CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Valerie Stevé, a behavioral health analyst for 1st Marine Logistics Group, and a native of Santa Barbara, Calif., explains the importance of stress management for Marines and Sailors aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Q: Why is your position so important to the Marines?
A: We are here for the Marines. We help train them to train their fellow Marines on how to manage stress levels and learn how to prevent things, such as substance abuse. We do this so they can perform their jobs better. They face issues like this every day when they come back home. You may not even think things like being at home with their families can cause more stress than being in theater, but in reality it does for some of these Marines. That’s why being able to identify risk factors for Marines is very important.
Q: What got you interested in working with Marines?
A: I don’t have any direct family in the military but I have several close friends who do. Many of my friends have husbands who are fighter pilots. One of my mentors in college had a fighter pilot as a husband and she actually introduced me to public health. I can remember her running out to take a call from her husband who was in Iraq or Afghanistan. That was my first real experience with the Marines. When I saw the opening for this job I really felt like it was meant for me. It fit my billet description perfectly. The only difference was that it was with Marines. I was used to working with young adults on drug and alcohol prevention, domestic abuse prevention and things of that nature but never with Marines. I viewed it as a fun new challenge. I look at the Marines as a very unique culture. I’ve learned so much from all the Marines and I feel like I’ve learned more from them than I’ve been able to teach.
Q: Why is managing stress so important, especially to service members (Marines and Sailors)?
A: Every Marine experiences stress. In fact, stress is necessary to build strength but too much stress can harm even the strongest Marine, and that is why it is so important we learn to manage our stress in healthy ways. Most Marines are probably familiar with the stress continuum, and know that we want to stay in the green or "ready to go" section. It is when we go from green to yellow that we begin to feel stress, and when we stay in yellow and go to orange that we can get ourselves in trouble and are not able operate at our full capacity, stay mission ready.
Q: What are some ways Marines and Sailors can manage tasks and goals to avoid extra stressful situations in the future?
A: Some things they can do are have good time management, make to-do lists and have S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant/results-focused, time-bound). On the prevention side of things, it is helpful to maintain healthy habits so that your total fitness is in-tact and you are equipped to handle stressful situations should they arise. Taking caring of your total fitness (body, spirit, social, mental) is important. It may seem trivial, but making sure that you are getting adequate amounts of sleep (7-8 hours a night), eating a well-balanced diet and not skipping meals, not taking in too much caffeine- these are all important preventative measures in stress prevention. All of these are wonderful preventative measures that will assist you in dealing with stressful situations when they arise.
Q: Do you feel Marines and Sailors are more susceptible to stress?
A: I think that everyone deals with stress differently, but the life cycle and op tempo of Marines and Sailors absolutely can lend itself to a stressful lifestyle if not managed properly. With pre-deployments, deployments, redeployments, PCSs, being separated from family, and thinking about separation from service there are a lot of issues that can stress a Marine or Sailor out. But it all comes back to how that individual is able to manage his or her stress.
Q: Is stress 100% preventable? Why not?
A: Stress is a part of life, and is not 100% preventable, because we cannot control everything. Stress can be a good thing, as it is necessary to build strength. It is how we deal with that stress that matters. Learning to regulate our response to difficult, stressful or overwhelming situations should be our goal as stress is an everyday part of life.
Q: Is there anything wrong with a Marine or Sailor having issues with managing stress?
A: If a Marine or sailor is having issues with managing stress, it can eventually begin to interfere with his or her personal or professional life, and people will begin to notice. His or her work performance will likely suffer, and they may feel anxious and irritable. As that Marine or Sailor starts to move into the orange or even red zone on that stress continuum, he or she will show signs that indicate a higher level of stress which their peers and chain of command will surely notice. These signs include a change in behavior, mood, appearance, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, unusual or persistent sadness, irritation, or anger.
Q: Are there any statistics on Marines or Sailors in certain financial situations directly related to stress?
A: Cite: 2011 Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel , Department of Defense February 2013
• The most commonly reported military-related stressors were being away from family and friends (42.3%) and changes in work load (41.5%). In general, women and heavy drinkers more often reported military-related stress than men and lower drinking levels.
• Regarding personal stressors, problems with money (30.2%) and family members’ health problems (28.9%) were most frequently endorsed. Females more often reported personal stressors than males, and heavy drinkers more often reported problems with money and relationship problems (i.e. divorce/break-up, infidelity) than personnel with lower drinking levels.
• The most commonly endorsed methods for coping with stress were thinking of a plan to solve the problem (86.2%) and talking to a friend or family member (72.2%), with females more often reporting both of these strategies than males. In addition, males more often reported having a cigarette (21.5% vs 17.7%) and drinking alcohol (23.8% vs 21.0%), and females more often reported getting something to eat (52.8% vs. 42.8%) and sleeping (64.5% vs 48.6%) as strategies to cope with stress.
• Over half (50.7%) of females reported stress related to their gender, whereas 25.5% of males reported gender-related stress.
Q: What does stress affect? How can it affect other service members around me?
A: Stress affects your mind, body, emotions and really your total fitness. Many people report feeling their muscles tense up or their breathing speeding up, or heart rate quicken as their stress levels rise. If you are able to deal with your stress in a healthy way, then it likely does not affect other service members around you. However, if you are unable to manage your stress and return your body and mind to a more functional state, others around you may be uncomfortable and see you as unfit to make sound decisions, or not mission ready. The goal of stress management is to regulate your response to difficult, stressful or overwhelming situations.
Q: What are some ways peers can step in and help a Marine or Sailor struggling with stress?
A: It can be as simple as offering peer support or asking if your fellow Marine or Sailor is OK. Engage the difficult conversations, ask permission and ask open ended questions. You can also follow RACE.
• Recognize the signs
• Ask the question
• Care with words and actions
• Escort to help
Q: Do you have any tips for Marines or sailors currently struggling with stress right now during the holidays?
A: Reach out and talk to someone, a peer or fellow Marine, someone in your chain of command, the chaplain or call the DSTRESS Line (1-877-476-7734). The DSTRESS line is a confidential phone line you can call where you can speak anonymously with active duty Marines, veteran Marines, licensed counselors, and others who understand Marine culture, 24 hours a day. It’s good to have this number in your phone- you never know when a fellow Marine might need it.