Category Archives: Behavioral Fitness

Staying Safe with Prescription Pain Medications

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Justin joined the Navy a few years ago, right out of high school. He’s proud to be a Sailor and has a passion for his work. After experiencing an unfortunate on-the-job injury, he goes to his nearest military treatment facility (MTF) for treatment and receives a prescription for a pain medication. His injury was serious and he’s been in a lot of pain, so he takes the prescription regularly to minimize the pain as much as he can.

After a week, although the pain is more tolerable, he continues taking the same dosage regularly because he is used to doing so to avoid the pain he was feeling in the couple days after his injury. He considers using his medication less often as he recovers, but he still has medication remaining and wants to do everything he can to remain pain-free.

If you’ve ever been in a car accident, had surgery, or gotten injured, you may understand how Justin is feeling. Being in pain is stressful and can take a toll on you physically and emotionally. Prescription pain medications can feel like a lifesaver in these circumstances. But continuing to take them after most of the pain has diminished can lay an unintentional foundation for misuse or addiction. The following tips can help you can manage your pain without the risk of misuse or addiction.

Understanding What Prescription Opioids are and How They’re Used

Opioids are a type of drug that is naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Prescription opioids may be made from the plant itself or from replication of the chemical makeup of the plant. They are used as pain relievers for moderate to severe pain. They may be prescribed for acute pain such as the temporary pain after a surgery or from an injury, or they may be prescribed for chronic pain conditions such as backache, arthritis, or migraines. Opioids relax the body and affect the brain. When misused, opioids can be addictive like heroin (another opioid). Some commonly prescribed opioids are hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl and codeine.

Avoiding Unintentional Misuse and Abuse

After an injury or a surgery, some level of pain is expected and normal. The goal should not be to eliminate pain altogether but manage it so that you’re able to function until the pain eventually subsides on its own. In the initial day or two after an injury or surgery, the pain is usually at its worst, but over time, the pain is likely to improve and the need for pain medication should decrease.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that for first-time use, the number of days you take the prescription opioids can directly impact if you become a “long-term” user. For individuals who took opioids for eight or more days, 13.5% were still using opioids one year later. For those with a 31+ day prescription, nearly a third were still using them.

A prescription for an opioid does not have to be a one-way ticket to addiction if you are cautious. Certain medications such as antibiotics or antivirals are necessary at a specific dosage for the treatment of illness. Pain medications, however, only aim to alleviate the discomfort associated with an illness, injury, or chronic pain condition. Assess your own pain over time, and ask your health care provider if the prescribed dosage is still necessary for your level of pain.

There are also non-prescription medications that can be used for certain types of pain. Consider over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help you minimize prescription medication use, shorten the duration of time on opioids, or avoid it altogether. OTC medications come in various strengths and may be suitable options for pain from broken bones or oral surgery, for example. Studies have indicated that they can provide similar relief to prescription pain medications. Before making the switch, check with your provider to be sure that you don’t have any preexisting conditions that may cause a negative reaction.

Managing Pain Without Drugs

While medications are a quick fix for pain, there are non-pharmaceutical options available as well, particularly for chronic or long-term pain conditions. Comprehensive pain management is a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates physical therapy, relaxation techniques, education and other methods to help manage chronic pain. It focuses on the complex nature of pain and how it affects the physical, emotional, social and psychological health of those experiencing it.

There are various complementary methods for managing chronic pain that all have some evidence of effectiveness. Acupuncture, chiropractic care, heat and cold therapy, massage and gentle yoga are some of many other options for chronic pain management that don’t involve pharmaceuticals.

“Self-managing” pain is all about learning methods to help you manage your pain, “hacks” to incorporate into your current lifestyle and practices to minimize discomfort. It can be a great means of avoiding prescription drug misuse.

Using Prescription Drugs Properly with the 4 Steps

Prescription opioids are safe and helpful when taken for short amounts of time. Follow the Prescription for Discharge campaign’s four steps to avoid misusing prescription drugs:

  • Take Correctly. Taking prescription drugs as prescribed by your health care provider can help prevent potential misuse. Ask your doctor what other options are available to you after the initial pain subsides. It’s also a good idea to ask how long your prescription is valid, which may be different than the printed expiration date.
  • Report Promptly. If you have been prescribed a prescription medication by a non-military provider, you must report it to your chain of command and ensure they are entered into your military health record within ten days.
  • Dispose Properly. Medications that are no longer needed should be properly disposed of to prevent misuse. You can dispose of unused medication at home by placing it in a small plastic bag with an undesirable substance (e.g., kitty litter or used coffee grounds) and throw the bag in the trash. Cross out personal information on your prescription labels before discarding the bottles. You can also dispose of unused medications through secure drop boxes at participating MTFs.
  • Never Share. Ensuring your own proper use of prescription drugs is essential, but it is also important to help prevent misuse among friends, family and shipmates. Even if they’re experiencing similar symptoms, never share your prescription medications or take others’ medications.

Knowing the Signs and Reaching Out for Help

Seeking help promptly is the best thing you can do for health and safety if you think you or someone you know may have a problem with prescription drug misuse. Signs of prescription drug misuse include:

  • Mood swings or hostility
  • Abnormal energy
  • Significant increase or decrease in fatigue or sleep
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Asking friends and family members for their medication
  • Claiming that their prescription was lost or stolen

If you recognize these signs within yourself or others, speak with your command Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA) or doctor, or call 1-866-U-ASK-NPC.

For more information and tips to use prescription drugs safely, visit http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/NAAP/campaign_events/prescription/Pages/default.aspx.

Mindfulness Monday – Staying in the Moment during Alcohol Awareness Month

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Submitted by the Keep What You’ve Earned Campaign

You’ve heard of mindful breathing…mindful eating…but what about mindful drinking? April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and awareness is key to the practice of mindful drinking.

So what does mindful drinking mean? What sounds like a new age buzz-phrase is actually a way to feel greater happiness with and control over your drinking choices.  Mindful drinking is a conscious approach to consuming alcohol. At its simplest, mindful drinking means focusing on the present moment and experience of consuming alcohol. Mindful drinkers may drink less, but the emphasis isn’t on how much alcohol is consumed. It’s about an overall healthier relationship with it.

Giving Mindful Drinking a Try

This month is a great time to check in with your drinking habits and practice a little mindfulness. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Before attending an event where you’ll consume alcohol, take a moment to reflect and center yourself. Visualize yourself enjoying the company of others and focus on how you want the event to unfold.
  2. If you’re at a party and you have a drink, concentrate on the experience of each sip. Drink slowly and savor the taste and smell. Don’t speed up out of anxiety or social pressure. Have a glass of water handy so that you can alternate between sips of alcohol to pace yourself.
  3. When you are drinking alcohol, stay attuned to the psychological and physical effects. Take notice of how you feel with each sip, and each drink, and manage your consumption accordingly.

The Perks of Paying Attention to your Alcohol Consumption

Although mindful drinking doesn’t mean abstaining or trying to limit alcohol, many people find themselves drinking less when they focus on the moment. Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption comes with its own benefits. You may notice improved mood, sleep and job performance, and find that you’re less stressed about weight gain due to liquid calories (especially around Physical Fitness Assessment time!). You may also find that you seek healthier ways to navigate stress rather than losing track of your beer count at the bar. Using alcohol in response to stress may spiral into social withdrawal, anger or rage, and decreased inhibitions—which may increase suicide risk.

Mindful drinking can also help protect your wallet. If you really savor and enjoy one drink you may not find yourself paying for several rounds. Reducing your alcohol consumption also puts you at reduced risk for Alcohol-Related Incidents (ARIs), which can impact your pay and derail your entire career.

Mindful Tools to Help You Keep What You’ve Earned

The Keep What You’ve Earned Campaign’s Pier Pressure mobile application has the tools you need to integrate mindful drinking into your life. The app’s “Resources” section features a blood alcohol content estimator to help you stay aware of the potential for alcohol to affect your mind and body, a calorie calculator (which also tells you how many push-ups it will take to burn off those beers) and one-click access to Uber and Lyft ride-sharing apps to plan ahead for a safe-ride home. The app also features a quick and anonymous self-check to help you gauge your drinking habits and engage the right resources if you have concerns about your drinking. Pier Pressure is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Mindful drinking is a practice anyone can implement, and it can make your nights out (and your mornings after) more enjoyable. Your drinking choices can impact your health, your relationships and your career. If you drink alcohol, make the most of it by staying present in the moment and tuned in to your own mind and body.

Questions or Concerns about Your Drinking?

There are several resources available to help you find appropriate treatment for alcohol misuse. Reach out to your health care provider at your local Military Treatment Facility, your command Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA), chaplain or Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) counselor. Additionally, the Psychological Health Resource Center offers 24/7, free and confidential support provided by trained health resource consultants at 866-966-1020. For more information about Navy’s non-disciplinary self-referral process, check out the Pier Pressure app or visit www.nadap.navy.mil.

Got the Keys? 5 Tips to be a Stress-Free DD

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The following post was contributed by Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention’s Keep What You’ve Earned campaign (KWYE), helping Sailors and families drink responsibly and maintain their Behavioral Fitness. For additional KWYE resources, visit www.nadap.navy.mil.

So, you’ve decided to Give the Gift of a Designated Driver (DD) to your shipmates, saving a few dollars out of your holiday spending budget and potentially saving lives. Good move. Whether you’re a DD rookie or seasoned vet, a few tips can help you enjoy your night out sans alcohol and spare you some headaches along the way (because even though you won’t wakeup with a hangover, not planning ahead can turn a fun night into frustrating one).

  1. Choose a day that works for you.

While there’s never a bad time to a DD, you may want to give some thought to when you’ll be ready and willing to serve. Maybe Thursday nights are best for you or you prefer weekends since your days usually start early. If you don’t have a preference, consider whether there are certain circumstances where you may have a harder time totally avoiding alcohol. If you know you’ll be tempted to have a few brews while watching Monday Night Football at the bar, don’t put yourself and others at risk if you don’t think you’ll truly spend the evening alcohol-free. Plan for you and your friends to use a ride-sharing service to and from the bar instead. The Keep What You’ve Earned campaign’s Pier Pressure mobile app offers easy access to Uber and Lyft, as well as quick tools to help you gauge your drinking when you’re not serving as a DD, like a blood alcohol content estimator and calorie counter. Download on the Apple App Store or Google Play today so it’s already on your phone when you need it.

  1. Make a list and check it twice.

Who’s coming? Where are you going? What time are you leaving? Set a plan that you’re comfortable with since you’re the driver. If there are more people than there are seatbelts in the car, enlist another person to take the pledge and drive. Agree on what stops you’ll make ahead of time, what time you’ll leave and where you’ll meet at the end of the night. And—because trying to convince someone who’s had a few drinks that it’s time to go isn’t fun for anyone—make an agreement that everyone comes in together and leaves together. No exceptions.

  1. Get the keys before you head out.

Decide on whose car you’re driving and get the keys before you leave so you won’t have to wrestle for them later. This is the safest way to ensure that no one who has been drinking ends up behind the wheel. It’s also a physical reminder of your commitment to your shipmates that you won’t drink and will get everyone home safely.

  1. No alcohol – at all!

A DD isn’t just the least drunk of the bunch or the one who’s only had a sip or two – it’s the person who has agreed ahead of time not to consume any alcohol. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t drink with your friends. Toss back a mocktail (or a few since you don’t have to worry about getting drunk—just watch out for hidden sugars). Try OPNAV N17 Dietician Lt. Pamela Gregory’s “Ginger Lime Fizz.” Ask the bartender to combine three parts ginger beer and one part seltzer water with a few squeezes of lime. You can also nix the rum in a traditional mojito recipe for a mocktail version. Try it with muddled cranberries or a splash of cranberry juice for a seasonal spin. Don’t forget to alternate your rounds with water so that everyone is pacing themselves.

  1. Turn down for what?

While not consuming alcohol is one of the most important parts of your commitment, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the party. If you show your shipmates that you can still have a good time without alcohol, they’ll be willing to step up to the plate next time and be a DD. So, turn up! You’ll surely be the winner at pool or darts, and may even score a non-alcoholic drink or appetizer courtesy the bar if they offer goodies for DDs (ask!). If you’re out with a big group, hang out with another person who isn’t drinking, like the DD for the other car. People-watch together, shoot pool, dance, watch the game…just don’t take or post videos or photos of your friends who may be partying a little too hard. They probably won’t appreciate the laughs at their expense the next morning.

Above all, be proud of yourself and connect with the meaning behind your commitment. Responsible DDs have contributed to alcohol related incidents decreasing in the Navy since 2013. While it feels good to give to others, it also doesn’t hurt if your shipmates find small ways to show their appreciation as well. After all, helping them avoid a DUI can save them anywhere from $10,000 to $1 million over their lifetime. That’s worthy of an appetizer or mocktail courtesy of your crew (shipmates, take note!).

This FITmas, give the gift of a designated driver to help your shipmates celebrate responsibly and keep what they’ve earned.

Concerned about alcohol use? The Navy has a non-disciplinary self-referral process that allows Sailors to get treatment and remain on active-duty. Learn more on the Pier Pressure app (click Tools > Self-Referral) or visit www.nadap.navy.mil.

Fueling Your Body and Mind with Food

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The relationship between food and health is complex. The foods we eat have a chemical effect on the brain and impact how we feel. Eating processed foods—from nutritional supplements like protein powders to combo meals from your favorite drive-thru—can keep your body from accessing the beneficial nutrients it needs to help you feel and perform your best. Why is this? Many of the essential and naturally occurring nutrients are stripped, altered or replaced during processing. This includes fiber, phytonutrients and other healthy compounds.

Current studies show that a balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein promotes optimal health and better mood. These whole foods are made of vitamins and minerals that are broken down during digestion, making them available for the body to use as energy and for essential processes like cellular repair. When essential components are missing, we experience a decline in energy, alertness and mood.

Supplement vs. Whole Food

Supplements typically use artificial or synthetic vitamins and minerals, which may not offer the same benefits as whole foods. The human body is designed to recognize natural and whole ingredients, so it isn’t able to utilize the man-made vitamins and minerals as effectively.

Many supplements isolate particular nutrients and leave out essentials that the body would otherwise use if the food was consumed in its natural form. Take whey protein powder supplements for example. While this milk-based protein produces a rapid increase in amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair, casein protein can also help prevent muscle breakdown (which in turn, supports growth). Where do both whey and casein naturally occur? In milk! In general, service members consume enough protein through their food and don’t actually need to supplement their protein intake.

Comfort Food vs. Whole Food

Our mood often influences what we eat, but what we eat can also influence our mood. Consider these scenarios:

  • Two Sailors are experiencing similar stressors. They’re in the midst of preparing for permanent change of station (PCS) moves that are causing a lot of strain in their households and on their wallets. At work, they’re both hit with short-fused tasks that their current supervisors are keeping close watch on, in addition to the other things they have to get done.
  • When Sailor A gets home, tired and frustrated, he reaches for cookies, potato chips and a soda and heads to the couch. He starts to get his mind off of everything, but about 20 minutes later he’s back to feeling drained and irritated.
  • When Sailor B gets home, tired and frustrated, he goes for some leftover grilled chicken and vegetables in the refrigerator and a glass of water. His problems don’t go away after he eats, but he’s able to regroup and shift focus to the things he can get done at home to support the move without feeling angry or annoyed.

Why the different outcomes? The comfort foods Sailor A went for are highly processed, high in added sugar and fat, and low in nutrients. While they may have an emotional appeal (especially if they were his go-to comforts as children) those effects wore off quickly. The vitamins and nutrients he needed to rebalance his mood, such as serotonin, were missing or less effective because they were in a man-made form that wasn’t as accessible to his body. This emotional rollercoaster can increase feelings of anxiety, depression and fatigue, causing the craving cycle to begin again. Sailor B got the benefits of serotonin, boosting his mood and giving him the energy to do something productive. Not only did he get his mind off of his day, but he’ll sleep better and be more focused and alert.

How to make changes

Eating healthy or healthier doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Here are a few ways to make the switch to whole or less processed foods:

  • Re-think fast food. For a quick and healthy meal, opt for a rotisserie chicken at your local grocery store, a salad and fresh fruit.
  • Shop the perimeter of your grocery store for fresh meats and produce. Most frozen food is good too; just skip items with gravies and sauces. Living in the barracks? Check out these tips to eat healthy while saving time, space and money.
  • Swap out your sugary snack stash for your favorite fresh fruits and vegetables; the original comfort foods. Pair them with 10-15 nuts or a tablespoon peanut butter or other healthy spread.
  • If going for a processed food (something that comes in a bag, box, container or package), aim for five ingredients or less. Watch out for high-fructose corn syrup and other hidden sugars.

Talk to your Health Promotions Office or Registered Dietitians (RD/N) office for more information and resources.

LT Pamela Gregory, OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian with nine years’ experience in counseling a wide variety of clientele on nutrition and health-related diseases/ topics. LT Gregory uses a functional nutrition approach to assist clients in their treatment phase.

References:

  1. (2015, Aug. 31). Is Whey Protein the way to go? Retrieved Jun. 21, 2017, from http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/hprc-articles/is-whey-protein-helpful-to-optimize-performance.
  2. (2014, Jan. 2 ). Can Food Affect Your Mood. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2017, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/02/food-affects-mood.aspx
  3. (2012, Jan. 1) Journal of Food Science, 77 PP R11-R24.
  4. (1999). Impact of Processing on Food Safety. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 459 PP 99-106.

5 Small ACTs to Help You Chill Out

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Whether it’s strain and pressure within your unit as you work long hours to prepare for deployment, a disagreement with your spouse over something trivial that boils over, or a seemingly innocent debate with a friend that goes the wrong way, we can all expect to be blindsided by heated moments. Your reactions come quickly and before you know it, your heart is racing, your face is red and you’re saying the first thing that comes to mind (and that thing may not necessarily help the situation).

While disagreement and tension are normal and can even contribute to strengthening relationships, they can surely leave their mark if not carefully addressed. Unchecked anger and unresolved issues can fester, impacting the individuals directly involved, other colleagues or family members, and the mission at-hand. By taking a moment to be proactive, you can help to keep the pot from boiling over by exploring strategies to defuse intense situations.

Just in time for warmer weather and Mental Health Month, here are 5 Small ACTs to help you chill out:

Push Pause. The moment you see potential for a situation or conversation to escalate, call a time out. A lengthy explanation isn’t needed; just step back and offer to address things once all parties involved have had a chance to clear their heads and approach the problem calmly. Even if it’s just five minutes, creating some space between yourself and the issue can help you get a grasp on how you feel, what’s truly important and how you can work with others to move forward.

Breathe. This simple act is often taken for granted, but is an important first step in trying to get your emotional and physiological responses in check when the tension is rising. Taking a deep breath (two to three second inhale and exhale) can help to induce calm in the midst of calamity. If you have a few moments to yourself and can find a quiet space, try this Quick Fix Breathing Exercise or check out the exercises on the National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s Breathe2Relax app.

Laugh. Laughter can help thwart the release of stress hormones, kick-starting the production of hormones that are responsible for positively balancing your mood and promoting relaxation. Look at a funny GIF, head to your favorite blog or talk to someone who knows how to bring a smile to your face. A quick laugh can help you change the channel if you’re focused on a negative situation and enable you to approach a solution with a smile :).

Hit the gym, the track or the trails. You may find that your most productive days in the gym or your best run happen when you need to vent some frustration. Building exercise into your daily routine can help to burn negativity and rewire your brain after tense times. Whether it’s a run with a friend or mentor, weightlifting, interval training or yoga, turn to your favorite fitness regimen to maximize the mood-boost.

Communicate. If your situation involves conflict with another person, addressing it directly can lead to finding some common ground and getting things back on track sooner. Staying silent may only feed your emotions, leading to continued drama. When talking it out, try to use a neutral tone, make eye contact and explain how you perceived the issue or what led to the misunderstanding from your perspective. State that you would like to find a resolution that works for all parties involved (which may include compromising), and then actively listen to the other person or people involved. Instead of listening with the intent to dispute, make a point or interrupt, actually hear and process what the person is saying to you. Then restate it back in your own words to ensure that you have an understanding. Clarify whenever necessary and allow for natural silence, even when it may feel awkward. This will enable you to respond appropriately and meaningfully, minimizing the potential for a heated exchange. Other forms of communication may help you chill out by expressing your feelings, including journaling or speaking with a neutral person, such as a peer support advocate.

Before you land in your next heated moment, take some time to acknowledge what actions, words, topics or gestures are most likely to provoke you. Then note how you may react when these buttons are pushed. Taking this honest look at yourself proactively can help you keep off-the-cuff reactions at bay, enabling you to navigate issues calmly, learn from them and move forward. You may not be able to control others’ behavior or external situations, but with a little prep you can control your responses to them.

BONUS: Anger affecting your daily life? Check out this article from our partners at Real Warriors to help you identify your signs of anger and learn to navigate them in a healthy way. For more information on the Real Warriors campaign, visit www.realwarriors.net.