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OCR for page 67
Stress Reduction in Military Settings Problems of stress, coping, ant adaptation are highly relevant to the performance of military personnel. Military environments from recruit training to conditions of warfare engender stress and require adaptive coping skills to ensure optimum performance. Stress reduction strategies, therefore, offer the prospect of enhanced performance under circumstances of adversity, as well as promoting the health and well-being of military personnel. The topics of stress, performance, and well-being are engaging not only because they are prominent topics of contemporary psychological research, but also because they have become preeminent concerns of work organizations. Many volumes have appeared on the subject of occupational stress, which vary from edited scholarly collections to practical guidebooks on how to cope with stressful jobs. Moreover, abounding programs have been sold to corporate industry on "stress management" (The Wall Street Journal, 1982). Unfortunately, the many formulas offered for reducing job stress are much stronger in marketing accomplishment than in substantive product. Yet, the contemporary sensitization to stress is more than faddish self-indulgence by our society. There is ample evidence linking occupational demands and circumstances of strain to health impairments and performance decrements. However, while much is also known about stress reduction, its programmatic application in an organizational context presents multiple challenges. The unique aspects of military life and the special characteristics of military environments, such as recruit training and officer training, call for careful thought in applying knowledge about stress and stress reduction. Strategies and procedures that are appropriate for civilian life may not at all- be feasible or useful in military contexts. For example, tension

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Stress Reduction 2 reduction methods, such as deep muscle relaxation (which has a distinct effect in lowering blood pressure), have limited, if any, utility for recruits in boot camp. Recruits, who have virtually every minute of the day programmed and very little privacy at any time, do not have the opportunity to engage in muscle relaxation procedures. Similarly, a principal means of stress reduction is to limit one's exposure to environmental demands. Recruits, however, have little control over the demands placed upon them and furthermore have a narrow range of behavioral options for responding to those demands. Such constraining conditions in training environments do not only affect recruits. The duty requirements for drill instructors and unit officers will curtail the extension of stress reduction strategies that are otherwise useful for civilians. This is not to say that methods of tension reduction have no applicability, to clarify the point of this example. Indeed, they may be quite valuable. But instead of muscle relaxation, hypnosis, or biofeedback procedures, something more suitable to the context and population must be formulated. This might involve training groups how to self-monitor physiological arousal and disruptive emotion, combined with their physical fitness routine and supplemented with deep breathing and usual imagery methods. Although we know a considerable amount about the determinants of stress and a fair amount about how to remediate stress (the causal processes do remain a puzzle), the implementation of interventions in a complex organization with idiosyncratic characteristics requires recognition of the circumstances that will limit the utilization of the advocated procedures. When it can be recognized that behavioral coping options are restricted, as they surely are in military organizations and on military missions, then emphasis must be placed on cognitive coping strategies. Likewise, when it can

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Stress Reduction 3 be determined that modifiable factors in the social environments of organizational units have powerful stress-inducing effects, it is not prudent to rely on person-based, intrapsychic stress reduction approaches. The organizational mission of the military is combat. That, of course, involves stressful conditions. Consequently, it might seem odd to suggest that stress be lowered for military personnel in their training. A critic here might ask, show can soldiers be prepared for combat if they do not know how to deal with stress, and how can they learn how to deal with stress if they are not exposed to it?" The succinct reply involves a conceptual clarification, namely that stress can be understood as a state of imbalance between environmental demands and resources for coping. Therefore, stress can be mitigated by augmenting coping skills. When environmental demands or pressures are a given inevitability, stress can be reduced nonetheless by enhancing the person's cognitive, behavioral, and social resources for coping with the stressors. An overview of the stress field and an elaboration of the above concept will be set forth in the next section, which will discuss determinants and mediators of stress in environmental, cognitive, behavioral, and social domains. Given the scope of this paper, coverage of these areas will necessarily be abbreviated. The aim will be to provide a basic conceptual background for what is to be presented on stress diagnostic procedures, stress reduction, and prospects for implementation in military se~ctings. OVERVIEW OF THE STRESS FIELD Contemporary research on human stress tracks a number of main areas of investigation, these being (a) conditions of the physical and social environment that function as stressors, (b) stressful life events and the