July 26, 2017, by Amanda Wilks – According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 people in the general population of the USA suffer from a mental illness in a given year. In the military community, that statistic jumps up to 1 in 4.
Coping mechanisms are a way to provide psychological comfort when faced with an environmental stressor. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope with stress. Often, coping mechanisms are unconsciously chosen and usually manifest in risky behaviors, such as overeating or abusing alcohol.
Those in the military are faced with more day-to-day stress than the average person, but that doesn’t mean they have to suffer more. If you can recognize when you’re stressed, then you can opt for a healthier coping style, which will increase your immediate and long-term quality of life. Below is a list of ideas to help you safely cope through challenging times.
Getting up and moving can reduce stress. In the words of character Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.”
Elle’s sentiment has actually been proven true by scientists. Getting in even just five minutes of aerobic exercise a day can stabilize and elevate mood and lower tension in the body, reports The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
When engaging in physical activity, the brain releases endorphins, which act as a natural painkiller. Once released, these chemicals reduce cortisol (stress) levels and can improve sleep, something many people dealing with chronic stress report they don’t get enough of.
2. Mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques.
The quickest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to deal with stress is to take a couple minutes and engage in some mindfulness techniques.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSRB) originated at the University of Massachusetts in the late ’70s and is now widely recognized in the field of Psychology as an effective means to combat stress. The act of being mindful allows you to be present in the moment and reduce fleeting, stressful thoughts and other physical symptoms.
Engaging in MSRB has been scientifically proven to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, increase mental function and memory, and increase one’s resilience to change.
Many common mindfulness practices include breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. Here’s a 10 minutes meditation technique to get through though emotions. There is also a great app you can download on your smartphone called Headspace that will guide you through a 10-20 minute mindfulness meditation session each day.
If you’re looking for something more physically engaging, studies have shown that yoga changes brain chemistry. Practicing yoga multiple times a week trains your brain to be more self-aware and increases your threshold for stress.
This is a pretty specific suggestion, check out why! Military.com published an article a few years ago about Marines relieving stress through a round or two of paintball. The Air Station in New River, NC created Operation Adrenaline Rush Program. Several groups of Marines were able to travel to a paintball location and engage in this high-energy activity.
A paintball gun’s accuracy allows for a more real-life application of the game. This accuracy can improve with physical modifications, but also with personal practice. The same can be said for other weapons. The act of paintballing is a great way to deal with stress, but the experience gained can translate to a soldier’s job and increase his own accuracy and assessment of a battlefield situation. It’s a win-win.
A group discussion following the activity revealed that the Marines felt they both had fun and relieved stress.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Thomas stated: “Not only can you use this in your daily lives, but it’s also easy to see how these types of activities, done regularly, would build up your level of stress tolerance.” He also noted a more cohesive unit with higher morale as a result of engaging in the game.
4. Seek treatment.
Militaryspot.com put out an article that highlights the importance of seeking help early on when you recognize that your mental health is less than satisfactory.
Many military members worry that their career will be at risk if they pursue mental health help. In reality, they could be jeopardizing themselves, others, and their future by staying silent.
Seeking treatment early on will provide a more effective outcome. Many soldiers do already get help for mental health, but due to the stigma surrounding treatment, many don’t realize how common dealing with this health issue is. Use your mental health resources available to you on base and establish a support system to help you through.
Coping mechanisms are utilized whether you’re aware of them or not; however, you have the power to choose your own stress-relieving strategies to improve your physical and mental health. By being aware of your body’s signals of distress and researching which coping methods are best for you, you can take control of your health and your future.