Choose Healthy Ways to Deal with Life Stressors

F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- "You would not believe the day I had at work, please pour me another glass of wine."
"Take this prescription and it will make you feel better."

A recent poll conducted by the American Psychological Association confirms the majority of Americans believe life is more stressful today than the previous five years. The Stress in America online survey, conducted among 1,226 U.S. residents in August and September of 2011, showed that many Americans consistently report high levels of stress - 22 percent reported extreme stress, an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale where 1 is little or no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress. Many Americans report their stress has actually increased over time - 39 percent report their stress has increased over the past year and 44 percent say their stress has increased over the past 5 years. Stress levels exceed people's own definition of what is healthy, with the mean rating for stress of 5.2 on a 10-point scale-- 1.6 points higher than the stress level Americans reported as healthy. The military continues to be one of the highest stress demographic populations, as members and families deal with multiple deployments; multiple relocations; and cutbacks in resources, manning and benefits.

"Doctors are now medicating unhappiness, too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives," stated Dr. Ronald Dworkin, author of the book "Artificial Unhappiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class." For Dworkin, the proof is in the statistics. According to a recent government study, antidepressants have become the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. They're prescribed more than drugs to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma or headaches.

We are also seeing an increase in alcohol use and abuse. The liquor industry reported a 4 percent increase in liquor sales, with the primary increases occurring in specialty beers. Among the findings of a National Public Radio report on how consumer spending on alcohol has changed over the past three decades, one of the most striking trends is how swiftly wine has surpassed spirits as the stronger drink of choice in the home. Liquor sales in restaurants have also seen a dramatic increase in the last several years. In 1982, just 24 percent of liquor money was spent at bars and stores; today, that figure is up to 40 percent.

So just what exactly is all this research telling us? It is telling us as people feel increased stress in their lives, instead of dealing with the stressors, or developing healthy ways of dealing with stress, Americans are "self-medicating" with alcohol and prescription drugs. If you are doing this, you may feel better temporarily, but it does not solve the problem, nor does it build a sense of resiliency.

Mr. Tony Fontes, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program counselor, stated binge drinking is our biggest area of concern right now. He said the problem is not mass drinking parties, where people are consuming large amounts of liquor at a party, but rather it is members who are using alcohol as a way of coping with stress at the end of the workday with one glass of wine turning into several bottles of wine. The Family Advocacy Program reported 66 percent of the interpersonal violence cases are alcohol related, as couples begin to argue and conflicts erupt after several glasses of wine or beer have been consumed.

So, what does all this mean? It means we all need to make healthier choices when it comes to dealing with stress. There are many positive options available including exercise, support groups, gardening or even helping others less fortunate. Too many people wait until they are diagnosed with a fatal illness before they truly start figuring out what is important to them in life. Make the choice to live a balanced life. Choose to enhance your protective factors, and spend more time doing the things you like and spending time with people who make you laugh. Finally, remember what you learned in school is still as important today as it was back then, "get high on life, not on drugs."