Military staff are repeatedly exposed to stressful and unpleasant traumatic life
events. These can cause psychological injury, leading to mental and emotional
stress. The stigma of mental health problems in military settings runs deeper than in
civil society. Being admitted with mental health problems while serving can be a
career stopper, but at times can also be associated with cowardice or malingering.
It is the primary responsibility of the military to maintain and promote high
military/combat readiness among staff. The change in focus of modern military
forces, such as the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), with units being deployed more
often, places greater demands on troops. Such operations call for increased training
exercises, planning sessions and equipment inspections. Training emphasizes
discipline and integrity as the core values of the BDF. These form a foundation for
healthy and successful coping strategies. The morale of employees is the starting point for measuring their wellness. Morale in
the military is embedded in the fitness programs. These are biased towards military
training, creating physical fitness, mental alertness and the qualities of military
preparedness. The programs are normally involuntary, mandated through the
commander, and form part of a soldier‘s military duties. Military recreation, morale
and welfare programs were introduced as a way to provide soldiers with the
opportunity to relax and rejuvenate. Recreation serves as a powerful tool for
achieving an optimal experience, motivating people to change and improve their health and wellness. The problem identified for this study was that members of the BDF were exposed to
situations in a military context, as well as in their personal lives, which caused stress.
It was postulated that BDF members had little knowledge or the resources to utilize
appropriate recreation-related coping strategies. The study aimed primarily to
explore the use of sport and recreation activities in military settings as means to
reduce and manage stress. To achieve this goal, it was necessary first to determine
the current sport and recreation participation of BDF staff members, then to assess
their existing stress levels, their overall psychological well-being, and any
dysfunctional behaviours resulting from stress. On the basis of these findings, a
Therapeutic Recreation Stress Management Intervention Model was proposed,
designed to reduce stress and promote the psychological well-being of BDF
members. A survey was carried out using a questionnaire. Descriptive statistics were used to
summarize the collected data, offering a basic description of the data through
frequency distributions, measures of central tendency, variances and relationships.
Inferential statistics were used to draw conclusions from the data collected, giving
the various factors.
The results revealed that the BDF was a male-dominated institution, recruiting
soldiers between the ages of 18 and 44, most of whom had some level of education.
Most of the staff members came from the lower ranks and had experienced one or
more deployments since being recruited into the military. The results further indicated that BDF staff members participated in sport and recreation activities,
reflecting an active and healthy lifestyle, with satisfactory levels of involvement.
Analysis of stress responses revealed that members experienced stress and that this
was related not just to operational or non-operational military stressors but also to
personal stressors resulting from their social, financial or emotional conditions.
Members of the BDF did not receive the necessary social support from family
members and friends to cope with these stressors.
The findings on stress in relation to sport and recreation participation revealed that
BDF members were intrinsically motivated to embrace healthy lifestyles which could
contribute to lower levels of stress. This could even lead to a decrease in stress,
supporting the literature which indicates that engaging in physical activities, as part
of living a healthy lifestyle, might lead to a reduction in stress levels. The results on the stress-coping measures used by BDF members revealed that
recreation activities were deliberately used to cope with stress. Although physical
exercise was used as a way of coping with stress, sedentary recreation activities
were more prevalent among BDF members. Positive stress-coping measures were
adopted by respondents, contrary to the findings of previous studies which indicated
that military staff adopted dysfunctional behaviour as a coping measure (e.g.
excessive drinking) that formed part of the military culture. The stress-coping abilities
of BDF members differed in terms of personal and military demographics from those
of previous studies, posting a new contribution to military literature. The results
further revealed that BDF members were not sufficiently skilled in coping with stress
during military training. This study concluded that the Botswana Defence Force is no different from other
military forces, experiencing operational and non-operational stress, as well as
personal stress, which need to be addressed. Recommendations were made for
further research on stress in military contexts and further guidelines were suggested
to the BDF on the use of sport and recreation, together with more specific
therapeutic recreation, as ways to reduce stress. A Therapeutic Recreation Stress
Management Intervention Model was recommended for further testing in the BDF, as
well as in other military forces.
Hendriks, Erika Erna(University of Pretoria, 2007-11-19)
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