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Finding Your Stress 'Sweet Spot'

Image of A Marine posts security during an exercise on Karan Island, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, April 23, 2020. . A Marine posts security during an exercise on Karan Island, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, April 23, 2020.

Did you know that stress, in the right amounts, can actually be good for you?

Channeling stress in the right amount is an innovative health approach that affects total body wellness. For military service members to perform at their best, it's important to channel stress to improve your mission readiness, and to protect, support, and promote your health in the military community.

For each task, there is a certain "right" amount of energy required from your stress response system — known as your Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF), or "sweet spot". With too little energy from your stress response system, you might not be engaged enough — but too much and you might lose focus.

This "right" amount of energy is different for each person and each task. Very different stressors will all activate your stress response system but will each require a different level of energy. Similarly, what allows you to perform at your best will look different from what enables your battle buddy to do the same core task.

Perform at your best and stay in your stress "sweet spot" by using these 3 steps:

  1. Name the stress. Don't just react — reflect and plan.
  2. Embrace the stress. Recognize that you feel stressed and your body is giving you energy to perform.
  3. Channel the stress. Use the energy your body is providing to intentionally improve your performance.

If stress is too high, use relaxation response skills to find your 'stress sweet spot.'

Stress can enhance your performance, health, and ability to learn. But when you're stressed too often, too much, or for too long, it can negatively impact you. Luckily, your body has a relaxation response system, and you can learn a few skills to calm yourself down and focus your energy to maximize performance in stressful situations.

The more you practice these relaxation response skills, the better you'll be able to utilize them when needed and you'll have a better idea of which ones work best for you at different times. Read through some of the skills below, and click the links for more information.

Tactical breathing exercises

Slow your breathing by using steady, full breaths and longer exhales, activating your relaxation response. Regularly practicing tactical breathing can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. To learn more, read Human Performance Resources by CHAMP's (HPRC) article on how tactical breathing works.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a practice in which you tighten and then relax each muscle group in your body, which helps relieve physical symptoms of stress by lowering blood pressure, lessening fatigue, and easing tense muscles. Listen to HPRC's audio guide for progressive muscle relaxation to learn more.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is focusing on the present moment rather than thinking about the past or future. It can help increase your memory and ability to focus, lower your perception of stress and anxiety, and improve your health if done regularly. To learn more, listen to HPRC's audio guide to practice a mindfulness meditation.

Yoga

Yoga combines stretching exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation. There are many different types of yoga you can do at home, outdoors, or at a yoga studio. Yoga can help release stress, improve sleep, relieve pain, and improve health. Watch HPRC's video guides to practice yoga to learn more.

Positive emotions

Positive emotions, like gratitude, can lower your heart rate and bring your body back down to baseline when you begin to feel angry or stressed. Read HPRC's tips on how to put more positive emotions in your life and use our Gratitude Calendar.

Positive self-talk

Positive self-talk can help you find your stress sweet spot by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Check out HPRC's worksheet on how to optimize your self-talk.

Download the Relaxation Skills worksheet to track your use of these relaxation skills. It can help you learn what works best for you to manage your stress and optimize your performance.

HPRC provides performance optimization and Total Force Fitness resources for the military community. HPRC is the educational arm of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance, a DOD Center of Excellence located at the Uniformed Services University.

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Last Updated: September 28, 2023
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