Leadership News

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mental resiliency: recognize, respond

by Staff Sgt. Brandon Shapiro
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

2/11/2013 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Would it be surprising to find out that enlisted military personnel took the top spot for having the most stressful job in America in 2013? Well, don't be surprised, as holding the dubious distinction is not unusual.

According to an annual report published by a prominent internet job site, enlisted military members are at the top when it comes to stress, nearly maxing each of the 11 stress factors used to determine the ranking. Those factors included areas such as hazards, travel, physical demands, competitiveness, and risk to one's own life or to others.'

Although this may seem shocking, the fact isn't anything new; military personnel have been given this distinction for years. What is new are the ways to counteract the mental and emotional strains from such a demanding lifestyle.

It all boils down to this, if one's mental resiliency is lackluster or unstable, daily stressors will take hold of their life.

By lacking resilience, you will more than likely succumb to the mental pitfalls that keep you at risk. Those pitfalls can cause you to have a pessimistic perspective, see problems as one-sided, feel victimized, and choose unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drug abuse.

Eventually, no matter one's rank or reputation, everyone experiences the ebbs and flows of life and will need help getting through them.

Two of the most important skills being taught in Department of Defense resiliency programs are personal preparation and recognition techniques.

The ability to recognize "thinking traps" so that the proper measures can be taken to head off negative or harmful reactions, ensures readiness, an important element of mental fitness.

Tunnel vision, jumping to conclusions, personalizing and evaluating the situation from an emotional perspective, are common traps military members fall into.

It's natural to subconsciously resort to these mental crutches. Remember, it's not the end of the world; this type of negative thinking can become second nature. The brain is the most complex device in the universe, and without proper conditioning it may automatically make faulty determinations.

The first stride in mental condition is to always remember to step back and analyze the situation; by doing so you will avoid irrational emotional responses, tunnel vision and senseless reactions.

What is one's first reaction when cut off by another driver? Rage, agitation or feeling disrespected, right?

It's frivolous to dwell on such incidents, clear your emotional response and move on. If the situation dictates action, your reasoned evaluation will make it easier to take the appropriate action.

As mental anxiety and stress mount, remembering to analyze the situation will help pinpoint the source of one's frustrations. One of the best ways to identify the sources of stress is to analyze habits, attitudes and excuses. Write them down and reflect on how these three things dictate one's mental resiliency and toughness. What could have been done differently to avoid any thinking traps? Maybe it's just time to relieve some pent up stress and emotions.

The famous writer James Howell once said, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." It's a truth that results in mental health professionals consistently prescribing the same stress relief technique--make time for fun and relaxation.

Bottom line, whenever encountering an unfamiliar situation that affects your mental, spiritual, social or physical wellbeing, never hesitate to utilize the trained professionals the Air Force provides. The mental health office, family advocacy, chapel, Health and Wellness Center or Airman and Family Readiness Center are ready to help ensure one's mental toughness and conditioning are paired with positive self-esteem and coping skills. These professionals are available during challenging times and will bolster one's ability to react to stress in a constructive manner.

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