FORT BENNING, GA – Imagine yourself walking along the beach. Warm sun on your back, soft white sand underfoot. Gentle waves lapping back and forth as you head toward the palm trees with a tropical drink in your hand. Breathe in, breathe out. Feel the everyday stressors melt away. Better?
Guided imagery is just one of four techniques Fort Benning Army Wellness Center Health Educator McKenna Cornett uses to help patients manage their stress. During each hour-long session, Cornett will sit you in the massage chair and hook you up to a heart rate monitor. “We always start out with deep breathing because it’s the easiest thing to teach. On the next appointment, I personally like to teach progressive muscle relaxation.
We’ll have them clench their feet for however many seconds, then we’ll tell them to breathe and relax. Then we move our way up. Now we are doing our calves, clench, clench, clench. Now relax and breathe for a couple of seconds.” Cornett continued, “Now we are going to do our thighs and I move all the way up the body… even the face muscles. You get them to a state where they are complete Jell-O in the chair. It’s crazy to see how their heart rate smooths out so much.”
The heart rate monitor uses biofeedback to measure coherence. “Basically when your body is in a stress zone, you function under the sympathetic nervous system.” Cornett explained, “That’s your epinephrine and nor epinephrine… same thing as an adrenaline rush. Typically in that range, you don’t burn fat for fuel.”
Sleep deprivation forces your body to function in that same zone and can sabotage weight loss as much as stress. “Our goal is to teach all of these techniques (deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery and meditation) and have them implement it in their daily life to mitigate their own stress.”
Cornett shared the stress management appointments are popular with family members and active duty alike. “I’ve personally had someone who had been jumping for years, was an air instructor. He could not get over this weird anxiety he developed out of nowhere. He came for a couple of exercises. We practiced deep breathing and he said it changed his life.”
The Army Wellness Center’s busiest time of year is right after the New Year. That’s when most people resolve to start working out or dieting to achieve a healthier, happier life. Health Promotion Technician Stephanie Pritchard said the clientele who undergo fitness assessment are usually ultra athletes already well into their training for marathons or IronMan races. “With most people we have them run. Each minute, we’ll increase the intensity. We can calculate how much oxygen your muscles utilize during exercise (VO2). From there we can give you training zones, like fat burning, endurance, or threshold (good for a two mile time).”
Cornett elaborated, “Here especially because it’s a training post, we have a lot of people prepping for ranger school. You have to be able to run a 40 minute five mile, so an eight minute mile for five miles. It’s a pretty intense run. That can be hard especially for our bigger infantrymen who are tall and not super thin.
“We can give them their VO2 which is a really neat measurement. Then they can follow up and see how they are doing, if their VO2 is improved. Because if it’s improved, obviously they are getting more oxygen to the tissue, they are more efficient while exercising.”