JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – From work and family to world events beyond our control, our lives are full of stress.
While stress is a natural part of life, being able to recognize and manage it – and knowing when and how to get help when it reaches an unhealthy level — is important for overall wellbeing.
The Air Force Chaplain Corps is one resource available to help Airmen and families manage stress.
“Your chaplain corps team is here to help,” said Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Gregory Brunson. “We have resources available both inside and outside of AFIMSC.”
MANAGING DAILY STRESS
Stress is simply the body's reaction to the demands of the world. It can make people feel tense, anxious or excited, even with good things like vacations and holidays. While people can’t avoid stress altogether, the chaplain team recommends taking deliberate steps to manage daily stress so it doesn’t grow into a bigger health concern.
“Uncertainty abounds in multiple areas of life,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Joshua Payne. “This increases the likelihood of perfect storm moments.”
To manage routine stress that can come from that uncertainly, the chaplains recommend looking to the four Comprehensive Airman Fitness Pillars - mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness – and working to strengthen neglected areas.
“We wouldn’t think about running, doing push-ups or crunches for a fitness assessment without working out at all. Yet, we do that with other areas of our life,” Brunson said.
He recommends making time for social interactions and creating a plan for spiritual fitness.
“Intentionally schedule free time into the calendar: daily, weekly, monthly and annually,” he said. Take a knee and pause, even if it is to just get up from the desk, walk and get a cup of water.”
Chaplain (Col.) Ted Wilson, Chief of the AFIMSC Chaplain Corps Division, also recommends disconnecting from social media or obsessing over the daily news from time to time to take a break from pessimism and bad news.
“Go a few days without turning on the TV; you will survive,” he said.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important to managing stress, but that can be difficult when working from home. Creating boundaries and establishing a routine is especially important in a telework environment, the chaplains said.
Their tips for a better work-life balance include:
- Stick to a schedule and time for ending the work day.
- Set aside a workspace that is away from normal daily activities.
- Resist the temptation to turn on the laptop or check email outside working hours.
- Put in that full, honest day’s hard work, but take the time to enjoy family -- go out to lunch, even if a just a picnic in the back yard, go visit your kid at school, run an errand with your spouse, etc.
- Take a little time for yourself. That may even mean alone time away from family.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
Left unmanaged, constant stress can lead to serious health problems, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Over time, continued strain on the body may contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.
Self-awareness, reflection and understanding of personal warning signs is an important first step to getting help when it’s needed, Payne said.
“Our cars have hazard lights when we are running hot or out of oil,” he said. “Taking time to reflect on our common warnings can be helpful. Even better is to ask someone who knows us well to provide awareness of our warning lights.”
According to Wilson, those warning signs can include:
- Changes in habits – including spending, drinking, eating or sleeping – that last more than a couple months
- Irritability and outbursts toward other people
- Avoiding or disconnecting from other people
- A desire to get lost or get away
- Any signs of hopelessness
If someone ever feels hopeless, Wilson recommends seeking help immediately.
“Talk with someone quick when this happens, and be honest and truthful,” he said.
There are many agencies and organizations available to help Airmen and families manage stress. They include:
- For military members and their families, Military OneSource offers a wide range of individualized consultations, coaching and counseling for many aspects of military life: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/.
- Civilian employees and their family members may contact the Employee Assistance Program for free, confidential services. For more information, visit www.afpc.af.mil/Airman-and-Family/Personal-and-Work-Life/.
- Military children ages 6-17 can access age-appropriate resources to help deal with the unique psychological challenges of military life through Military Kids Connect, https://militarykidsconnect.health.mil.
- Installation Airmen and Family Readiness Centers can link Airmen and their families with resources to meet their needs within the local community. They typically offer training, workshops, consultations and programs that encourage self-sufficiency, enhance mission readiness and resiliency and ease adaptation to the military way of life.
- Installation Chaplain Corps teams provide pastoral care ministry and counseling to those of faith and those of no faith.
- Military members can also contact their local mental health clinic for services.
“I’m a little partial, but Chaplains Corps personnel are a great resource; and we have privileged communication, meaning we do not talk to anybody about anything and cannot be compelled to do so,” Wilson said.
“You are not in this alone,” he added. “You have people who love you and care about you. Go to those friends and family who have gained your trust through the years. Don’t be afraid to talk to others.