On July 15, 2021, Lt. Col. Latricia May presented on “Managing Anxiety during Anxious Times” as part of the MEDCOM Resilient Leader Webinar. Stress and anxiety are common; the good news is that there are methods and techniques for addressing them. Post-traumatic stress disorder, which is often a long-term behavioral health issue, is curable, she said.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease typically about an eminent event or one with an uncertain outcome. Those feelings are often valid and common.
The root cause of anxiety is fear — and the more information you have on the situation you are facing tends to help calm fear.
There are many anxiety issues associated with panic, social, medical, and separation issues. Anxiety is common with adjustment, depression, and sleep disorders. About 18 percent of the population suffers from an anxiety disorder each year.
Members of the military have additional anxiety triggers related to pre- and post-deployment issues.
The majority of those who have anxiety issues get care for it in primary care settings.
Panic attacks can often be recognized if you are facing an anxiety situation, e.g., social issues or a period of separation, where an attack is triggered. Symptoms of a panic attack include pounding or accelerated heart rate; trembling or shaking; feelings of choking; chest pains, feeling dizzy, fainting or nausea; or even “feeling like you are about to die.”
How do you break the panic cycle?
- Identify you are in it.
- Understand it is not going to hurt you.
- Take control of it, so it does not take control of you.
- Focus on your breathing and practice grounding (become very aware of where you are at the moment).
- Go to a calm safe place (physically or mentally).
There is a difference between an acute stress reaction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although low mood, irritability, poor sleep and concentration, and emotional numbness may be common to both, acute reactions usually last only a few days or weeks, whereas post-traumatic stress disorder may last more than 1 month.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms also include hypervigilance, intrusive memories and negative beliefs. The number 1 identifier that you have switched from acute stress disorder to PTSD is that the disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. Your symptoms may be so significant that you are not going to be able to function well enough in your job.
The good thing is that “post-traumatic stress is 100 percent curable,” said May.
Tactics for managing stress and anxiety include deep breathing, the use of mantras, distractions, progressive muscle relaxation, diet and exercise, hobbies, travel, and time with loved ones. Other techniques exist as well.
Among the health habits that might need to be modified include reducing caffeine consumption, decreasing physical activity near bedtime, decreasing awake time while in bed, reducing alcohol consumption, and increasing the use of tools to cope with stress.
In addition, there are applications for your computer or phone that may help. Breathe2Relax is a portable stress management tool, and CBT-i Coach is used at the VA.
Breathe2Relax provides detailed information on the effects of stress on the body and instructions and practice exercises to help users learn diaphragmatic breathing — a stress management skill.
CBT-i Coach is for those engaged in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with a health provider, or who have experienced symptoms of insomnia and would like to improve their sleep habits. The app guides users through learning about sleep, developing positive sleep routines, and improving their sleep environments.
Behavioral health assistance is available across the entire Total Army Medicine Force.
Options for reaching out include:
- Military OneSource at www.militaryonesource.com
- Army MWR at www.armymwr.com
If anxiety persists, reach out; you can start at a primary care provider as well.