Steps for managing stress graphic

NAWCAD Lakehurst Individuals with Disabilities Action Team and the Equal Employment Opportunity and Inclusive Diversity Department present steps to manage stress at Mental Health Awareness Month webinar.

NAWCAD Lakehurst brings awareness to mental health

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst hosted a Mental Health Awareness Month webinar May 12 to discuss strategies for managing stress and anxiety throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Hosted by NAWCAD Lakehurst Individuals with Disabilities Action Team and the Equal Employment Opportunity and Inclusive Diversity Department, the webinar brought awareness to the impact COVID-19 has had on mental health and resources for coping with stress reactions.

“This month offers an opportunity for us all to reflect on the effects COVID-19 has had on our mental health and well-being,” said Kathleen Donnelly, NAWCAD Lakehurst executive director. “Today more than ever, it is essential that we take care of ourselves so that we can live our healthiest, most fulfilling lives possible.”

According to guest speaker Dr. Nicole Sullivan, clinical psychologist at the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System, War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center (VANJHCS WRIISC), the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted mental health due to the seriousness of the disease itself, the unpredictability and uncertainty of the pandemic, increased isolation due to quarantine and social distancing, competing sources of information and vaccination availability.

“At this point, the pandemic has become long-term,” she said. “We are therefore seeing a development of long-term stressors and consequences, including financial stress, stress around homeschooling children or figuring out child care and the interruption of regular routines. In order to cope with all of these stressors, we are also seeing an increase in the use of drugs and alcohol.”

Dr. Scott Thien, guest speaker and clinical psychologist at the VANJHCS WRIISC, provided alternative ways to cope with these stressors, including methods to help others.

“The first step is to check in on yourself and others on a regular basis. You want to pay attention to how you are doing, and how others are behaving,” he said. “The next steps are things you can do to help manage stress, based on research that says that people tend to do better in ongoing, stressful circumstances when they have one or more of these ‘essential elements’ to counteract the adversity.”

According to Thien, the five essential elements include taking cover in a secure location, calming down, connecting to others, finding ways to feel capable and restoring confidence.

“Use these methods like you’re reading them out of a recipe book,” Thien said. “You don’t need to use every flavor or element. Choose the ones that feel most appropriate at the time, especially when helping others.”

In order to prevent stressful reactions, the doctors recommend practicing self-care on a regular basis through daily exercise, deep-breathing exercises and spending time with family and friends.

“Make sure to take time out for yourself daily,” Thien said, “and don’t put a deadline on your mental health, don’t expect to be able to process or heal in a specific timeframe-- be patient, give it time.”

In order to help others who are struggling with stress and anxiety brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the doctors suggested providing both tangible and emotional support.

“If you see a stressor and are in a place where you can help on a tangible level, do it,” Sullivan said. “For example, you could offer to help a parent with child care or even simply buy a co-worker a cup of coffee. The little things add up.”

The doctors also promoted the normalization of mental health discussions and the importance of recognizing stressful reactions.

“The most important thing, when it comes to managing stress, is recognizing that you are having a stressful reaction so that you can take action,” Sullivan said. “If you’re struggling, know that it’s normal. It’s normal to have a reaction-- and you can do something about it and help others do the same.”

According to the doctors, the stress of COVID-19 can affect all members of the fleet at all levels.

“At the command level, we know how important it is to recognize the impact of mental health and spread awareness of the tools and resources available to support those suffering from mental illness,” said Jack Martenak, NAWCAD Lakehurst chief engineer. “These symptoms can affect our civilians, military and veterans throughout this difficult time, which is why setting aside time to spread awareness and support is so critical to our ongoing success.”

For help with individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders, referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website here or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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