Make Asking for Help a Habit

Has anyone ever figuratively (or literally) patted you on the shoulder for being a “tough cookie” after bouncing back from challenging situation? This may feel nice in the moment, but navigating difficult events alone may result in increased levels of stress over time. Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, we all need help and people in our lives to lean on. Even if we feel more at ease turning inward instead of toward each other nine times out of ten, there are still moments that will require – or benefit from – the insight of others.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Reframing help-seeking behavior as a sign of strength is important, on both an individual and community level. When asking for help, focus on transparency and directness. Be open in your “ask” so others feel assured they can give you the care you actually need.  If you need someone just to listen to a situation you’re navigating, tell them. If you need someone to give you an option of different tools you can use, tell them. If you need help completing a task, tell them. Right when you start to feel stressed, consider who you can reach out to and how they can help. 

By asking for help, you may even empower people around you to come forward and request support themselves. The more connections we have in our lives, the stronger we become. Having each other’s back when times gets tough helps us address common goals and may help fuel a culture where everyone feels valued, respected and confident.

If asking for help still feels tough for you, take the approach of curiosity: encourage a friend to share their ideas for improving different hypothetical situations or ask a family member to share a story of overcoming a stressor. Like any good skill, asking for help takes time and practice. The more you do it, the more habitual it’ll become. Remember: you are not alone.

The Navy’s Suicide Prevention Program empowers Sailors to reach out to their shipmates and ACT (Ask, Care, Treat) if they notice something out of the norm. Even just one conversation – 1 Small ACT – can open the door for support. For more stress navigation resources, check out this Stress Navigation Plan.

Three Things to Remember this Suicide Prevention Month

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we are collectively continuing to navigate uncertainty and ambiguous situations, so if you’ve been feeling a heightened sense of anxiety or stress – you’re not alone. This Suicide Prevention Month falls at momentous time, and whether or not you or someone you know might be exhibiting signs of increased stress, the messages regarding stress management have never been more universally needed. You’ve probably read or heard the following over the past several months:

Now more than ever, it is important to prioritize your mental health.

In this unprecedented time, taking care of yourself and your community is vitally important.

With ongoing uncertainty, it is critical to practice healthy coping mechanisms. 

These messages aren’t wrong. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “taking care of your emotional health during an emergency will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family. Self-care during an emergency will help your long-term healing.”

Each September, the Navy recognizes Suicide Prevention Month in order to promote healthy behaviors, active engagement and open conversation about suicide and stress management. This month is intended to spark a year-long conversation about psychological health and is not just a 30-day blitz of suicide prevention efforts but a reminder of what we can be doing every day for ourselves and others.

Keep these three items in mind this Suicide Prevention Month:  

  1. Connect to protect. The Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) 2020 Suicide Prevention Month theme is “Connect to Protect,” spotlighting the vital role connectedness plays in feeling a sense of both belonging and safety. Connections help strengthen our resilience and leads to a more meaningful and fulfilled life. Discussing suicide and stress management promotes help-seeking behavior.
  2. Suicide is preventable. Preventing suicide is a community effort. Keeping open lines of communication and practicing help-seeking behavior within your social circles is a helpful way to lead by example. Find help with your local Navy chaplain, Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) or medical provider. Review and share resources from Military OneSource. Use the Military Crisis Line by texting 838255 or calling 1-800-273-TALK (press 1) for navigating challenges. The Sailor Assistance & Intercept for Life (SAIL) program is also available to help Sailors navigate resources following instances of suicide-related behaviors (SRBs).
  3. 1 Small ACT can make a difference. The FY-21 1 Small ACT Toolkit is a helpful resource for suicide prevention coordinators (SPCs), leaders, providers and anyone who wants to support Navy’s suicide prevention efforts. It contains messages and outreach materials to refresh engagement, including new information on the Caring Connections effort, recipe cards for safe and effective conversations about mental health and a revamped version of the 30 Days of Small ACTs Calendar.  

For more ideas on stress navigation, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tools to Try When You Need a Mindful Moment

We all need breaks. It’s easy to get caught up in the responsibilities that stem from different areas of your personal and professional life. Actively creating time and space to unwind may be challenging, but it can help build resilience and you live more mindfully. Practicing mindfulness is one of many skills that may help you decrease instances of negative emotions, such as anxiety and anger.

Similar to self-care, taking actions to feel mindful looks different for everyone. If you’re open minded to trying mindfulness, consider the following: any activity that helps you focus on the present moment or process an experience is considered mindful. Whether it’s journaling, actively listening to a close friend share a story or counting the number of bicep curls you’re doing, try making the act of cultivating mindfulness a habit. According to the National Institute of Health,  “mindfulness practices may help people manage stress, cope better with serious illness and reduce anxiety and depression. Many people who practice mindfulness report an increased ability to relax, a greater enthusiasm for life and improved self-esteem.”

Explore the following resources when you need to tune in to yourself and others more thoughtfully. 

If you want to unwind and focus on the present:

If you want to take a moment to check in on your health habits:  

If you want to reflect on how to strengthen your connections with others:

For more ideas on how to live mindfully, turn to your support network. Ask others what helps them feel grounded and attentive to the present. 

Ways Spirituality Improves Your Mental Health

Thinking about spirituality can happen anywhere – whether its in a place of worship like a church, synagogue or mosque or while you’re out on a walk at a park, there are several moments to consider connecting to something bigger than yourself. Spirituality comes in all shapes and sizes. For some, it may come in the form of introspective practices. For others, it may come through relationships with our loved ones or by religious activities. The Military Health System outlines how “ideological and spiritual fitness refers to your beliefs and practices that strengthen connectedness with sources of hope, meaning, and purpose.”

Even if spirituality is something you may not actively be considering, employing different life skills may indirectly bolster your spiritual health. Whether it’s through these or other means, there is no right or wrong way to express or explore your spirituality. Spiritualty helps enrich our lives by helping us find meaning and purpose. Spirituality is a contemplative practice, like meditation and journaling, that helps us focus on our attention and increase our empathy. Consider the following items to increase happiness, strengthen relationships and improve your overall well-being.

Patience means that we stick with things even when they take a long time to show the preferred results. Patient people are often better equipped to practice gratitude and take to heart the phrase “good things come to those who wait.” Someone using patience may also feel more at ease when challenging events arise.

Committing to a healthy goal, habit or way of thinking demonstrates perseverance. Even when faced with adversity, the ability to grow through discomfort can help you find purpose and feel a deeper connection to learning something new.

Forgiveness is a deliberate choice to accept and let go of negative emotions following a harmful event from another individual in a group. The American Psychological Association discusses: “True forgiveness goes a step further … offering something positive—empathy, compassion, understanding—toward the person who hurt you.” While forgiveness is primarily considered in interpersonal dynamics, it is also important to practice self-forgiveness to grow and evolve from self-inflicted negativity. Forgiveness helps increase immunity, lower blood pressure and lead to improved psychological health.

Empathy focuses on listening and responding to others without judgment. Empathy helps others feel open to sharing their perspectives and creates an environment where everyone feels more understood and heard. Showing empathy helps others navigate uncertainty.

Positive Thinking
While it is important to feel all of your feelings, the act of positive thinking may help boost your mood and discover new ways to recognize and respond to different situations. After recognizing a negative thought, try brainstorming positive thoughts to counterbalance the feeling. Positive thinking envelops practices like approaching new experiences from a “glass half full” lens, not jumping to conclusions and vocalizing the happy and healthy aspects of your day-to-day experiences.

The end of the summer is a great time to check-in and reflect on how your year is going through the lens of spirituality. Introspection leads to growth and is a mindful way to help find new ways to progress. If you’re feeling burned out throughout the year, remember these skills and take time for yourself.

Making the Most of Your Summer Meals

One piece of nutrition advice that may never go out of style? Eat more fruits and vegetables. Although Americans need 2-4 servings of fruits and 3-4 servings of vegetables daily, many individuals face challenges in meeting these goals. Adding more of these low-calorie and nutrient-dense items to your diet results in several health benefits. Fruits and vegetables often have high-levels of fiber. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) mentions the amount of high-level fiber fruits and vegetables contain. Adding these to your diet can help an individual maintain a healthy weight due to their naturally low in calorie and high fiber content. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), increasing your fruit and vegetable intake can help reduce the risks of chronic diseases and certain types of cancers. Studies have shown how eating healthier helps boost your mood and increase your immunity levels, which may help provide protection against disease to include COVID-19.

In the summertime, many different (and delicious) fruits and vegetables are in season. Several fruits and vegetables hold water and are a great source of additional hydration when temperatures continue to rise. From strawberries to bananas to corn to carrots, adding these colorful ingredients to your plate or next dish is an easy way to help balance your diet and feel healthier. Eating nutritious options is a form of self-care.

Here are a few fun ideas for incorporating more fruits and vegetables in your diet this season:

Try something new. Never tried beets, okra, plums or tomatillos? There’s no way of knowing you won’t like the taste of something until you try it. The USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide highlights what’s in season throughout the year. Try making a habit of trying a few new fruits and vegetables each season to expand your palette.

Channel your inner gardener. If your living space allows for a garden, consider growing your own produce. Gardening is a an easy way for anyone to unwind, get some sunshine and feel connected to a project. Invite your family or other household members to join you to make growing your garden a collective goal. If you’re just getting started, you can visit a local nursery or home and garden shop for starter plants.

Shop local. Shopping at a farmer’s market or farm stand in your area helps supports local business and is a quick way to add more color to your plate. Use the USDA’s Farmers Market Directory to find opportunities for fresh fruit and vegetables in or around your community. Consider inviting a friend or family member to go with you and then make a meal together.

Transform the ingredients. If you aren’t the biggest fan of some raw fruits and vegetables, review different recipes that call for creativity. Instead of munching on an apple as-is, consider making baked apple chips. Cauliflower is a great substitute for pizza crust and tater tots. Stock up on different spices, seasonings, dressing and marinades you like you like to use to make cooking different fruits and vegetables efficient.

For more ideas, visit the following resources:

  • 5 Ways Series (USDA Choose My Plate): outlines five different ways to use different ingredients, including canned pears, frozen broccoli and berries; the USDA Start Simple with MyPlate mobile application is also a useful tool in helping you shape your nutritional habits  application also helps notify you when you have not had all of your fruits and vegetables for the day
  • How to Eat More Fruit and Vegetables (American Heart Association): discusses quick ways to include fruits and vegetables across each meal 
  • Health Promotion & Wellness Interactive Map (Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center): offers a map-based tool where individuals can type in an address and see nearby resources including farmer’s markets, recreational clubs and more
  • Healthy Eating Tips (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): provides information about general considerations for nutrition, including how to reduce your sodium intake and eat healthy fats
  • How to Eat Healthy (U.S. Health and Human Services): includes ways to add fruit and vegetables to your lunches for your loved ones and prepare healthy snacks