Operational stress is the process of responding to the challenges of Navy life, as well as the direct and indirect challenges associated with Navy operations—and Sailors aren’t the only ones who feel its effects! Frequent moves, lengthy deployments, reintegration and tough missions—coupled with the daily churn of home life—can lead to operational stress for the entire family. Some stress is good; helping us better respond to challenges, build resilience and promote family togetherness. However, exposure to prolonged or extreme stress can negatively impact health, performance and relationships.
April is National Stress Awareness Month and there’s no better time for you and your family to check in with each other— and yourselves. The Operational Stress Control (OSC) program’s Stress Continuum Model can help Sailors, families and commands identify stress reactions and guide appropriate action based on four color-coded zones: Green (Ready), Yellow ( Reacting), Orange (Injured) and Red (Ill).
The Green Zone represents readiness and personal well-being. While you may not be stress free, if you’re feeling on top of things, are functioning optimally and have an overall positive attitude, you’re likely in the Green. While you’re here:
- Maintain a regular physical fitness routine and balanced diet;
- Get seven to nine hours of sleep daily (preferably uninterrupted); and
- Practice active communication and engagement to strengthen relationships.
The Yellow Zone represents normal, expected and predictable reactions to temporary and mild distress. While it may sound ideal to want to “stay in the Green,” at any given time in your life you will oscillate between Green and Yellow—and that’s how you build resilience. Yellow Zone stress reactions are like a tree branch bending in the wind—still capable of springing back in place when the wind calms. While you may experience some changes to daily function, including trouble sleeping and reduced concentration, serious and persistent dysfunction do not characterize Yellow Zone stress. To return to the Green:
- Practice self-care, such as active relaxation, exercise and “saying no” to overloading yourself with activities that may contribute to stress;
- Talk with your spouse, partner or friends. Having a Stress Navigation Plan can help you readily identify who you can turn to when facing challenges; and
- Explore resources available through your local Fleet & Family Support Center and/or Military OneSource.
The Orange Zone indicates injury resulting from severe or prolonged exposure to stress. Social withdrawal; inability to enjoy daily activities; and intense or uncontrollable guilt, shame or emotion may characterize an Orange Zone stress injury. Think of it like the tree branch breaking because it was bent beyond its limits by the wind. While stress injuries usually heal over time, if left untreated, they may progress into more serious physical and/or psychological health impacts. To promote recovery:
- Seek guidance from medical professionals or confidential support from a Navy chaplain. The Military Crisis Line also offers 24/7 confidential support for military family members. Dial 1-800-273-TALK (Option 1), text 838255 from your mobile device or visit militarycrisisline.net;
- Communicate with your spouse, partner or a family member to harness support and promote emotional safety; and
- Practice self-care as outlined above. Set goals to get back to the Green.
Severe distress that persists or worsens and leads to a loss of function characterizes the Red Zone. While only a medical or psychological health professional can diagnose a Red Zone illness, it is important to recognize what steps to take to get appropriate care. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength.
- If danger is imminent, contact 911.
- Seek medical treatment. Ask a trusted friend or family member to accompany you.
- Follow the treatment plan outlined by your provider.
Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program has tools and resources to help you navigate stress and build resilience during and beyond the rigors of military life. Follow OSC online for daily tips, tricks and small acts to help you and your family stay in or get back to the Green.