By Mary Doyle, Fort Meade Public Affairs Office

Ben Rogers, Public Affairs Specialist, and his wife Marie go on long walks and hikes with their dog Sequoia to relieve the stress of COVID isolation. (photo curtesy Ben Rogers)

Fort Meade employees fight isolation stress with new hobbies

If you’re like me, you’ve looked to old hobbies to help relieve some of the stress brought on by one of the strangest years in memory. Whether it is wearing a mask, having your groceries delivered, teleworking, or home schooling children, the last several months have been unusual to say the least. Add the politics of an election year and the isolation of the pandemic, and things have reached a critical mass in terms of stress.

According to Theresa Shipman, director of Fort Meade’s Army Substance Abuse Program, finding ways to relieve stress is important to staying healthy. “Because our bodies aren't designed for chronic stress, we can face negative health effects, both physical and emotional, if we experience [the stress] for an extended period of time,” said Shipman. “Utilizing an overall plan of attack for stress relief is most efficient when we approach stress relief from several different directions.”

I was curious about what others were doing to relieve stress. I sent out a few emails to some garrison employees to find out what measures they were taking to deal with their stress and to cope with the isolation of the COVID pandemic.

For example, I’ve always been a bit of a crafter and have dabbled in knitting, sewing and other creative activities. I started the isolation time with knitting a duster-length cardigan sweater. Then I used YouTube to learn to crochet and since then, I’ve been making lace Christmas ornaments, hats and collars inspired by those worn by Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Sarah Bonise, the installation school liaison officer, says when she began teleworking, she found she had more time on her hands. “I gained two hours a day by not commuting,” she said. “So, I began a personal challenge. Sneakers on and out the door every day.”

Her goal was to not skip a day, rain or shine. “Now, 245 days later, I have worked up to walking two miles each day,” she said. “I walk before 8 a.m. If it’s pouring rain, I wait until later, as long as I make it out the door at some point.”

She says the regular exercise has helped keep her in a positive mood as the pressure of isolation continues on and on. “The upside is I’m feeling much, much better and able to greet each day with a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of being happy. As I approach my door in my final lap, I do give myself a high five!”

Like Sarah, Ben Rogers, the newest member of the public affairs office, goes on long hikes and walks in the woods with his wife Marie and their dog Sequoia. “Connecting to nature and the great outdoors does wonders for our soul,” said Rogers. “The only issue is if we pick a crowded trail and we pass people that don’t wear masks.”

When they aren’t hiking or walking and the weather is cooperating, the Rogers like to hit the open road. “I traded in my Harley Davidson for a BMW Adventure bike,” said Rogers. “Adventure bikes … are typically heavy bikes that are very off-road capable but also built to do long tours on the road. It’s a big game changer for me. Not just for COVID but for my PTSD,” he said. “It’s a great reprieve.”

Jerry Glodek, Cultural Resource Manager and Environmental Protection Specialist, took to music for his stress reliever. “I’ve picked up my guitar and started to really get down some Eddie Cockran guitar licks,” said Glodek.

But music wasn’t the only thing that helped Glodek relieve stress. The history buff decided he wanted to expand his polish vocabulary, so he’s tried to recreate his mother and grandmother’s recipes, and study the notes they left for him. “I have papers all over the house with polish words and phrases on them,” said Glodek. “Phrases like, “I’m in the bathroom so knock next time before coming in,” was just one of the expressions he learned. “It prompted my son to figure out how to say, “Lock the bathroom door next time then,” he said. He has also been tracing his family tree through   

“Now I'm sharing family stories with all the young cousins and nieces and nephews that had no idea about what was going on in our family before all four of our grandparents came over, said Glodek. “Sadly, I was informed that 10 members of our Glodek family were some of the many unfortunates that perished in Auschwitz.”

It turns out, we might be onto something. According to Maj. Amy Brzuchalski, Chief of Behavioral Health and Fort Meade’s new Installation Director of Psychological Health, finding and keeping a stress reliever is imperative in these times.

“It is very easy to let self-care go during times of high stress,” said Brzuchalski. “Making deliberate time to care for yourself is key to relaxation and keeping yourself energized. Set aside time for physical activity, a creative outlet or hobby, getting fresh air, or connecting with others outside of your home or office.”

Self-care time is so important, Brzuchalski says you should enlist family and friends to ensure you are keeping your appointments. “Communicate and plan this time with your family and friends,” said Brzuchalski. “For example, "I would really appreciate you taking care of the kids on Thursday at 3 p.m. so I can have one hour of uninterrupted time to [insert activity here]".

Shipman encourages starting a “Daily Gratitude Journal,” and to plan for quick relief strategies, like deep breathing, visualizing a happy place and quick bursts of energy. “The root word of emotion is motion,” said Shipman. “Running up a flight of stairs as fast as you can, jumping jacks, pushups, are all quick energy bursts that offer fast relieve.”

While the vaccines are a major step toward the end of this pandemic, we still have possibly months of social distancing and isolation ahead of us.

What are you doing to relieve stress? What new habits have you developed to ensure your body can manage the changes brought on by the pandemic? Are some of the changes you’ve made turning into your resolutions for the New Year?