National Heart Month: Is Military Life Killing You?
Many of us associated with the military lifestyle have surely used the phrase, “this is killing me!” every now and again. The demands placed upon us throughout deployments, moves, and daily schedules can certainly seem like they are taking years off our lives. But this phrase that we use facetiously might actually carry some weight. Stress has a powerful impact on our bodies and over time can contribute significantly to health problems, including heart disease. Without the practice of proper stress management techniques, the life-span of our tickers really could be diminished.
In actuality, it isn’t military life itself that is “killing” us but rather our physical and emotional reactions to the circumstances. Some people are naturally better at handling stress, while others can be left feeling overwhelmed, anxious, angry, and even depressed when stressful situations arise. When we are faced with situations that leave us in a heightened state of stress for long periods of time, the stress is said to be chronic. According to the American Heart Association, chronic stress can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure. Stress can also lead to smoking, inactivity, and overeating, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. If we add up all the stress we have felt as a result of the military lifestyle, there is no denying that our hearts have been exposed to at least some of its negative effects.
As someone who tends to get overwhelmed and anxious in response to stress, and as a military wife who as seen her fair share of undesirable circumstances, I have had to work hard to control my body’s reaction to stressful situations. Though I am still learning, I have discovered a few surefire ways to help me cope during stressful times:
- See the big picture. Often times, a stressful situation can seem like it is screwing everything up or is putting a halt on something you had planned. By taking a step back, you might realize that the situation isn’t all that bad, or that it might even be beneficial.
- “It is what it is.” Saying this to yourself when a challenging or unwanted situation arises convinces your mind that it doesn’t bother you. In other words, you make your mind believe you are indifferent to the situation. As a result, you may be able to avoid the heightened emotions associated with the stress response.
- Remember that it won’t last forever. Much of the time, stressful situations are short lived. Either the situation passes or the mind simply adapts to an ongoing situation and you figure out how to handle it. If you remind yourself that challenging circumstances are temporary, you are more likely to find the strength needed to get through it without extreme emotional consequences.
- Embrace your circumstances. I firmly believe that life is a series of lessons and that we must endure the tough times in order to understand these lessons. When I remember this, I am much more productive at handling stressful situations and spare myself unwanted misery.
These are tactics that I have developed as a result of the military lifestyle. Other effective stress management techniques include meditation, journaling, exercise, massage, positive self-talk, and talking to a trusted confidant. As members of the military community, it is wise to incorporate as many of these as possible into our daily lives so that our minds are able to handle stress in more positive ways.
It is important to note that chronic stress can be a precursor to depression. In the case of depression, general stress management efforts may not be effective. Make sure to know the warning signs of depression and actions to take if you think you or someone you know might be depressed.
This February, in honor of National Heart Month, give your heart some love and incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine. Take the time to discover which tactics work best for you. Though challenging, the military lifestyle can be a positive and rewarding experience. Let’s turn “This is killing me!” into “I’ve got this!” You know you’re strong enough to handle it!