Chronic stress steals energy while affecting physical, mental health

| June 18, 2010 | 0 Comments

Lisa Young
U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional)

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — For Soldiers who are often deployed, the continual stress of patrols, searches, training and the usual tedium of Soldiering requires troops to manage their stress levels in a challenging situation. 

For family members, life brings another set of stress-inducing trials.

Stress can be very useful as it causes energy-pumping hormones to be released into the bloodstream, preparing the body to act in times of danger. 

However, many of the activities that cause stress in today’s world do not require a physical response. Unfortu-nately, the body does not know that. 

The resulting muscle tension, increased heart rate and intensified hormone levels can eventually produce body aches, headaches, digestive problems, sleep disturbances and fatigue. 

If ignored, chronic stress can affect physical health and steal a person’s most precious resource: energy.

Stress management can help maintain energy and prevent physical pain, but the ability to cope with the overwhelming demands for time and attention is essential. 

Since chronic stress is a factor in reduced energy and uncomfortable physical symptoms, stress reduction is essential and possible with a few steps.

Participate in therapeutic massage or progressive muscle relaxation, listen to music, try relaxed breathing or mediation. 

These activities help relax muscles, clear away information overload and reduce anxiety, and they have the added physical benefits of reducing heart rate, blood pressure and tension.

Having a positive outlook on life and not taking things personally also can reduce stress, so let go of the things that can’t be changed. 

Set limits and stay in control of how time is spent, since finding a balance among career obligations, family events, social activities and personal time is vital. 

Planning ahead will help to avoid last-minute stressors, as well.

Maintain an exercise routine with aerobic activities and stretching to increase endorphins and relieve tight muscles, which helps to reduce stress. 

Aerobic exercise should be vigorous, frequent and last for at least 30 minutes. For example, participating in outdoor activities with friends can be a fun way to keep fit and build supportive relationships.

Staying properly hydrated is essential, too, since the body is mostly composed of water. Water carries oxygen, nutrients and glucose to cells to provide energy, cushion joints and fortify muscles. Dehydration can leave a person mentally and physically drained.

Adequate rest and maintaining regular sleeping patterns are essential and required to manage stress. Most people need a minimum of eight hours of sleep every day to sustain a high energy level.

Remember, chronic stress robs, drains, taxes and sickens individuals if it is left unresolved. If anyone participates in activities that work together to reduce stress, life’s problems can be viewed more realistically and he/she will feel more in control of managing issues. 

Addressing chronic stress on a daily basis can help provide energy and restore perspective to keep going when life feels overwhelming. 

Behavioral health professionals, counselors and chaplains are great resources and can provide other, individualized stress management techniques.

Resources specifically related to stress and service members are available at the Deployment Health Clinical Center, Combat/Operational Stress site. Visit www.pdhealth.mil/op_stress.asp.

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