American Red Cross volunteer Marilynn Parker says that stress reduction programs are designed to meet soldiers where they are in the moment. She and nine of her colleagues recently facilitated workshops for 200 soldiers at Ft. Riley, Kansas designed to combat the particular stressors of military life.
“The goal is to provide these service members with techniques for stress reduction and mental health resiliency,” said Parker, who currently serves as a Military and Family Life Counselor with an Oklahoma National Guard.
Red Cross Senior Manager of Behavioral Health Kristen Routh says that these workshops not only teach a wide variety of stress-management skills, but also help participants use these lessons in their daily lives and translate what they learn into tangible actions. The workshops are led by licensed mental health professionals and offer support and connection.
“There is also a psychoeducational component that helps participants understand the long-term effects of stress, how to reframe stress as motivation, how to improve sleep, and how to develop a personal self-care and stress reduction plan,” she said.
Some of the stress management techniques include breathing, practicing gratitude, identifying fluctuating stress levels throughout the day, and proactive problem-solving. Routh says that the goal is to have the participants walk away with tangible stress-management activities they can do on their own time after the workshop.
Army 2nd Lt. Andrew Bullen was grateful for the collaboration between the Army and the Red Cross of Kansas and Oklahoma. Bullen particularly appreciated the small breakout groups and the focus on wellness during times of stress. He says the collaboration is a continuation of the unit’s participation in Operation Victory Wellness — a series of workshops and tools to make service members and their families at Ft. Riley stronger through physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual dimensions.
For Bullen, these workshops, designed for those who have faced trauma, are a great tool for service members and their loved ones. “Learning how to use those tools that the Red Cross is giving us to help mitigate that stress and move forward positively was the most valuable outcome of the day,” he said.
Red Cross volunteer Carmen Stein, a retired Army veteran and member of the Women’s Army Corps, said that leading this training was particularly impactful for her. In 1975, Stein was stationed at Ft. Riley but hadn’t returned to the base in more than 40 years. She said returning to base and teaching these valuable lessons to soldiers was impactful and at the heart of what the Red Cross does to help service members and their families.
“If they can leave here with just one little thing that we shared during that hour that we spoke, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Stein said.