By Rev. Ralph Modjeska
Managing Stress: My dear friend, Rev. Ralph Modjeska, is the chaplain to the Waukesha County (WI) Fire Chiefs Association and Flight for Life. He routinely does debriefing sessions for fire fighters, paramedics and EMTs. In the aftermath of the Waukesha , WI parade tragedy, he conducted sessions for every department in the county, as well as for families of victims.
This is a piece he wrote and uses routinely in his ministry. It is long, but it contains information that might help you or someone you know, so we chose to post it in its entirety.
Managing stress starts with understanding our response
Stress– Commonly known as anxiety, is most often NOT determined by what happens TO us, but by how we RESPOND to a situation. Stress can come in many forms and can affect our families, our workplace and ourselves.
Stress/anxiety can come from:
- trying to balance our personal life from our work,
- family conflicts or concerns,
- child or elder care issues,
- alcohol or drug problems,
- financial difficulties,
- workplace issues or conflicts/concerns about employment, etc.
Everyone experiences stress. It is a natural part of life. Every change in our lives is accompanied by stress. That includes both joyful moments as well as the sorrowful ones.
ACUTE ANXIETY would be a level of stress relieved immediately after the situation is resolved.
CHRONIC ANXIETY would be unrelieved stress experienced over a long period of time, which can lead to illness and depression.
Learning to respond to stress
Clearly life will go much better for us if we can learn to recognize and respond appropriately to stress that comes our way. We need to understand that our body’s natural reaction to stress is either FIGHT or FLIGHT. Both are outdated.
Today, many of our stress-inducing require a more complex response than putting up our “dukes,” (FIGHT) or fleeing from the scene (FLIGHT). For example, have you ever found yourself in a long line at a store and the checkout person is talking incessantly to another customer, ignoring the line of customers? Do you feel like going up and strangling the clerk? That’s FIGHT.
Or another example is when you’re in a hurry but you’re stuck in traffic…increased adrenaline, feelings of anxiety, increased heart rate. That’s FLIGHT.
In small doses, the fight or flight rush of adrenaline is not harmful to us. However, if experienced for an extended period, it can begin to harm both body and soul. This can lead to CHRONIC STRESS, which over time can erode our coping mechanisms. We need to develop new strategies for reducing our stress and we need to train our bodies to relax rather than react.
Life balance is critical to managing stress
New strategies include seeking more balance in our lives, using our creativity on a daily basis, reframing our situation with an optimistic outlook, adopting good habits of self-care and tending to our spiritual life.
Also, include healthy doses of exercise, humor, hugs and rest. A very good defense against harmful stress is to savor and enjoy life rather than experience life as a source of danger or a threat.
The ultimate stress therapy is to remember the deeper truth– we are loved. When stress and its effects begin to overwhelm us, turn to the Word of God!
“Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NLT)
Stress can be a good teacher
Stress can be a teacher and an inner guide. It tells is when something is amiss—the threats are not always external. If we pay attention to our emotional and physical reactions, keeping track of our stress can provide clues to what is happening around us.
For example, have you ever been unable to sleep or been edgy with your family? It’s important to determine what is going on that needs your attention. It may be that you’re taking on too much at work, concerned about finances, or have a belief system that projects negative thoughts.
Stress is a symptom
Stress is simply a symptom, a clue that something needs to be addressed in your life. Becoming attuned to our stress is a healthy proactive. We cannot remedy that of which we are not aware.
Many people find the “Serenity Prayer” offers a great formula for dealing with stress. Seeking serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Try to avoid unrealistic expectations
You cannot always change the situation, but you can make healthy decisions. That includes protecting yourself from unrealistic expectations placed on you by others, or by yourself. It is always wise to learn when to say “NO.”
According to Dr. Julian B. Reichmond, even of the ten leading causes of illness in the United States could be easily reduced if the following lifestyle habits were modified: drug and alcohol abuse, lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking AND unhealthy responses to stress.
Add to that not having a faith in something greater than ourselves. We cannot be our own GOD!
Consider your reaction to a major stress
To understand your reaction to major stress, compare the situation you have been involved in to the splash when a stone is thrown into a a still body of water.
Your reactions are like ripples, which continue after the stone hits the water’s surface. Here are some examples of physical reactions:
- change in appetite/eating problems,
- sexual problems,
- sleep disturbances.
Trauma often caused by our emotional reactions
Most trauma is frequently flowed by one or more of the following emotional reactions:
- Becoming withdrawn,
- Having trouble remembering or concentrating,
- Having intrusive thoughts which are repeated memories of the situation,
- Feeling generally anxious,
- Feeling survival guilt, which is feeling guilty for surviving when others have not, or feeling guilty over actions needed to survive,
- Experiencing increased reactions when situations or activities remind you of an original event,
- Becoming hyper-vigilant, the state of being constantly “on guard” or “on alert,”
- Being moody, irritable or having angry outbursts for little or no reason,
- Becoming emotionally numb to avoid the pain of the trauma.
Denial is common response to stress
HELPING YOURSELF: Often individuals try to protect themselves from troublesome reactions through denial by refusing to acknowledge personal reactions related to the event. Avoid compulsive decisions, such as resigning from your job, until you have worked through the situation.
Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol serves only to feed the denial and cause additional problems. Although you wish to be alone, now is the time to turn to someone else for support.
Finally, recognize while the feelings you are experiencing may not be comfortable, they are typical for one who has been through a major trauma—abnormal reaction to an abnormal event.
HELPFUL TIPS: 1. Express feelings and concerns with caring friends and loved ones, 2. Maintain as normal a schedule as possible, 3. Eat well-balanced meals and try to avoid too much caffeine and sugar, 4. Try to exercise, even with just a brisk 20-30 minute walk, 5. Seek professional assistance if problems persist and begin to interfere with your normal activities, 6. Take deep breaths with stress or tensions strike.
Seek the help you need
Learn to seek and accept the help you need. For many, especially during times of stress, it is hard to acknowledge that we might benefit from getting the help of a counselor, advisor, spiritual director or a wise friend.
A great deal of research and writing over the past two decades attests to the link between spirituality and health. Does spirituality make a difference? YES, it clearly does!
Debriefing is often a useful tool for managing stress
Another way to seek help is through what is called “debriefing.” This is simply a technique used for preventing a a more serious reaction to a major, stressful event. It is usually informal and can be facilitated one-on-one (friend-to-friend or a counselor), or in a group. Those who go through debriefing typically have less stress.
Use this easy four step approach to begin managing stress
Take heart, here’s a four step approach for taking action on stress that you can easily use. STOP, BREATHE, REFLECT and CHOOSE.
Stop and realize that you have a choice in how to respond.
Breathe deeply and release physical tension.
Reflect on your situation.
Choose a strategy for dealing with your stress that will lead to relaxation and well-being.
If you adopt these steps, you can make a major difference in the quality of your life