Troop Tested Tension Tips
8 stress relievers tested in the most stressful workplace on earth: Iraq. The soldiers of Delta Troop tell you what really calms the nerves.
We are Delta Troop of the 1/7 Cavalry, a helicopter unit out of Killeen, Texas. We're also guinea pigs in the Men's Health stress test.
Now, we're not caught in the throes of "combat stress," as it's known to most people. No babbling, bloodthirsty Rambo types in this unit. We live in trailers, eat cranberry sauce twice a day, and fly helicopters. While the enemy is real and we do face danger, our stress is mostly a more intense version of yours-it's the uncertainty, the loss of a family life, and the constant crazed atmosphere that taxes a soldier's motivation and resolve.
To help us manage the situation, Men's Health passed us some stress-reduction tips that were definitely not standard issue. A few tactics stretched our senses and even strained our machismo, but testing was good for a few laughs and some rare moments of calm. To judge the effectiveness of the tips, we rated "stress levels" on a scale of 1 to 10, before and after trying them. (Sitting around the trailers smoking cigars equals a stress level of 1. Identifying and engaging enemy forces who just blew up a convoy merits stress level 10.) Here's how the numbers worked out.
#1 Practice acupressure
Apply pressure between the tendons on the underside of the forearm, two thumb widths down from the wrist. Hold pressure for 1 minute.
Most of us had a surprising amount of success with this one. It's a good 5-minute fix during high-stress moments, achieving an average stress reduction of -3 points.
#2 Breathe 6 times a minute, rather than the usual 14
According to a study in the British Medical Journal, slow, deep breathing can positively alter breathing patterns related to heart rate and blood pressure.
This is another keeper. It only takes about 2 minutes of slow breathing to feel a calming effect. Works to help you unwind after a tough day (or night) and to manage intense anxiety and anger spikes every time some new "policy" is announced to further limit any semblance of freedom. Average stress reduction: -4
#3 Imagine wearing huge woolen gloves
When you're stressed, capillaries constrict and blood doesn't flow freely to the extremities; visualizing your hands in warm gloves helps bring the blood back to your extremities.
Very limited success. This one takes a little more imagination than we could muster. Maybe it's just the weather: It was 107F on test day. Average stress reduction: 0
#4 Count backward by 13s
The difficulty of computing the sequence distracts from the stress at hand.
We had a wide range of responses. Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Parker has a B.S. in mathematics, so he could do the counting with almost no disturbance of his train of thought. I had to lock down completely to do the figuring, leaving less time to actually solve whatever I was stressed out about. Other guys had assessments ranging from -3 reduction to +1 increase in stress level.
#5 Read poetry
A European study found that 30 minutes of reading iambic pentameter slows down the heart rate.
Sorry, not able to test this one. Not a lot of iambic pentameter to be had around here.
#6 Keep a journal
According to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people who write down their feelings are better able to deal with stress.
Specialist Joe Payne says that in anxious times, journal keeping cut his stress by 6 points. But the rest of us ditched it after a week, deciding that it was just one more thing to keep up with. Average stress increase: +1
#7 Look forward to comedy night
A Loma Linda University study found that anticipating something funny boosted feel-good endorphins by 27 percent and reduced the stress hormone cortisol by 39 percent.
We picked up a pirated version of School of Rock from an Iraqi shop owner down in Taji and let it stew for a few days. Average reduction: -3. By the way, the movie was great, except for the timer in the corner of the screen, and "Paramount Pictures 2003" across the center.
#8 Sing out loud
Singing triggers the release of the body's natural opiates, such as endorphins. It also forces you to breathe more deeply.
Not everyone was courageous, or talented, enough to try this one. With six Joes to a trailer, one guy's stress reduction can be another's stress spike. That said, those who did belt out a little Stone Temple Pilots or Keith Sweat or Alan Jackson reported mild success. Average stress reduction: -1
Each of us picked up a few tricks to help us get through our days, which in this case is a single day set on continuous replay for a year or more. Hope you guys stateside find our report helpful. In the meantime, we'll keep doing what we do best.
Best of luck,