Military Vets Reveal the Best Tactics to Tackle Stress
Military Men on Stress Reduction Techniques You Can Apply to Everyday Life
Not meeting KPIs at work, rough breakups, bad investments, seasonal affective disorder… we all deal with stress in one form or another. Not all stress is bad, however. For many people, stress can be a trigger that forces them to perform better. But there are limits to that.
Productive stress and anxiety management are critical not only for mental health, but for physical well-being. With that in mind, we checked in with accomplished military men to get their advice on the best ways to manage stress in your everyday life. Because if anyone has experience handling pressure, worries and anxiety in their personal and professional life, it’s an army vet.
While you won’t be faced with the same scenarios as a man in active service, these stress-reduction tactics can be applied to your everyday life.
1. Take a Few Deep Breaths
When we get stressed many of us forget to properly exhale, which is why taking a few deep breaths was one of the first things that Matt Pawlikowski, a United States Military Academy Chaplain, suggested as a stress relief tactic. With 27 years of active duty service in the army and deployments to Korea, Egypt and Afghanistan, Pawlikowski has faced more than his fair share of stress.
“Taking a deep breath and blowing it out reduces carbon dioxide in our system and immediately lowers blood pressure and heart rate,” says Pawlikowski. “It’s such a simple technique that I personally do it all the time without even thinking about it. When I’m rushing from one location to another with a dozen things to do and can feel the stress in my body: I stop, suck it in and blow it out.”
2. Put the Situation in Perspective
Most of us have moments where trivial things happen that make us feel like our world is crumbling. We’re talking things like accidentally liking an ex’s Instagram picture from a few years ago. In these cases, a little perspective can go a long way.
“People run up to leaders all the time and present them with situations they think are absolutely dire and it has become a fairly common expression among some leaders who have seen combat to ask: ‘Is anybody dead or dying?’” says Pawlikowski. “If not, then the situation just isn’t as bad as some subordinates make it out to be.” This doesn’t mean a situation outside of this category can’t be serious and/or urgent, but if it isn’t anything life-threatening, then maintaining perspective “and getting on with whatever situation needs handling,” can be the difference between having a meltdown and effectively dealing with the situation at hand.
3. Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal
“When you first wake up, write down three concrete, specific things for which you’re grateful (I’ve got clean sheets. It’s not raining today. I’m looking forward to my English muffin with melted butter, etc),” suggests Pawlikowski. “Before you go to sleep, once again, write down three concrete, specific things for which you’re grateful (I got a workout in today. I had food to eat for dinner, when other people didn’t. I was able to talk to a friend for 10 minutes). This simple technique – if done daily for a period of time – is a proven effective therapy for many people.”
4. Remember That Being Cheerful Is a Choice
It’s easy to be sad. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. Happiness, however, isn’t always as elusive as people might think.
“The final line of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata is ‘be cheerful. Strive to be happy,” notes Pawlikowski. “Many people think happiness is a matter of the right circumstances coming together. If that’s so, then happiness is always beyond our control. Although many people find this hard to believe, happiness is more a matter of the attitude we CHOSE.” Next time something stressful happens, try choosing happiness. “It won’t mean that unpleasant circumstances will go away, but choosing to be happy despite our circumstances changes our perspective and can make the situation more manageable.”
5. Find a Relaxing Hobby
Whether it’s taking a leisurely walk, painting, singing, or something else, having a hobby is critical for stress management.
“I spend a lot of time reading books, which allows me to take my mind off of the other events and activities I have to handle at work and at home,” said Ronni Zehavi, who served in the IDF and is now the CEO of Hibob, an HR tech platform that helps employees collaborate and communicate. “While reading may not work for everyone, engaging in an activity that you don’t normally do in your work can help reduce stress. Spending time with friends and family who have similar hobbies is another great way to burn off steam.”
6. Learn How to Say No
“You may have to take on more responsibility than you like in the military, but that isn’t necessarily the case in the civilian workforce,” says Zehavi. “Work/life balance is extremely important, and if you agree to lend a helping hand to every colleague who asks – or even attend every social engagement you’re invited to – you will get burnt out.” Zehavi suggests thinking both about what you need to do and about what’s most important to you before automatically accepting invites and favors. “Be selective about what you agree to take on and feel empowered to say no to things that will unnecessarily add to your load and make you feel overwhelmed.”
7. Break Tasks up Into Manageable Pieces
Yossi Orbach, a former regiment commander in the IDF and the current director of operations at Tourist Israel, noted that his military experience taught him the importance of breaking up tasks. “In or out of the army, a mission is a mission and it must get done, you just have to make sure you do it in a way that isn’t overwhelming for you,” says Orbach. “Set a target and once you reach one target, set another target to reach, and keep doing this until you reach your final goal. Working towards something little by little can help any mission seem manageable."
8. Get Regular Exercise and Solid Sleep
Retired lieutenant colonel, Robert F. Vicci, a veteran of 34 years of service and CEO of VetREST, a company that helps veterans suffering from PTS, singles out exercise as the number one way to help manage stress. “I run when I can, mostly outdoors. It gives me a workout and also time to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly.” He adds that a well-rested body and mind are also essential to manage stress.
9. Listen to Music
“One common thread that we share in the military is that we all love music – it’s a great escape from life,” says Vicci. When a stressful event or thought hits, take a few moments to pull up a favorite song; sing along, get up and dance – anything to get oxygen pumping and help lift your mood.
10. Play a Board Game
Games aren’t just for kids! Vicci notes that playing board games helped him get through four years of army football at West Point. “My quarterback TD Decker and I played backgammon before every game and while we were in transit for away games. I was his fullback and felt directly responsible for his life, especially looking at the teams we played, so we made it our ritual to relieve the stress we had, not only as football players but as Cadets. Backgammon made us focus only on the moment, and not the other hundred activities we had before us.”
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January 16, 2020 at 12:06AM