1.0 Introduction to Stress

Stress affects every aspect of your being: your body, thoughts, your emotions, and your behavior.  In this chapter you will understand:

  • The definition of stress
  • How stress effects performance
  • The signs of stress


1.1 Definition of Stress

Stress is the body’s reaction to external or internal signals.  These internal or external “signals” that promote stress are called “stressors”.  Your body and brain go into “alert” mode when responding to stressors.  You naturally react to a danger threat, whether the threat is real or not.  You react by physically and mentally preparing to fight or run (take flight) from the threat.  This reaction is known as “fight or flight”.

1.2 Effects of Stress on Performance

While deployed, you had to stay “on guard” most of the time.  Your safety, your life, and the lives of others depended on it.  Returning from deployment, you may continue to feel “amped-up” or think you need to stay “on guard” to be safe.

The increased stress that helps you respond to threats during deployment can prevent you from coping with stressors in daily life.  When your body is under too much stress, you’re more likely to:

  • Miss important details
  • Misinterpret situations
  • Perform poorly on everyday tasks


Knowing when you are under too much stress can help you avoid serious physical effect of long-term stress:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Immune system suppression
  • Increased risk for infectious disease
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as colitis
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders


1.3 Signs of Stress

Here are signs that you're experiencing stress:


Physical Signs

  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Stomach problems
  • Skin breakout problems
  • Tense muscles
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Sleep Problems
  • Shortness of Breath
  • No energy or feeling fatigued
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Unexplained hair loss
  • Rapid heart beat


Behavioral Signs

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Using drugs
  • Eating more/ less than usual
  • Sleep problems/ difficulty sleeping
  • Increased tobacco use
  • Increased caffeine use
  • Nail biting, hair-twisting
  • Pacing
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Overdoing activities
  • Acting “bossy”
  • Laughing or crying inappropriately
  • Yelling or shouting
  • Picking fights
  • Driving too fast
  • Road rage
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Compulsive buying
  • Avoiding friends and family


Emotional Signs

  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Quick irritability with others
  • Loss of interest in leisure and play
  • Sadness or depressed mood
  • Frequent uneasiness, restlessness
  • Anger, resentment, hostility
  • Feeling pressured or trapped
  • Sudden shifts in mood
  • Impatience
  • Increased mood sensitivity
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Overreacting to unexpected situations


Problems with Thinking

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Misunderstanding others
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Poor judgment
  • Confusion
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Repeating thoughts
  • Self-doubt or low self-confidence
  • Criticizing yourself
  • Negative “self-talk”