“People often talk about stress as if it is some type of emotion, but in reality, stress is nothing more than the body’s signal that something is needed,” said Capt. Neal Kennington, 56th Medical Operations Squadron clinical psychologist. “Hunger, fatigue or needing to go to the restroom are all simple examples of stress. Stress is an unpleasant sensation that motivates us to do something that will help us feel better. If I feel the stress of hunger, I eat. If I feel the stress of fatigue, I sleep. By doing those things, the stress is relieved, and I feel better.
“Some sources of stress are universal, such as hunger and thirst,” Kennington said. “The things that stress me out completely may have very little impact on another person. Typically, a person’s upbringing, personal experiences and genetic makeup determine what things cause a stress reaction.”
Stress is also a reaction to everything encountered in a person’s life, said Airman 1st Class James Gilmore, 56th MOS mental health service technician.
Some stress can lead to unhealthy coping habits such as smoking, overeating, being socially withdrawn, acting out or disregarding one’s responsibilities, he said.
High stress levels can also impact one physically, Kennington said. It can cause weight gain, skin problems, short-term and chronic illnesses, digestive problems, muscular problems, loss of sex drive and emotional issues.
While there are negative stressors, some stress is good.
“Stress is the body’s way of getting what it needs,” Kennington said. “If we had no stress in our lives we wouldn’t do anything since we would have no motivation.”
One solution to help cope with stress is exercise, Kennington said. Research has shown the benefits of being active are much more than just physical fitness; 20 to 30 minutes per day of moderate activity leads to decreased stress and improvement in general mood and functioning.
“Physical activity is always my number one recommendation for dealing with stress because the benefits don’t take weeks to materialize,” he said. “Most people feel less stressed after the very first round. The key is to find the type of exercise that works for your personal preferences and fits your time limitations. By finding the right match you’re more likely to stick with it and reap the benefits to your mood and stress levels.”
Mental health clinic providers are available to help individuals and groups learn stress management techniques. To schedule an appointment, call 623-856-7579. Chaplains, military family life consultants and Military One Source are other sources of assistance available for dealing with overwhelming stress.