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Stress? What Stress?

I should admit this right off - yes, I'm one of those dorks who actually clicks on the links hotmail shows me when I check my email.

Omigosh! Ten tips to liven up your kitchen? What can they be? New hairstyles for 2009? I'd love to hear more!

And today: When Stress Can Actually be Good for You. Because, seriously, that is something I truly want to know. According to most of the "informed opinion", stress is BADBADBAD and you should avoid it at all costs or end up with a complete psychological break from reality, heart disease, two different kinds of stroke, and excessive tartar build up leading to gingivitis.

And since when can a military spouse or a military family avoid stress? Up until I read this article, I figured my goose was good and cooked.

Lucky for those of us who have no real choice in the stress matter, new examinations of the effects of stress on our lives shows something a wee little bit different. And, if I may say, the newer beliefs taking hold are probably a lot more in line with what we who have lived in high-stress communities have figured out on our own.

As I read through the article, I found myself stamping my foot in irritation at some of the conclusions previously drawn regarding stress. Like this one:

When I started asking researchers about "good stress," many of themsaid it essentially didn't exist. "We never tell people stress is goodfor them," one said. Another allowed that it might be, but only insmall ways, in the short term, in rats. What about people who thrive onstress, I asked-people who become policemen or ER docs or air-trafficcontrollers because they like seeking out chaos and putting things backin order? Aren't they using stress to their advantage? No, theresearchers said, those people are unhealthy. "This business of peoplesaying they 'thrive on stress'? It's nuts," Bruce Rabin, adistinguished psychoneuroimmunologist, pathologist and psychiatrist atthe University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told me. Some adultswho seek out stress and believe they flourish under it may have beenabused as children or permanently affected in the womb after exposureto high levels of adrenaline and cortisol, he said. Even if theyweren't, he added, they're "trying to satisfy" some psychological need.Was he calling this a pathological state, I asked-saying that peoplewho feel they perform best under pressure actually have a disease? Hethought for a minute, and then: "You can absolutely say that. Yes, youcan say that."

Excuse me? My husband and I (and at this point, I would have to add my children - who are quite defined and at home in our lifestyle) are all nut-cases? Mentally diseased? Compared to whom (can you tell I think Dr. Bruce Rabin is missing some critical synapse firing)?

Because here's something I've noticed about military families who tend to live lifestyles with far more psychological stress and uncertainty than many of our more geographically sedentary civilian counterparts. We overcome. I mean, seriously - if you had to be caught up in a huge disaster of some sort that required quick thinking, quick moving, problem solving, and making do when doing seems to be impossible, who would you choose to have watch your six? Aside from the Little House on the Prairie family, that is (and Good Lord did they go through some stress!).

I mean, let's think about the things that happen to us in an average year: we move - entailing finding appropriate housing, getting rid of the old housing, getting our goods packed safely and correctly, travel to and fro, arranging for ending school and starting school, and spending weeks making do without the correct implements in the kitchen and yet still feeding our families healthy and tasty meals for at least two weeks on either side; we single parent thousands of miles from our families - which often means trucking from one kid activity straight to another, relying on other spouses for overlap, figuring out how to deal with sick children on a work schedule, midnight emergency room visits with three siblings in tow, and playing psychologist with our children as they sort through their feelings of Mom or Dad being gone for so long in a place they have no doubt is terribly dangerous; we sort our way through miles of red tape, pay issues, ID card issues, and a homecoming date that is nebulous at best; we deal with house breaks, car breaks, strange leaks, and funny smells.

Dear me, that sounds kind of stressful. Just a little. And yet we do it, and quite frankly we do it well (even if not always gracefully).

In fact, the article later goes on to mention something that not only made my heart swell with some good ol' fashioned pride, but made me feel quite a bit better for leading my children into this stress-filled lifestyle:

Step away from the lab, and you'll find the beginnings of an answer. In the 1970s and '80s, Salvatore Maddi,a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, followed 430employees at Illinois Bell during a companywide crisis. While most ofthe workers suffered as their company fell apart-performing poorly onthe job, getting divorced and developing high rates of heart attacks,obesity and strokes- a third of them fared well. They stayed healthy,kept their jobs or found others quickly. It would be easy to assumethese were the workers who'd grown up in peaceful, privilegedcircumstances. It would also be wrong. Many of those who did best asadults had had fairly tough childhoods. They had suffered no abuse ortrauma but "maybe had fathers in the military and moved around a lot,or had parents who were alcoholics," says Maddi. "There was a lot ofstress in their early lives, but their parents had convinced them thatthey were the hope of the family-that they would make everyone proud ofthem-and they had accepted that role. That led to their being veryhardy people." Childhood stress, then, had been good for them-it hadgiven them something to transcend.

The bolding, of course, was mine. And I thought it was very interesting that the study specifically mentioned military brats. Of course, I'm not throwing up my hands and yelling, "It'll make you a better person!" every time my children encounter something difficult. But I think it's a great way to look at the sometimes (many times) overwhelming lifestyle we have chosen to lead. Our children are learning to overcome. And it is putting them significantly ahead of those who don't learn that lesson early on.

Stress is an interesting topic for us, I think. There is so much of it to deal with, and quite frankly we're all looking for ways to lower our stress somehow. armywifetoddlermom uses yoga, something I picked up from her. And I do feel a HUGE difference in my life when I'm practicing yoga on a regular basis. It gives me a few minutes every day when all I'm worried about is how far my hamstrings are stretching, whether or not my back cracks, and how good it feels to breathe deeply.

But yoga isn't for everyone - some people de-stress by scrapbooking, by reading, by knitting, or by taking long walks. The thing is - we all have to find something that helps us de-stress if we're going to be able to jump back into our lives and tackle and overcome the stress military life throws at us on a daily basis.

This last eight months or so have been tough ones in the Air Force Family for a variety of reasons. Here's one thing I know for sure - that if I hadn't been prepped by the things I've lived through, figured out, and already done, I probably would not have been able to finish what I have had to accomplish recently. It would have been too much.

Maybe there really is something to be said for a bit of stress after all.

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