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Strategies for Managing Stress at Events
Experiencing stress as a result of military stressors is common for even the most seasoned service members. Sometimes, events such as family gatherings, holiday parties and other social events can be stressful for warriors returning home from deployment. This article outlines common stress reactions you may experience before or during social events, as well as provides tips and resources to help you decrease your stress level and anxiety surrounding social events.
Signs You May Be Stressed
As a service member, it is common to feel and act differently as a result of military stressors. Learned survival skills such as heightened vigilance or a need for constant control can often lead to stress and anxiety – especially during social events.1 In order to manage your stress, you should be familiar with its causes and signs. Below is a list of common reactions to stress:2,3
- Tension and irritability
- Fear and anxiety about the future
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Nightmares and recurring thoughts about an event
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs
- Sleep problems
- Trouble concentrating
The holiday season can be especially packed with social events to attend. Read the Real Warriors Campaign article, Easing Holiday and Reintegration Stress, for more information on how to cope with holiday stress.
Everyone reacts differently to stress, so learn your own stress signals so that you can tackle any concerns early on. You can also ask those closest to you for help in recognizing your personal stress reactions.
Mentally Prepare for Events
It's important to prepare for situations like social events that may cause you to experience stress. For example, crowded events can be a common cause of anxiety for recently deployed service members who have had an intense combat or operational experience. Use the tips below to help you cope with stress before and during events:4
- Set Boundaries. Your family, friends and colleagues may be curious and ask you about your military experiences. Some of their questions may have the potential to make you feel uncomfortable. Decide ahead of time what you are willing to discuss with them, and set boundaries for what you are comfortable discussing. It can be helpful to share your responses and any concerns you have with a loved one or a professional before the event.
- Take a Break. Don't feel obligated to go to every event you are invited to. Maintain a healthy balance between socializing and down time. During events, don't be afraid to take a break from the crowd.
- Manage your emotions . If a situation arises during an event where you feel anger or upset when speaking to a family member, friend or acquaintance about your military service or other topics, you can manage your emotions by taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before responding or walking away from the situation.
- Resist the temptation to drink heavily. While alcohol may seem to help, in the long run it creates additional problems such as health concerns like heart disease and often increases the stress you are already feeling.
Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress
- Being active. Physical activities like jogging, swimming, weight lifting or playing sports can reduce physical tension, give you a break from difficult emotions and improve your self-esteem. For more information, read the Real Warriors Campaign article, Physical Fitness Training Year-Round Boosts Resilience. Always check with your health care professional before starting a new exercise routine.
- Practicing breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are known to decrease the body's "fight or flight" instinct and help stabilize your mood. The Breathe2Relax app can lead you through breathing exercises designed to manage your stress and to teach you what meaningful breathing can do for your body. Having a portable stress manager gives you the chance to practice these breathing techniques at your own pace and be prepared to tackle stressful events at any time.
Read the Real Warriors Campaign article, Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation Techniques, to learn more about other complementary and alternative medicines such as yoga and meditation that can help you cope with stress.
For other ideas about how to manage stress, check out the Life Stress program at afterdeployment.
Reaching Out for Help is a Sign of Strength
Experiencing stress as a result of military experiences is common. Peer support programs are one way for service members to seek help and know they are not alone in experiencing stress. It is a way to create social networking, improve coping skills, build resiliency and promote wellness. The National Resource Directory is an online tool that connects all service members and their families to nearly 14,000 services and resources at the national, state/territory and local levels that support recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration. For more information on peer support programs, read the article, Peer Support Resources for Members of the National Guard, Reserve and Individual Augmentees.
In addition to the information in this article and peer support programs, you can always speak directly with a trained professional at the DCoE Outreach Center to learn more about how to cope with stress in healthy ways. Call 866-966-1020 or log onto Real Warriors Live Chat to get free, confidential guidance on resources for getting help 24/7.
- BrainLine Military
- Defense Department Live Blog: Handling Holiday Stress
- Combat and Operational Stress (Marine Corps)
- Comprehensive Airman Fitness (Air Force)
- Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (Army)
- Center for Brain Health
- Courage Beyond
- How to Deal With Combat Stress
- Navy Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control (Navy)
- The Soldiers Project
- Warrior Gateway
1 "8 Battlefield Skills That Make Reintegration Challenging," Real Warriors Campaign. Last accessed Dec. 16, 2015.
3 "Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Families of Military Members" [PDF 2.64MB] National Center for PTSD. Last accessed Dec. 16, 2015.
4 "Building Resilience to Cope With Difficult Situations," Real Warriors Campaign. Last accessed Dec. 16, 2015.