treatment options are often tried to see what will work most effectively for the individual.

Shortly after Moore’s diagnosis he rapidly got worse and his weight ballooned to 260 pounds. His desire to do anything began to dwindle. His marriage began to fall apart. The breaking point came one night when he and his wife were arguing and he wondered what the point of living was.

“After a few venomous words were spit out by both parties I went to the closet and grabbed a friend’s .45-caliber handgun, loaded one in the chamber and had my finger on a hair trigger ready to be done with all the pain,” Moore said. “I stood there shaking while my wife was crying and at that point I realized this could not be me.”

Moore was sent to University Behavioral Health in Texas for 30 days, but it took time before he realized the cause of his PTSD and how to cope with it.

“The problem was that I still did not understand why I was counting windows in buildings, freaking out in the car as a passenger and still scared to death as the driver,” Moore said. “I hated doors behind me and large crowds. I would go from what to me seemed calm, to total rage in the blink of an eye.”

While Moore was undergoing care, he went to group and individual counseling sessions where he learned that having PTSD is not a weakness, but instead a natural defense mechanism that everyone has. Unfortunately, those who suffer from PTSD cannot turn off that defense mechanism.

“Simply put, PTSD is a state of hyper-vigilance and anxiety all mixed into one,” said Moore. “There is no ‘easy-button’ for it, no magic pill to cure it or, honestly, any way to get rid of it.”

Treatment can help an individual who has PTSD feel more in control of emotions and result in fewer symptoms, according to the VA National Center for PTSD. But, even with treatment some symptoms may still be prevalent.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, as well as increased anxiety or emotional arousal, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Intrusive memories may include flashbacks or upsetting dreams. Symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing can include feeling emotionally numb, avoiding enjoyable activities, memory problems, trouble concentrating and difficulty maintaining close relationships. Some of the symptoms of anxiety and increased emotional arousal include irritability, anger, guilt, shame, trouble sleeping or self-destructive behavior.

Moore said that his mind still feels like it’s in a hostile environment, which creates a problem. Although there is no real danger, anyone who causes an uneasy feeling or added stress becomes the enemy.

“The way I see it, I have been given a toolbox and in it are different ways to cope with different situations,” Moore said. “While I am a disabled veteran, I know I will never be the person I once was, but I also feel that I could not have become the person I am now. I am down to 170 pounds, and I am working on my vocational rehabilitation to become an environmental engineer.”

The VA found that nearly 400,000 veterans across the nation, and in all branches of the military, were affected by PTSD in 2009 alone, ranking the disorder as the fourth most frequent disability connected with military service.

Psychological intervention is available in multiple venues, including medical options through primary care and mental health clinics. All VA medical centers provide PTSD care, as well as many VA clinics. There are non medical options as well, such as Military OneSource, chaplain’s office and military and family life consultants.

Early diagnosis, prompt treatment and strong social support can all increase the chance of a good outcome for those who have PTSD.

Photo: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This pencil illustration attempts to visualize PTSD. Those that suffer from this disorder are constantly trying to regain some sense of the normalcy they had before events that caused pieces of themselves to go missing. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Master Sgt. William Vance)