What is stress?
First , let me point out what stress is not. Stress is not your spouse, kids, job, neighbors, etc. Stress is how your body reacts to circumstances and situations, which may include the people and/or things above.
"Stress is your body's way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it's real or imagined—the body's defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the "stress response." The stress response is the body's way of protecting you." - from the Help Guide
What is stress from a medical perspective?
"Stress: In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure)." - from MedicineNet.com
You Control Stress
So, avoid reacting like I used to - blaming other people and things like this:
"You're stressing me out right now."
"This Job Is Stressing Me Out Right Now."
"EVERYTHING IS STRESSING ME OUT RIGHT NOW!"
Yeah, that really was me. I didn't learn this stuff growing up in Southeast, Washington, DC, during the 80's, when crack cocaine hit the streets, turning people into zombies, scaring the crap out of me so much that I would run to school some mornings thinking a stray bullet had my name on it...
My bad, TMI (too much info). Let me back up the truth trolley.
I did not deal with or manage stress properly, because I could not recognize the fact that I was responding to people and things poorly and not taking control of my stress response.
We all have stories, histories, that include some powerful things. As an adult, I learned not to blame the settings and the other players in my story for how I play my part. You control stress. Don't allow it to control you.
How to recognize the signs of stress
I'm sure that I heard or read it somewhere that, the first step in managing stress is learning how to become aware of it in yourself. So, let me pass on some common physical and emotional symptoms of stress...I mean...not like to make you stressed out...but, so you can...
(Ugh...writing good is so hard!)
Common symptoms of stress include:
- mood swings
- trouble sleeping
- neck / back pain or muscle tension
- stomach pain
What do you do when you have all of the above symptoms? GET HELP NOW!
I hope you understand by now that I write these posts from my own personal experience. Before I became a civilian male military spouse, I was a walking stress case most of my early life, with all of the above symptoms and some others - all at the same time. If you even think you are close to being anywhere near what I'm describing, get help! If you are getting help, keep on getting help! The struggle is real. Unfortunately, too many people go it alone when they don't have to.
To my fellow civilian male military spouses, it is not weak to seek help - it is wise. Think about it. NOT getting the help you need while on a journey/path you have never been on, is not only arrogant and foolish, it is potentially deadly.
Tips on Managing Stress
I realize I am writing nothing new about how to manage stress. But as a civilian male military spouse, I hope my story helps you in some way to better navigate this journey you are on. Here are some tips on managing stress that I use.
- Breathe - Relax
- Walk - Work out - Physical Activity
- Talk - to someone - a friend or professional counselor
- Journal - Keep a journal on paper, audio or video
- Sleep - Get more uninterrupted sleep
I'm convinced that I didn't learn how to breathe until I was an adult. I'm talking about conscious breathing with the intent to slow things down or relax. Practicing martial arts helped me understand the importance of breathing in stressful, non-combat situations. I learned that most important for me was focusing my mind on something that happens automatically. Redirecting my thoughts away from stressors to the primary need for oxygen helps me see and set priority.
I work out everyday to manage stress and take care of myself, in order to best support my wife and daughter. Physical activity like going to the gym to lift or even playing rounds of golf, are situations where you practice responding to stress.
Talk - to someone
My early life as a male military spouse, I didn't talk much at all. Reasons included: I'm an introvert, a programmer (so,I'm in my own head a lot), and I just didn't want to talk. Life started getting better the more I talked. With every PCS move, I focused on finding one close friend I could talk WITH. (Real Talk - not that meaningless, surface, weather and sports stuff. ) Find people to talk WITH - not just TO - because as you listen you may pick up a tip on how to handle stress from a common situation or circumstance.
This one really helped me get stuff out. Now, with the loss of my eyesight, I video journal, but not for public consumption. I usually do my video journals in the mornings right after i get my daughter off to school and my wife off to work. I hit the record button on my (old, deactivated) smart phone camera and just talk for about an hour. I say whatever comes to mind, however it comes. I go until I'm done. I don't go back and watch them right away. I delete most of the videos. The video journal helps me tremendously with managing stress.
I have found that what happens during my non-wake hours is just as important as what happens while I'm awake. I have a set bedtime and wake time that I try and stick to. The more uninterrupted sleep I get, the better I am at everything, including managing stress. To get the uninterrupted sleep I need I make sure to do enough physical and mental activity. "Empty the tanks" is how I think of it. I also setup my sleep area with what i need to help me stay sleep - noise cancellation, temperature, darkness, etc.
Life provides enough stressful situations for us all. Remember, you control how you respond to stressful circumstances and situations. Whether you are a civilian male military spouse or not, I hope you learned something in this post to help you manage stress.
Grace and Peace!
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Taurus James is a 20-year civilian male military spouse, stay-at-home-dad and composer of Moody Mental Music to HEAL and HOPE. He is also the 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year from Wright Patterson Air Force Base.