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Pins and needles: Tackling your anxiety

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --

After only a few years in the U.S. Air Force, I’ve grown accustomed to high-pressure situations, both related and unrelated to my career. Whether it’s last-minute taskings or unexpected changes, being a Public Affairs Photojournalist has taught me to adjust quickly to others’ schedules, and to do so without complaint.

The military can be overwhelming if unprepared, but Airmen often find themselves stressed despite expecting the unexpected. Everyone reacts differently under pressure, but having anxiety tends to exacerbate a situation.

Though it’s much easier to talk about in 2020, there is still a significant stigma around anxiety within the military. I believe everyone has at least a little bit of anxiety, just varying levels and ways of handling it.

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. A feeling of fear or apprehension. Knowing how you handle workplace anxiety can aid you in getting the mission done as safely and efficiently as possible.

The more prepared you are for a situation, the better you will perform under pressure. The office can become extremely chaotic, but it’s best to remember to keep calm and help keep those around you calm to avoid making mistakes.

The military life exposes Airmen to experiences that can be harmful to their mental health, such as toxic work environments, workplace injuries or even the loss of life. Regardless of the situation, it will probably be stressful. Depending on the Airman, stress can be debilitating and distracting, or it can motivate and enhance performance. Knowing yourself and how you handle stress can help to minimize anxiety at work and in your personal life.

On Facebook, I’ve seen a lot of memes and posts talking about anxiety, how to recognize signs, and causes. I saw one post in particular talk about the cycle of stress addiction and the belief that people can become addicted to stress and anxiety. Whether this is true or not, I do believe it can become a habit if you don’t work on redirecting and practicing healthy coping habits.

You may find redirecting your anxiety and controlling how you react to things helpful, and it’s not without effort. Develop coping skills to deal with your stress, improve mindfulness and create boundaries with yourself and others. Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Get at least eight hours of sleep each night, stay active and take care of your body. Be kind to yourself.

Instead of thinking what can go wrong, consider what can go well. Stress-induced thoughts can create chronic stress. Teach your body to redirect initial negative thoughts into positive and optimistic ones. Ask yourself “What am I happy and grateful about in my life today?” It may feel forced or corny at first, but over time you can change the way you handle stressors in your life.

Talking about your stress with a trusted friend, family member or counselor can help reduce it. Just make sure they are in the right place to give you advice if that’s what you’re looking for. Similarly, if it’s just to vent or get it off your mind, make certain your stress isn’t too much for them to handle, as it may trigger their own. Discussing your stressful issues can help you develop a plan for dealing with them. Taking care of yourself, being open with the people in your life and seeking assistance from professionals when needed are important aspects of stress management.

According to the Air Force’s Traumatic Stress Response guidelines, you should seek immediate medical attention when the following symptoms are present: suicidal or homicidal ideation, intention or plans; hallucinations or delusions; severe depression and alcohol or drug abuse.

What can wingmen do for coworkers with anxiety? Please pay attention to your colleagues. Look for changes in attitude, behaviors and work performance. Knowing your Airmen and coworkers can help identify when they need your help. Being mindful to their sensitivities can also help reduce their work-related stress, as your response or humor may not be an appropriate or productive way to help.

Tact can be hard to come by, especially for those who are used to being direct. Some may feel being mindful of other’s anxiety can be seen as coddling, but I believe it can be a way to reduce unnecessary stress from the workplace. Ensuring a work space is a healthy, nontoxic environment for everyone can mitigate unproductivity. With anxiety, it helps having coworkers who are aware and mindful of how they present change and stressful situations.

Don’t ignore stress. Don’t simply endure it. There are resources around the USAF that can provide care, education, outreach and prevention services to Airmen and families, as well as emergency services. Mental health clinics, Military & Family Life Counseling Program (MFLC), Chaplain services, Behavioral Health Optimization Program (BHOP), Military OneSource and other health programs are available.