People in the military face some unimaginably stressful situations, so it stands to reason that their methods of managing stress and anxiety are second to none. As you might expect, the military-approved tricks to reduce anxiety quickly are well-tested, efficient, and simple enough to use in almost any situation. Plus, they're just as effective for civilian use as well.
It's almost difficult to overstate the rigors of military life. "Military service can be a highly stressful experience — and not just for those who serve in active combat. All men and women who serve go through training in which they prepare themselves for the rigors of combat — and for potential threats to their well being," says Samuel "Shy" Krug, Ph.D., a VA psychologist who helps veterans work to manage anxiety. Those in combat situations have to deal with intense stressors such as exposure to live fire, but people in non-combat situations also deal with issues such as working long hours, coping with intense physical demands, and dealing with sleep interruptions, explains Dr. Krug. It's all stressful.
With this in mind, there are some real reasons why anxiety management is so important for people in the military. "Experiencing anxiety, fear, grief, or a number of other emotions, can be seen as a sign of weakness, in part because experiencing emotions may negatively impact one's ability to complete the mission," says Dr. Krug. Anxiety could cause a person's fight-or-flight instinct to kick in, complicating the ability to make decisions. Even after military service is complete, counselors such as Dr. Krug help veterans cope with common issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use, which are higher in veteran populations than the general population. As it turns out, anxiety management techniques are just as crucial for veterans as well.
For many people, it's possible to ease the symptoms of anxiety with a few tricks used by those in the military. But of course there are varying degrees of anxiety and how much people are affected by them — each case is different. Don't hesitate to seek help if anxiety symptoms ever become too overwhelming. To start, though, you can see if some of these relaxation techniques work for you.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
When it comes to instant stress relief, there's nothing quite like deep breathing. "I know that military personnel subjected to live fire and combat practice diaphragmatic breathing to slow their heart rate," says Travis McNulty, LMHC, of McNulty Counseling & Wellness. This helps increase their precision and decision making skills. Research supports this idea as well. Deep breathing can bring about the body's relaxation response, as explained in Harvard Health Publishing. It's one way to overcome the stress response. To learn more about this particular breathing technique, the Diaphragmatic Breathing Demonstration from Michigan Medicine offers some helpful advice.
2. Visualization Exercises
Play the scenario out in your head the next time you're stressed. By using mental training skills, including visualization or mentally rehearsing a task beforehand, soldiers were able to improve performance in a variety of tasks, according to the U.S. Army. It's another option for gaining control of your anxiety in any situation or place.
3. Physical Exercise
Of course, exercise is also a great answer to the anxiety question. "Get moving! Fitness and military go hand and hand. Going for a quick run or some other form of exercise is one of the go-to methods for service members who may be experiencing anxiety," says LaQuista Erinna, licensed clinical social worker and 20 year Army veteran. And there's plenty of research to back up this advice as well. For some people, regular exercise is as effective as medication when it comes to anxiety treatment, and one vigorous exercise session can provide lasting relief for hours afterward, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. So even if you don't have the time for a long workout, a quick walk or some push-ups will get the blood flowing. If you have a few more minutes, then the 10-Minute Whole Body Pilates & Yoga Workout from The Zoe Report is simple enough to follow anywhere.
4. Remember Anxiety Itself Is Not A Threat
This is one of those simple but true statements that can totally change the way you think about anxiety. "One of the central keys I present to veterans I work with (and is certainly applicable to the civilian population) is that anxiety itself is never a threat," says Dr. Krug. If you're currently dealing with a threatening situation (such as being chased by a bear), then you're feeling fear, not anxiety. Anxiety itself lives in the future, as Dr. Krug further explains. So although experiencing anxiety can be an unpleasant situation, feeling anxiety instead of fear means you aren't currently in any danger. "This realization can let individuals learn to tolerate anxiety more effectively, by recognizing that the anxiety itself is, a) not dangerous, and b) temporary," says Dr. Krug. It's a subtle difference, sure, but an important one to keep in mind.
5. Connect With Values
Sometimes taking a moment to consider the bigger picture, so to speak, can put anxiety into perspective. "As is the case for members of the armed forces who 'tolerate' stress and anxiety for the sake of the greater mission, the more contact an individual has with his or her values can allow them to 'tolerate' anxiety in the service of pursuing their values," says Dr. Krug. "For example, someone 'tolerating' the anxiety of getting on a flight in the service of connecting to their values of spending time with family." It's a way of reconsidering anxiety in relation to the task itself. Whether you breathe deep, put anxiety into perspective, or work it out with a workout, deal with anxiety quickly with these military-approved tricks.