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Navigating the storms of stress

  • Published
  • By Dr. Michael Jarzombek
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Director of Psychological Health
Mid-summer greetings! In previous articles I have emphasized the importance of staying healthy and strong by taking care of basic things in life such as diet, rest and exercise. I have reminded everyone that when we attend to the basics we fortify personal resilience, and are thus better prepared to handle the storms of life when they come along. In this message I plan to discuss how we react to stormy times, and how we can best manage ourselves during them.

Marriage or family problems, financial concerns, workplace problems, health set-backs, misuse of medications or problems with drugs and alcohol are just a few of the types of storms that can arrive in our lives. They can occur with or without warning, and be of long or short term in duration. Storms can strike alone or they can be accompanied by other storms.

In terms of healthy responses, consider taking these actions when storms strike:

Measured Reactions - As members of the armed services your training teaches you to make quick decisions and to take appropriate action swiftly. Although this sort of response is important to the military mission, it is not always the best way to respond to a personal or to a family problem.

Temper your reactions along these lines: Breathe. Unless conditions warrant an immediate action, take a moment to breathe and allow the intensity of the moment to pass. A couple of moments pause can make all the difference between a good and a bad outcome. Use your moments wisely.

Understand as much as you can about what is going on. A clear understanding of a problem insures that all possible corrective actions and corresponding resources can be explored.

Consider all options related to the problem you face. Try not to get rigidly fixed on a single path.

Remain open to and invite other viewpoints as you sort things out.

Sleep on it. If you have time, allow yourself to process information over night. Rest contributes to a clearer mind, and creates opportunities for new understanding.

Prioritize Responses - Organizing the current situation with an eye toward taking care of the most important aspects of the problem first will contribute to a sense of control. With control comes confidence, and with confidence comes hopefulness.

Determine what needs to happen first, and then prioritize the remaining parts of the problem.

Try not to get overwhelmed while prioritizing problems. There may be a significant number of tasks or challenges to work through, but prioritizing is not about doing them all right then and there, but about simply ordering them so that the critical tasks can be handled first.

Once you have set priorities it might be helpful to go through your measured reactions again.

Take Stock - Keep things in perspective. Sometimes taking a "high-altitude" view is important as it is so easy to get lost in the storm's chaos and darkness which can lead to depression. Seeing the storm for what it truly is provides one a sense of control.

Think about how you have managed similar problems in successful ways in the past.
Remember to reach out to those who are supportive of you as they can become anchors in the storms of life.

Even if you do not feel up to it, maintain your resilience foundation of diet, rest, exercise, balance, relationships, humor, and faith. Of particular importance when taking stock are the foundation stones of humor and faith: Keep your sense of humor. Laughter is a wonderful way to process life's various storms by lowering emotional intensity.

Have faith and believe that you will be okay.