My first day in the military was filled with petty annoyances. Standing forever, walking long distances to wait forever, waiting in line for 30 minutes to eat in 3 minutes or less just to get back to standing and waiting. When the day was over, we took community showers butt naked 8 to 10 guys at a time, all this to finally get an opportunity to sleep on a thin mattress for 3.5 hours and repeat that process. The worst part of that for me by far was the shower situation honestly, everything else just seemed like a pretty bad summer camp, and it was all by design.
No matter how cool you are, by the end of basic training, you will have experienced some level of stress. Some have a more difficult time than others dealing with it, I saw grown men cry, scream at each other like little kids do, and in one case, a guy literally shat himself on the track. I’ve faced a lot of stressful situations in my life, thus far, none have made me react in any of these ways. So what is it about stress that has people losing their shit when others are cool?
There’s No Secret
There’s no secret to avoiding stress, it simply comes with living. A person is probably fooling themselves believing it can truly be avoided. Instead of convincing yourself stress can be avoided, accept that it is going to come and it is normal to feel it. The only difference between those that lose their shit and those that seem cool is how they perceive the stressor when it comes.
I was an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force for a while, and I worked in a training capacity for less of a while. One of the extra duties in that training position was taking first term Airmen on a tour of the F-15 fighter jet. The first time I attempted to do a tour I was sweating like I just played an hour straight of basketball in direct sunlight with Houston humidity. I hated speaking in front of people in general, but this was heightened. I had no idea what they wanted to know, no idea what I wanted to say and I didn’t feel like they cared so it was just a waste of oxygen to me. It was awful. My supervisor said, “not so easy huh” in a very sarcastic way to remind me I’m not as cool as I thought I was. That was all I needed. One month later, for the next tour, I maintained my cool and didn’t sweat at all even though it was a warmer day.
What changed in that month, a lot! Every chance I got in that month, I spoke to people. I’m not an extrovert or a small talker, but for that month I pretended to be one. I went to the club on base, I went to gatherings around the dorms I lived in and I ate at the dining facility most days. I engaged in meaningful and trivial conversation with a lot of people. When that group of new Airmen showed up, I had already seen about half of them so my anxiety levels were significantly lower and I focused on remaining calm throughout. I realized that I had absolutely no control over the stressful situation, the only control I had was my approach and preparation for it. I wanted to overcome the stressor because I was motivated to prove my supervisor wrong. I used that “it’s not so easy huh” quip as my motivation for every tour for the next year, long after my supervisor had left.
Find Your Motivation
For me, people doubting my ability to do something is enough motivation to succeed, that is if I care at all about whatever that something is. In my younger years, I usually recalled a Jay-Z lyric that was applicable to the situations I found myself in. Now that I’m older, I still think of Jay-Z lyrics, but I also think of the brevity of the adverse moments I’ve faced in life. Recalling this fuels my belief that this stressor will also be a blip. From there I can easily convince myself that whatever is stressing me at the moment only has a limited time to do so before I can regain my peace of mind.
Sometimes there are no supervisors hating on you to push you forward. Sometimes there is no human antagonist causing your stress at all. Sometimes there isn’t a Jay-Z lyric that applies…but that’s highly unlikely. For example I know a lot of people that get stressed by taking tests. I have always been a good test taker, likely because I’ve always believed I was a good test taker and for that, I thank Ms. Dodd from first grade. She always told us “you know the material, now you’re just showing us”. I knew she was right so I was calm whenever I sat down with those bubble sheets. That pep talk she gave in 1987 turned into my inner voice for years to come. Pick your own inner voice if you’d like.
“Mama ain’t raise no fool, put me anywhere on God’s green Earth, I’ll triple my worth”You Don’t Know – Jay-Z
Stress related illnesses are the leading causes of death in the United States. Nearly 660K people die from heart disease every year, along with nearly 50K people by way of suicide. That’s like the population of Denver dying every year due to stress or not being able to cope with stress. That’s a pretty wild stat to me. It’s sad because the stress factor is unavoidable, but how it is handled is what leads so many people to dying younger than naturally expected. That is what led me to writing about many of the topics I’ve written about thus far and will write in the future. Sometimes a different perspective or the life experiences of a stranger can help to connect these dots for people. If nothing else, it’s a cool stress reliever for me too, so it’s a win win.