Lunch program provides ways to defuse stress



by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs


3/18/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Stress is something most people deal with on a regular basis, but it doesn't have to be negative.

Wanda Myrick, health education program manager for the health and wellness center, offered some coping techniques March 8 during a lunch-and-learn program for Women's History Month.

Developing coping techniques is the key to good health.

"It's something that is so important, we need to practice on a day-to-day basis," she said.

Stress can affect the body and may lead to chronic diseases or cancer, Ms. Myrick said. Learning to react in a healthy way can lessen its impact.

"Stress is an internal response to an external situation," she said. "If you don't perceive it as stressful, it isn't."

By letting an event or situation become stressful, the body will have an emotional response followed by physical reactions, such as increased heart rate and sweaty palms.

"Ideally, if you could, you would remove yourself from the stressor," Ms. Myrick said. "If you can't remove yourself, change your mindset."

Knowing the warning signs is easy as PIE -- physical, intellectual and emotional.

Someone who stresses physically will have muscle tension, perspiration, ulcers and increased blood pressure.

Someone who stresses intellectually will be disorganized and forgetful or won't be able to think straight.

Someone who stresses emotionally will be argumentative or cry.

Once the signs of stress are present, people can take action to reduce the negative effects.

Women and men face stress differently.

"Women 'tend and befriend,' taking care of those closest to them, but also drawing support from friends and family," said a report from the National Women's Health Information Center.

"Men are more likely to have the 'fight or flight' response. They cope by 'escaping' into a relaxing activity or other distraction."

Many people turn to food, which may not be the best solution.

"When a baby cries, the first thing you do is pop a bottle in the mouth," Ms. Myrick said. "We learn to associate stress with food, something we learn in childhood and carry to adulthood."

Eating will not relieve stress.

"We're internalizing (stress), holding it down, pushing it in," she said.

Instead, turning to exercise, relaxation or hobbies will create a positive effect.

"Exercise is something that is good for us emotionally," she said.

Ms. Myrick talked the group through a progressive muscle relaxation and visual exercise, demonstrating how quickly the body can relax when given a chance.

With repeated practice, the body will naturally relax when it recognizes the signs of stress.

"It's all about you. It's your time," she said. "Schedule relaxation time. We have to learn how to take care of ourselves."