Dealing With Stress in War Conditions
LARRY BEALL, PH.D.
Some of the worst stress on this planet is what you experience. This chapter is written to help you cope with and manage your stress. Stress has three elements: 1. the stressor or source of stress; 2. the perception or how you interpret the stress; and 3. the physical response or how your body registers the stress. To begin with let’s look at how you are currently dealing with stress.
The first step: Recognize you stress symptoms. Your stress symptoms fall into four groups or categories: physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral. The symptoms for each area are as follows:
Physical: headaches, fatigue or tiredness, sore or tense muscles, stomach distress, diarrhea or constipation, rapid heart beat, shaking or trembling, cold hands and feet, rashes, acne, and allergies.
Emotional: anger, resentment, depression, despair, fearfulness, irritability, tense or keyed up, frustration, panicky feelings, feeling overwhelmed, helplessness, hopelessness about the future, and feeling trapped.
Mental: trouble concentrating, racing thoughts, difficulty making decisions, poor memory, confusion, dwelling on problems, confusion, impaired thinking ability, negative thoughts about self, daydreaming, and wandering thoughts.
Behavioral: wasting time, withdrawal, increased quietness, jumping from one activity to another, aimlessness, impatience, temper outbursts, crying, increased or decreased eating, increased or decreased sleeping, escaping, doing insignificant things, and avoiding important tasks.
People often fail to recognize that the above symptoms are generated by stress. It is estimated that 90% of the symptoms that cause people to go to a physician’s office are stress related. Since most people do not recognize stress symptoms, rather than solving the actual stress problems in their lives, other actions are taken to deal with the stress that often make the stress problem worse. Drugs and alcohol, taking inappropriate medication, escapist activities, taking risks, and making bad decisions can all be ways of dealing with stress that make stress worse.
The second step: Know where your stress comes from. Knowing where our stress comes from can be more difficult than first appears. The reason is our stressors can combine and mix in ways that make it difficult to distinguish them. Our stress becomes a big undefinable and unsolvable problem. To help you identify your sources of stress so you can begin to solve them, consider the following sources of stress:
•Emotional Stressors (specific fears, phobias, worries, feelings of low self-worth, depression, etc.)
•Family Stressors (spouse, children, in-laws)
•Social Stressors (someone difficult for you to get along with, someone’s expectations of you, feelings of social inadequacy, etc.)
•Financial Stressors (money problems that are out of your control, gambling, loaning or borrowing money, buying sprees, not budgeting, etc.)
•Change Stressors (leaving a job, house, or relationship; new situations or people in your life, unexpected changes in environment from attacks, etc.)
•Chemical Stressors (medications with side-effects, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, etc.)
• Work Stressors (dangerous job, relationships with co-workers, job insecurity, unemployment, getting to work, etc.)
•Decision Stressors (responsibility to make right decisions with many alternatives and time pressures)
•Physical Stressors (fatigue, not enough sleep, poor nutrition, an injury, pregnancy)
•Disease (headaches, arthritis, allergies, ulcers, cancer, coronary problems, stress related illnessees, etc.)
•Current Traumas (assaults, death of someone you love, witnessing violence, disabling injury, prolonged illness)
Of course, there are many other sources of stress besides these. Try to take an objective look at your life and identify where your stress comes from. In addition to the stressors that impact you in the here and now are our past stressors. The past stressors that cause us the most harm and concern are those that involve trauma, such as child abuse, fighting or divorced parents, or an alcoholic parent. For more information about how to deal with trauma from the past, please refer to the article “Dealing with Trauma in a Time of War.”
The Third Step: Dealing with the Stressor or Solving Problems One of the first steps to reduce the stress in your life is to identify the problems. Please look at the following questions. As you answer them try to decide what you need to do to reduce your stressors or solving problems.
1. Can you be more assertive and spend less time doing something for someone, you really don’t want to do anyway? Can you say “no” more? Yes No
2. Can you delegate a task to someone else? Yes No
3. Do you need to do something to get away from someone, or get someone out of your life? Yes No
4. Do you need to do something to reduce your money stress? Make more money; spend less; budget. etc.? Yes No
5. Do you need to make some kind of changes in you health habits? Eat more nutritionally, drink more water, drink less caffeine, etc.? Yes No
6. Do you need to manage your time more wisely, according to priorities or what really matters to you? Yes No
7. Have you been putting off a decision that needs to be made? Yes No
8. Is there a medical problem you need to deal with and stop putting off? Yes No
9. Is there someone you need to turn to for help and support that you have been avoiding? Yes No
10. Do you need to improve your living conditions in some way that is possible for you to do, but you’ve been putting it off (cleaning, moving, etc.)? Yes No
Do you know that it causes more stress to put something off rather than to just deal with the problem? The stress that may come to you from the consequences of your actions is still not as stressful as putting it off! Just do it! Take it Step by Step...
The First Step: State your problem. Write it down. Define it. Be clear what the real problem is. Is there anything about your thinking or behavior that makes the problem worse?
The Second Step: Decide what the solution is. List or brainstorm all possible solutions. Talk it over with a friend or someone you trust. Pick your best solution. Think about the possible
consequences with your solution. Ask yourself, “If I did this, can I live with what happens?”
The Third Step: Evaluate your results. Are you pleased with how this solution works? If not, problem solve again. That is the best thing about life, it’s always changing and so you can always change the end result.
The Fourth Step: Change how You Think of the Stressor We keep going back to that simple process... Thought. You can manage your stress by managing your thoughts. (Refer to the “12
Styles of Distorted Thinking” in the Depression article. Try this exercise...Close your eyes....
Visualize a beautiful lagoon with a white, soft sandy beach and crystal clear water. A gentle warm breeze moves across the lagoon making a slight ripple. The water is so warm and desirable you can’t help but wade into it. It feels so soothing and relaxing! You look up at the beautiful blue sky with white puffy clouds lazily moving across its expanse. You feel your heart beating more slowly, and you feel deeply relaxed. The thought crosses your mind that you would like to lie down on the warm, soft sandy beach.
Just then you notice something in the water that you didn’t see before. You can see two bulges kind of close together. They’re eyes! And then there emerges a back, and then a tail. It’s a crocodile, and it’s swimming toward you! Can you get to the beach in time? Panic surges through you as the crocodile disappears.
Did you notice how such a relaxing and beautiful feeling could be abruptly lost and replaced by fear? Your mind has that kind of power. The beauty of it is that you can choose what images are played out on the screen of your mind. You can choose relaxing and positive images or stressful and negative images. It’s up to you. Perhaps this is one reason the great scientist, Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Look at how often you think negative, stressful thoughts and stop it. To be less stressed, think less stressful thoughts. Your three best doctors are faith, time, and patience. Let these generate your thoughts.
The Fifth Step: Make Your Body Your Friend Instead of Foe in Combating Stress.
Exercise It is almost unbelievable what a difference regular, aerobic exercise (exercise that keeps your heartbeat elevated) can make to reducing your stress. Only if you have tried it can you know how much benefit you can get from it. Why does it work so well? Scientists have provided over 100 reasons. One is because of the endorphins. (endo-Greek for “within,”and orphin-root for “morphine.”) Endorphins are morphine-like chemicala that are produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. And like morphine, they are pain killers, and are anti-stress substances.
Let me share with you a personal experience that illustrates the tremendous influence of endorphins. I had been sick and had not run for two weeks. Tension was mounting in my body. I was getting more tired, irritable and impatient and feeling in a bad mood. I was having “endorphin withdrawals.” Once I was able to start running again, the negative feelings subsided and I felt back on course, more energy and positive feelings.
Another reason exercise is beneficial is that it burns up the toxins in your body (which accumulate because of chemicals that are produced by stress). If these chemicals are not burned, they can contribute to anxiety and depression, producing an overall “inadequate to life” feeling. There are other reasons why aerobic exercise has a huge impact, and one of them is control. Control? Yes, you decide what aerobic exercise you do, how long, how far, how frequent, and that strengthens your sense of control in your life.
How do you get going? Keep it simple. There are two forms of aerobic exercise that most people use that probably work the best: jogging or walking fast. Whatever elevates you heart rate and keeps it elevated for about twenty minutes, works. How elevated? Just short of being too
high to be able to talk comfortably is a good rule to judge it by. How often? At least three days a week. Once you get into it, that won’t feel like enough.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation - How progressive muscle relaxation works is simple. If a muscle is tensed or worked, and is then relaxed, it will become more relaxed than it was before it was tensed. Try it. Make a fist and squeeze it hard for about 30 seconds. Now relax your hand. Notice how relaxed it feels?
So start at your head and work down to your feet tensing and relaxing your muscles. Tense your jaw muscles, the muscles of your face, neck, shoulders, arms and hands, back, stomach, hips, legs and feet. Pushing against something like the chair you’re sitting in will give you enough resistance to tense the muscle. Then relax and feel the tension leave.
Slow Deep Breathing - Breathe in to the count of four. Breathe out to the count of four. Hold your breath to the count of four. Do it for a couple minutes. It will help relax you rapidly. Try it. How fast it relaxes you will surprise you.
Take Mini-Vacations – Stress accumulates here and there throughout the day, and sometimes through many days to make weeks of stress. It’s a good idea to reduce stress here and there, just like it accumulates.
A good way to reduce stress is with “mini-vacations.” A mini-vacation is a five or ten minute break from your stressful routine, doing something that is enjoyable that helps you relax and take a break. It can be just about anything: thumbing through a magazine, a phone call to a friend, visualization of a pleasant scene, reading from a favorite book, listening to music, exercise, meditating, doing nothing, drawing.... the list goes on. It would be helpful to have a list of mini-vacations handy that you could turn to. At the back of this chapter is a list called Mini-Vacation Ideas. Why don’t you look at it now and check the ones you think you can start using right away.
Change Your Lifestyle to Make it More Fun – It is also beneficial to change your lifestyle as much as possible to make it more fun and less stressful, to laugh more. But one caution may be in order here. If you develop a lifestyle built around escape and you avoid your responsibilities too much, that too will create stress. Remember the secret—balance.
There have been a lot of books written on stress, and this article could have been made twenty or more pages. But let’s be realistic. If you can’t use ideas right away, why talk about them? These ideas for reducing stress will work if, of course, you work to make them fit your life and use them daily. Your determination to overcome and manage your stress is important. People’s lives have been wrecked on the rocks of stress. Apply these proven principles and sail your boat free of them.
Ways to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep
Sleep loss can become a stubborn, negative cycle. Here are a few suggestions for improving your sleep.
1. KEEP A REGULAR SLEEP SCHEDULE. Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a “circadian clock” in our brain and the body’s need to balance both sleep time and wake time. That is also why it is important to keep a regular bedtime and wake-time, even on the weekends when there is the temptation to sleep-in.
2. AVOID CAFFEINE. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it can produce an alerting effect. Caffeine products, such as coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate, remain in the body on average from 3 to 5 hours, but they can affect some people up tp 12 hours later. Avoiding caffeine within 6-8 hours of going to bed can help improve sleep quality.
3. AVOID NICOTINE. Nicotine is also a stimulant. Smoking before bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep. When smokers go to sleep, they experience withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, which also cause sleep problems.
4. AVOID ALCOHOL. Although many people think of alcohol as a sleep aid because if its sedating effect, it actually disrupts sleep, causing nighttime awakenings. Consuming alcohol leads to a night of less restful sleep.
5. DON’T EAT OR DRINK TOO MUCH CLOSE TO BEDTIME. Eating or drinking too much may make you less comfortable when settling down for bed. Also, spicy foods may cause heartburn, which leads to difficulty falling asleep and discomfort during the night. Try to restrict fluids close to bedtime to prevent nighttime awakenings to go to the bathroom, though some people find milk or herbal, non-caffeinated teas to be soothing and a helpful part of a bedtime routine. If you are accustomed to it, have a light carbohydrate snack before bedtime (e.g., crackers, graham crackers, milk, or cheese). Do not eat chocolate or large amounts of sugar. If you awaken in the middle of the night, do not have a snack then or you may find that you begin to wake up habitually at that time feeling hungry.
6. EXERCISE at the right time promotes sleep. In general, exercising regularly makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. However, exercising sporadically or right before going to bed will make falling asleep more difficult. In addition to making us more alert, our body temperature rises during exercise, and takes as much as 6 hours to begin to drop. A cooler body temperature provides a signal that it is time to sleep. Finish your exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime. Late afternoon exercise is the perfect way to help you fall asleep at night.
7. USE RELAXING BEDTIME RITUALS. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights sends a signal to your body that it is almost time to go to sleep and will make it easier to fall asleep. Do these activities in the same order each night. Avoid arousing activities before bedtime like working, paying bills, engaging in competitive games or family problem-solving activities. Try an activity that is relaxing, such as soaking in a hot tub, reading or listening to music, or having a massage. Use your preferred sleep posture and combination of favorite pillows and blankets.
8. CREATE A SLEEP-PROMOTING ENVIRONMENT. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep-cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions. Also make your bedroom reflective of the value you place on sleep. Check your room for noise or other distractions, including a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring, light, and a dry or hot environment.
9. ASSOCIATE YOUR BED WITH SLEEP ONLY. Use your bed only for sleep to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine. For example, if looking at a bedroom clock makes you anxious about how much time you have before you must get up, move the clock out of sight.
10. LIMIT SLEEP TIME IN BED. If you do not fall asleep within 15-20 minutes of going to bed and turning out the lights, it is best to get out of bed and do another relaxing activity until you are feeling sleepy again. If anxiety about something you need to do prevents you from sleeping, it is sometimes helpful to jot down notes in a “worry” or “to do” book. Nap during the day only when needed to maintain alertness and plan on napping 20-30 minutes.
11. TURN YOUR THINKER OFF. Listen to the background sounds in the room. Notice the feel of the sheets and blanket to help turn off the constant thoughts running through your mind.