Stress is an emotion community members will inevitably feel during the Department of Defense furlough period that started this week.
Tension at appropriate levels can help a person focus to accomplish a goal but too much can lead to physical, mental and emotional issues.
The Family Life Center is among the many organizations on post that can help community members properly balance their stress levels. One important balancing technique is to look at the furlough period not as a danger but as an opportunity to improve well-being, according to Chaplain (Maj.) Charles Scott, Fort Belvoir Family Life Center director.
"Stress comes mostly from when we're focusing on the danger part and we forget about the opportunity," Scott said. "The Family Life Center certainly understands the hardship the furlough presents but this can be an opportunity to do something for yourself and Family. It's a loss of money but it's also an increase of time which is also very precious."
The furlough period requires employees to take one day off per week, without pay, between July 8 and the end of the 2013 fiscal year in September. This is a result of the automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration. The length of the furlough amounts to 11 total days, one each week over roughly 5 1/2 pay periods.
Pay checks will be smaller than usual and managing finances will be harder, which creates the opportunity for unnecessary tension and anxiety to creep into a person's professional and personal life. The worst thing a person can do to combat stress is to engage in "risky behaviors," such as drugs and alcohol, or even just isolating themselves from others, Scott said.
Through counseling, Scott and other counselors can help individuals deal with their problems. One technique FLC counselors encourage involves teaching community members to focus on the positive. Scott and Stephanie Bates, Family Life Center licensed clinical social workers, suggest community members use their days off to learn a new skill, spend time with their children or engage in any activity they haven't had time for in the past. Employees can also use this furlough period as an opportunity to learn how to live on less money.
"It's all about where you place your focus," Scott said.
Another technique employees can use is breathing and muscle clenching. Stress tends to build up in the neck, shoulders, chest and other areas of the body, according to Bates. Plotting out three to four times per day to take slow and deliberate breaths and tightening and then loosing muscles can help release tension from your body.
"You can use these anytime throughout the day and nobody knows you're doing so," Bates said.
Establishing rewards and plans can also help with stress. For example, a person on a strict food diet can reward themselves by indulging in a tasty meal during the weekend so long as they stay on their diet during the week.
"We need something to look forward to, especially at the end of the week," Bates said.
Laughing, physical exercise and meditation are also good ways to handle stress management.
Employees looking for more help with stress management can seek individual counseling at the Family Life Center. Call (703) 805-2742 to set up an appointment. In the fall, employees can also participate in a free stress management class hosted by the Army Community Service's Family Advocacy Program, according to Donita McDonald, ACS Family Advocacy Program outreach coordinator.
"It's a light-hearted prevention class to help people gain an understanding and awareness of stress," McDonald said. "We help them understand it and manage it."
Stress can come from a variety of areas and it's how people respond to this tension that either helps them manage it, or makes things worse, McDonald said.
To properly respond to stress, the class teaches methods of relaxation like getting more sleep and eating a balanced diet, practicing good time management, journaling and even music therapy.
McDonald encourages people to ask for help when they're feeling overwhelmed.
"Stress can become a health factor issue for you that can lead to high blood pressure and other issues," McDonald said. "However, certain amounts of stress are healthy and good for professional development because it makes you feel driven and focused. Participants learn more about this in the class."
To sign up, or for more information, call McDonald at (703) 805-2561.