No one was prepared for the consequences of a COVID-19 world and its associated stressors of worry and anxiety. Although it has created a new normal, it has only increased the need for ready and resilient Soldiers.
The key to coping in the new normal to prevent one’s emotional and mental health from taking a nosedive is resilience, according to Lt. Col. Alexander Aristizabal, interim chief for Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Department.
“It’s natural for one to experience anger, grief and pain,” Aristizabal said, “but if you can adapt to difficult situations, you are able to keep functioning, both physically and psychologically.”
Resilience, as defined by the Department of the Army, is a key factor in the mental, emotional and behavioral ability to cope with and recover from the experience, achieve positive outcomes, adapt to change and grow from the experience.
“When you have resilience, you harness inner strength that helps you rebound from a setback or challenge, such as a job loss, an illness, a disaster or a loved one’s death,” he said, adding that understanding and practicing the five pillars of wellness will help Soldiers achieve resiliency so they can adapt and overcome challenges. Those pillars are: emotional, physical, social, spiritual and family.
Aristizabalm defines emotional wellness as self-care and developing that inner strength to handle and adapt to life’s stresses.
“Self-acceptance and self-awareness allow one to constructively handle emotions and be able to bounce back,” Aristizabalm said, adding that even though the barrage of negative news about COVID-19 can impact emotional health, Soldiers should still stay up-to-date about its developments. “Stick to reliable and accurate sources of health-related information, such as the CDC or the Red Cross.”
Several tools Aristizabalm recommends to strengthen emotional wellness is sticking to a daily routine and focusing on the positive aspects of life instead of on things out of one’s control.
“Engage in relaxation techniques for stress reduction,” he added, adding that common stress reduction exercises are yoga, tai chi, mediation and deep breathing, which have been proven to slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure and improve sleep.
On the opposite spectrum is physical wellness, which encompasses healthy behaviors.
“Proper nutrition, physical activity and flexibility are key to a healthy lifestyle,” he said, adding that Soldiers should also practice spiritual awareness. “Whether or not you connect with a religion, spiritual wellness means finding meaning and purpose in your life, which are necessary to foster hope.”
Although social distancing and isolation have created social wellness challenges, it is important, Aristizabal stressed, to fulfill that aspect of wellness regardless of current day obstacles.
“Social wellness is all about maintaining harmonious relationships with your friends and loved ones, interacting positively with your social environment and cultivating connections to help you feel supported,” he said, adding family wellness in the mix. “Cultivating family wellness involves supporting your children, having support strategies for spouses, partners or parents and maintaining the health and unity of your family.” It also means protecting the family.
“The best way to protect one’s family is through staying informed, practicing good basic hygiene and preventive measures, engaging in strategies to help manage stress and learning ways to involve your children in family health care,” he said.
If a Soldier or a family member is feeling overwhelmed, Aristizabal said, they should seek support from a health care provider, including using CRDAMC’s telehealth program.
“It has become critical to conduct patient encounters by telephone or video conference during the current pandemic, especially as many patients are currently experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety,” he said, adding that research has validated positive outcomes when used for remote patient monitoring for chronic conditions, communication, counseling and psychotherapy. “Psychotherapy provided via tele-behavioral health has demonstrated efficacy in reducing pain, disability, depression and anxiety comparable to traditional face-to-face encounters and without significant risks or adverse effects.”
Overall he said, Soldiers need to be flexible, be connected to others, improve their self-confidence and find purpose and meaning in life, all of which contribute to Soldier readiness.
“Resilience won’t make your problems go away, but resilience can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress,” he said. “If you aren’t as resilient as you’d like to be, you can develop skills to become more resilient.”