San Juan, Puerto Rico - The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect people living in America in significant ways. Currently, Puerto Rico is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases causing response efforts to multiply. One group helping from the onset is the Puerto Rico National Guard. As frontline responders, they have put themselves in challenging circumstances, all to help stop the spread. As a result, this continued work can cause a lot of stress and anxiety on them and their bodies.
In Puerto Rico, members of the National Guard, in conjunction with other state and federal agencies, were activated to perform screenings and detect any suspected cases of COVID-19. In addition, they continue to evaluate all passengers arriving on the island and orient them about COVID-19 and ways to prevent its spread.
A few days after beginning this work, the American Red Cross office in Puerto Rico received a request from the Puerto Rico Army National Guard. They requested tools to help personnel stationed at the airport manage stress and anxiety. Because serving the military and veterans is such a fundamental part of our mission, the Red Cross team quickly mobilized to send educational sheets from the existing stress-relieving workshop called “Stress Solutions.” This workshop is a part of an existing program, the “Mind-Body Curriculum,” that’s offered to all military, veterans and their families.
The Red Cross Mind-Body Workshops teach easy-to-use skills that connect the body with the mind to help participants cope with stress and trauma. These workshops are free for all military and veteran communities. They are conducted in small groups by licensed mental health professionals and have been provided to military and veterans across the country.
“The intent of this effort is to provide tools for citizen-soldiers to prevent and manage signs and symptoms of anxiety related to the mission and the event we are experiencing," said Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Vargas. In Puerto Rico, this information has been provided to veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project, onsite in the Veterans Hospital and in veterans' clinics around the island. "The goal of these workshops is to help participants develop techniques to manage chronic stress and alleviate traumatic symptoms," said Ramonita Santiago. It also provides them with multiple breathing exercises, guided visualization, stretching and body awareness.
"The material provided by the American Red Cross is an aid to inform our soldiers; they now have a guide as to when and how to use these techniques or ask for help," said Sergeant Myrna Ortiz, a Behavioral Health Specialist with the Puerto Rico Army National Guard. "The information is being provided in phases. Right now, it's informing, deploying, and discussing the reality of stress and anxiety," Ortiz added. This initiative is projected to impact 200 National Guard and State Guard soldiers. The soldiers can also share what they have learned, and the material provided with their families and friends.
Since the virus continues to impact the ability to meet in-person, the Red Cross launched a virtual module on stress management and relaxation techniques for military personnel and veterans to discuss the challenges and stress factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to teach skills for managing these emotions. These virtual workshops are offered in small groups and facilitated by mental health volunteers from the Resiliency program. The Puerto Rico Chapter will soon be offering this virtual workshop to the National Guard. "We want to thank the Red Cross for its collaboration in this effort to take care of the emotional health of our citizen-soldiers,” concluded Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Vargas.
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In the face of disasters like COVID-19, the American Red Cross and global Red Cross Red Crescent network join together to ease people’s suffering. Find out how you can volunteer at home and across the globe at redcross.org