Written by Tim Merrell, Coast Guard Health Promotion Program Manager
Everyone feels stress to some degree. It is part of life. But how you cope with it makes a big difference in being resilient vs. having a physical or emotional crisis. Our bodies have subconscious coping mechanisms that take over when we face stressful situations:(1)
- Our adrenal gland releases adrenaline and cortisol;
- Our body receives more oxygen through our respiratory and cardiovascular systems;
- Our liver gives us a boost of energy by producing extra glucose;
- Our muscles tense up to protect us from injury.
This coping mechanism, better known as the fight or flight response, undoubtedly saved early man more than once. Our bodies react to stress the same way, whether we come face to face with a bear or a consistently stressful job – stress is stress. Long-term stress can be just as deadly as immediate stress, because the body needs to return to a normal condition quickly. People under prolonged stress, either physical or mental, do not allow the body to return to normal and are more susceptible to ailments such as inflammation, obesity, depression, anxiety, musculoskeletal problems (neck and back pain), hypertension, or heart disease. If you are suffering from any of these maladies, it may be related to stress.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best ways to manage stress in hard times are through self-care(2):
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. They may seem to be a temporary fix to feel better, but in the long run drugs and alcohol can create more problems and add to your stress — instead of taking it away.
- Find support. Seek help from a partner, family member, friend, counselor, doctor, or clergyperson. Having someone with a sympathetic, listening ear and sharing about your problems and stress really can lighten the burden.
- Connect socially. After a stressful event, it is easy to isolate yourself. Make sure that you are spending time with loved ones. Consider planning fun activities with your partner, children, or friends.
- Take care of yourself: Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet; exercise regularly; get plenty of sleep; give yourself a break if you feel stressed out (e.g. treat yourself to a therapeutic massage); maintain a normal routine.
- Stay active. You can take your mind off your problems with activities like helping a neighbor, volunteering in the community, and taking the dog on a long walk. These can be positive ways to cope with stressful feelings.
With a demanding job in the Coast Guard, it may be difficult to avoid stress, but it is not difficult to use the tools above to manage the stress in your life. If you need further assistance in dealing with your stress, do not hesitate to contact your primary care provider or one of the resources below:
CGSUPRT : This site offers a huge variety of resources such as nutritionists, health coaches, counselors and financial managers. CGSUPRT is one of our best resources available to active duty, selected reservists, civilian employees, and family members. You can also call 1-855-CGSUPRT (247-8778).
CG-111 – Coast Guard Work-Life has listings of your specific points of contact that can assist throughout the year with many issues or concerns. This is a great starting point if you have a specific problem and need some direction. Services are available to active duty, selected reservists, civilian employees, and family members.
You are not alone. Whatever is bothering you – such as finances, health, or relationships – there are resources available to assist you. Just reach OUT!