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Stress: It isn't all bad

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Staff Sgt. James Baker, NCO in Charge of Preventative Health Assessments and Communicable Diseases, shares methods for coping with stress in a stress management techniques class at the Force Development Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Staff Sgt. James Baker, NCO in Charge of Preventative Health Assessments and Communicable Diseases, shares methods for coping with stress in a stress management techniques class at the Force Development Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- What do money problems, legal issues, hospitalization and workplace conflicts have in common with having a child, buying a home, taking a vacation and continuing an education?

According to the Mayo Clinic, they all are different forms of stress.

Stress in both its positive and negative forms is something everyone deals with. When military responsibilities are added it can be even more of an issue. Having methods to handle stress are critical in maintaining one's health and to that end Staff Sgt. James Baker, NCO In Charge of Preventative Health Assessments and  Communicable Diseases, shared stress management techniques March 3 at Force Development Center.

Stress is the body and mind's response to demands and specific stimuli, and how we adapt to all types of change. He offered the natural fight or flight response people experience when facing stressful situations. Baker shared his own experiences participating on a team checking for weapon caches while deployed as a way that stress can help with focusing and at the same time cause fear to be prevalent.

"Stress isn't only bad, it can help with positive thinking," Baker said. "Good things come from positive stress, but people tend to focus on the negative."

The first rules of stress management are breathing and smiling, Baker said. Using techniques such as abdominal breathing or yoga breathing help tremendously when signs of stress crop up. Recognizing stressors is important in how stress management is approached.

"Smile, there's nothing more powerful," Baker said. "Just smile and enjoy the life you have."

Eustress is healthy or good stress he said. Any kind of stress that improves the body's ability to perform is positive. Conversely, distress is the unhealthy or bad variety. Any stress that results in non-productive anxiety falls into this category and often produces anxiety.

Baker presented a number of ways to cope with stress. For instance, setting goals and using sound time management principles are positive coping mechanisms. Exercising, progressive relaxation - tensing and relaxing muscles - and visualization are others.

But there are also negative ways people cope with stress, and these should be avoided. Baker pointed out  habits like drinking and substance abuse as two of the more notable negative coping mechanisms people frequently employ. Over or under eating, smoking, procrastinating and sleep deprivation are other negative mechanisms.

"You have to have a way to cope or it gets taken out on a spouse or someone close to you. Try not to bring stress home because it escalates into a downward trend," Baker said.

One of the most important things to do when a person recognizes signs of stress is to help his or her self. Sharing problems with a friend, supervisor or professional can be helpful.

"Communication is key," Baker said. "If you can't vent you carry it around and it weighs you down. It becomes a chronic situation and you lose control of it." Knowing your own limits, engaging in physical activity and being organized are other ways self-help can be practiced.

There are times when seeking help dealing with stress is critical. When someone has suicidal or homicidal thoughts, substance or alcohol abuse due to stress, when stress starts to affect day-to-day functioning or relationships are all warning signs, he said.

Too many times a person experiencing stress will avoid reaching out to the ones who can most help them. Often in the military it is presumed that having a mental health connection on record will reflect negatively on a service record. That couldn't be farther from the truth, according to Baker.

"Seeking help actually helps to avoid what you think the mental health connection will cause," he said. "Mental health is a safe outlet."

He listed a number of places when seeking help for stress-related issues. The mental health clinic, chaplain services, family advocacy, Health and Wellness Center, health care providers or even through chain of command.

"Life moves forward no matter what you do day-to-day," Baker said, "Get an attitude of overcoming (stress)."

The class will be presented monthly. For information on future classes call 556-9226.

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