Everyone suffers from stress at different times throughout their day. We all know that “good” stress can peak your adrenaline and actually help increase your performance and abilities in getting a job done. This kind of stress is critical on the battlefield. It’s when stress begins to control us, instead of us being in control of it, that it turns into “bad” stress. This decreases our ability to react and respond properly in situations and can be damaging to ourselves and others. Stress, much like high blood pressure, can be a “silent killer.” In a three-part series on Stress, we’ll look at how to recognize stress, what you can do to reduce stress, and how to create a stress management plan.
What is stress? Stress is the response your body makes to outside anxieties and stimuli that may seem out of your control. Most stress is normal and necessary to our overall physical and mental health. “Good” stress allows us to become protectors of those around us in dangerous situations and triggers a lifesaving “flight or fight” response. Stress levels depend on the degree, intensity and frequency of demands put on us. When does stress cross the line and become harmful? When it has a negative and prolonged affect on your moods, physical health, aggression and the people around you.
Become aware of stress symptoms. Always be aware of your own body and when it’s acting in a way that’s not normal. Stress shows up in many different ways and can often be overlooked or interpreted as something different. ALL of these symptoms don’t have to be present, just a few at a time. Look for:
- Symptoms that resemble a heart attack – chest pain and shortness of breath
- Prolonged increased blood pressure
- Outbursts of anger
- Feelings of “helplessness” and depression
- Withdrawing from normal activities and people
- Not responding to true danger around you – misinterpreting the situation along with confusion
- Dizzy spells, weak muscles and trembling, disorientation
- “Butterflies” in your stomach
- Frustrated thinking in problem solving and decision making
- Headache, sweating and “clamminess.”
Are you more susceptible to stress? You may be more susceptible to stress if you’re what is typically known as a “Type A” personality and put yourself in the middle of more stressful situations. This typifies most military personnel, especially in combat. If you identify with the list below, you must be constantly aware of the way stress is affecting you.
- Have a strong competitive streak
- Be over-demanding of yourself and loved ones
- See stress as a “weakness”
- Strive for perfection
- Have an intense drive to succeed
Stress has less of an effect on those with a more subdued personality who can relax, take most things in stride and live a balanced life.
Money is a big stressor. Financial worries cause stress and a bit of advance planning can divert that stressor before it takes its toll on your family.
- Create a cushion – Financial planners advise that you “pay yourself first” by saving and/or investing 10% of your income.
- Avoid impulse purchases at the grocery store by planning menus, creating a shopping list and not shopping when you’re hungry.
- Don’t have more than two credit cards and track purchases carefully
- Pay your credit card balances off each month to avoid costly interest charges and always pay before the due date. Otherwise you’ll incur hefty penalties.
- Be aware of money scams and abuse of payday loans
- Try to use debit cards over credit cards whenever possible.
- Refrain from making “emotional purchases” for large items. Wait 24-48 hours and see if you still want to buy it.
When you begin by recognizing stress, it’s the first step to not letting it become a killer. Next week we’ll look at maintaining a healthier YOU through stress management.