Small changes can help control time, lessen stress

Master Sgt. Michael McNeil

The 27th Fighter Wing community is experiencing the effects of overload. Many are experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. Our personal and work lives have gotten busier and more hectic, and we all feel pressed for time, which can make us feel overwhelmed and out of control. But life doesn’t have to feel that way.
Even small changes help control your time and lessen stress. There are dozens of small steps you can take to feel less overloaded that don’t require a major time commitment. It can be as easy as adopting simple new habits at work and at home.
As a first sergeant I spend a lot of time balancing long duty hours, deployments, family time, self-improvements and taking care of our Airmen 24 hours a day. I incorporated the following five steps: 1) taking control; 2) recognizing and dealing with stress; 3) connecting with others; 4) being healthy; and 5) making time for myself in order to balance my life and work. You don’t have to take all of these steps today, tomorrow or even next month. Just choose a few small changes that are manageable to start with. When you feel ready, make a few more changes. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling less overloaded, mission ready and better overall.

Take control — One of the first changes you can make doesn’t require you to do anything differently. It’s about changing your mindset and letting go of the things you can’t control. The things we can’t control frustrate all of us: a traffic jam making you late for work, negative co-workers, complaining in-laws. Letting go of these things and focusing on what you can control helps you be much more resilient and less stressed. You can’t control negative co-workers, but you can control your reactions to their behavior. You can let the negativity trigger your anger or you can choose to not let it affect you and choose to not let it ruin your day.

Recognize and deal with stress — Stress affects all of us. If we don’t learn to recognize and deal with it, stress can take a toll on our health, our relationships, our job performance and our happiness. Stress management begins with awareness. Getting caught up in the daily struggle of responsibilities at work and home hinders our awareness of personal stress. This can be dangerous because not knowing you’re under stress means you’re not doing anything to manage it. Pay attention to how you feel, think and act when under stress. Do you tend to snap at your child or partner? Have trouble concentrating at work? Do you overeat or forget to eat? Most people have trouble sleeping when they are under stress. If left untreated, many of the stress reactions listed above can lead to more serious physical or emotional problems, such as depression. That’s why it’s so important to learn ways to deal with stress as soon as you recognize it.
There are other, less obvious signs of being overloaded and stressed that affect how you live and the decisions you make every day. They might include:
— Being overscheduled. We need to live by schedules during our workday. We need to keep appointments, pay bills on time and do the family shopping. But we also need to learn when to let schedules go. This is especially important if you feel like you don’t have any free time for yourself. Tip: Designate at least two hours every weekend as “free” time to do something pleasurable. No chores, errands, tasks or other scheduled activities.
— Falling into the “no-sleep/more-caffeine” spiral. To make time for everything we need to do, many of us deprive ourselves of needed sleep, either by deliberately staying up late to read, watch TV, work or by losing sleep to anxiety. We then drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages to stay alert, making it harder to fall asleep the next night. The combination of caffeine and sleep deprivation leaves us running on empty, open to inaccuracy, errors and accidents, then we become more prone to irritability, affecting relationships at work and home. Tip: Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. Keep it up for a week and see if you feel more rested and less stressed.
— Prayer. If prayer is important to you, use it during times of stress to collect yourself. A book of written prayers or devotional material can help if your mind is racing and you’re overwhelmed.
You probably already have a few techniques for dealing with stress. Perhaps you know that a session at the gym, a hot bath or a quick call to a close friend is the best way to help you feel more relaxed when you’re under pressure. The basics of getting enough sleep, exercising and eating a healthy diet also go a long way toward keeping you resilient and able to deal with stress and overload.
Please avoid unhealthy ways of dealing with stress, such as engaging in risky behaviors which make stress worse; they never solve the underlying problems and may even cause new ones.

Connect with friends and family — Feeling connected to your family and friends is something we often take for granted, but this connection is important. Research shows that people who have strong connections with others tend to feel happier, more secure and are actually healthier.
Dedicate at least one evening a week to family time so you can reconnect with each other. Turn off the television and let the phone ring. Order pizza, play a game or hold a family meeting. If your evenings are too hectic, try a weekend morning or afternoon.

Be healthy — Taking care of you is crucial for overcoming overload. If you’re not feeling good both physically and emotionally, overload can easily turn into anxiety, burnout and even depression.
— Stock work areas and vehicles with healthy snacks.

Make time for yourself — Start by thinking about everything that really makes you happy.
Come up with a list of activities that make you feel good and focus on fitting them into your daily routine.
— Treat time for you like the priority it is. Remember that making time for yourself, a healthy diet, spending time with family and friends and taking control of your life is vitally important. With proper planning and understanding, you can produce a productive and rewarding lifestyle.