Improving your mental health in time for Mental Health Month in May means handling your stress now. After all, April is Stress Awareness Month, and stress is often blamed for anxiety, job fatigue, high blood pressure, and more issues. Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski has a different take on the issue as he reflects on his years in the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army Reserve, and the Kewaunee County Sheriff’s Department. He believes it is not the stress that gets you but rather how you react to it that causes the concern.
The secret to managing stress? Joski recommends managing it rather than letting the stress control you. You can read more about Joski’s thoughts on the topic below.
FROM SHERIFF JOSKI
There are a multitude of topics and events that are recognized and remembered in the month of April, each one of them deserving the recognition and observance to bring attention to their respective causes. One of these that I was not aware of is that April is Stress Awareness Month. I guess I can understand the need to bring attention to the topic of stress and the myriad of implications it has on our physical and mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, Stress has gotten a lot of bad press over the years, and I am going to use this article to possibly bring about a different perspective on this unique condition.
Stress has been the go-to culprit for everything from high blood pressure to mental anxiety, from job fatigue to relationship implosion, but is it possible that it isn’t the stress causing these affects but rather our response to stress.
There have been some interesting studies that have been done in recent years that have explored the actual physiological responses to stress. Without going into great detail, it turns out that our body’s response to stress is very much like our body’s response in times of joy and excitement. In side by side comparisons of those who have encountered stress the actual negative impacts were only observed by those who held a negative view on stress. For those who viewed stress as an opportunity or as a positive experience, their body’s response actually enhanced their mental and physical resiliency, rather than weakening them.
Another finding from these studies is that much like in joyful or exciting events; our body naturally thrives on human connection. Think about when you had a great experience, and you couldn’t wait to share that feeling with others, or to reach out and share that experience. This is where we go wrong in stressful times. We either hold that feeling inside, or isolate ourselves because of the stressful situation. It is at these times that we need to communicate and share our experiences so as to have a more positive outcome. Our bodies are wired to be connected to one another and that human connection is one of our best defenses against the negative impacts of stress.
It is also during times of stress that we can practice gratitude in that whatever we are facing, it could always be worse. This is actually a resiliency skill called “putting it in perspective”. By doing this we are able to develop a natural and automatic default to positive thinking and ultimately towards optimism, and to me there is no drug or medication more powerful in sustaining mental and physical health than optimism.
I can look back on my own life at some potentially stressful situations, like handling and detonating High Explosives in the Marine Corp, or running into burning buildings as a Fire Fighter, or the many situations in almost three decades of Law Enforcement, but through it all, I have had great leaders, mentors, friends and family who have allowed me to process all of it in a positive way.
So the secret to managing stress is just that, to manage it and not let it manage you. I am not saying you should purposely create stress in your life or in other’s lives, but when it comes your way, identify it, embrace it, and ultimately turn it into a feeling of positive growth. It truly is all about perspective. Some great tools to help in the management of stress is of course exercise. It is no secret that our mental wellness is directly tied to our physical wellness. Another great resiliency builder is meditation. I am not saying to go off to some exotic Mediterranean spa, but rather to incorporate moments of peacefulness and thoughtfulness into your day, and especially when you feel the pressure of a given situation or person. A simple tool is deliberate breathing. Three seconds in through the nose, hold for three seconds and a three second exhale through the mouth. I have used this more times than I can count, and I have been able to keep a smile on my face through some interesting times. For more information you can visit: www.wellbeinginfo.org