I find it telling that, for me, moments of extreme stress and danger can be subdued by the peaceful and calming thoughts of my family, my bride, and especially my boys. These thoughts seem to develop into a clear thinking, calming my mind to allow full focus on the task at hand. Six years in the CIA afforded me the unfortunate opportunity to put this concept to the test a number of times to relax my mind when the stress levels started to peak.
I had this crazy story ready about how I handled a stressful situation during a deployment by pulling out my phone and cycling through pictures of my wife and little boy that inspired my moment of zen. Unfortunately, that story will require CIA approval. But the fact is, we all have these situations. Every single day. Kids, and dare I say spouses, have this incredible ability to push our buttons to the edge of the breaking point much like a foreign war zone. We’ve all even had our blood pressure raised over seemingly minor things. The thing is, we can train ourselves to identify our stressors and handle the stress using the same techniques service members use to transition home after deployments.
The American Red Cross published a “Coming Home From Deployment” guide I stumbled upon years ago after my final deployment. (Author’s Note: In a future article, I’ll share my experience on my transition back to a normal family life.) I feel that the guide is also a useful starting point for managing the stress parents go through everyday.
The first step is awareness. Be aware of what your triggers are, accept that others will not understand, and be patient with yourself and others when the stress begins to build.
Then next step is action. Identify at least one technique that helps lower your overall tension level and slows down your breathing to calm your heart rate – pleasant thoughts, deep breathing, and meditation to name a few common coping strategies.
The third step is attitude. Digging deep and fighting to keep a positive attitude about your stress management is the key to success. Be patient, don’t give up, and overcome. Handling stress isn’t easy, but becomes easier with proper coping strategies. Be open to asking for help. Look at both sides of things, perspective is insightful. And again, keep your thoughts positive.
The interesting thing about the American Red Cross guide is that it provides both a guide for returning service members and a guide for their families. Stress affects us all, directly and indirectly. Learning how to better handle our own stress will help us assist others (including our children) when they deal with their own stress.
Read through the guide and see where it can help you in your fight. Try some techniques the next time the stress rears its ugly head. It might take a few attempts to find the right formula, but finding a way to your inner zen will improve your performance and thinking during moments of stress and might even save your life or the lives of others.