Category Archives: Families

Finding Comfort and Joy in Family Tradition

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The pressure to do things a certain way—the same way, each and every time—can be one of the most stressful parts of the holiday season, especially since Navy life brings about constant change. Yet family traditions are cherished for the memories they create, the routines that they establish and the customs that are passed on to the next generation—and for good reason. A recent research review published in The Journal of Family Psychology finds that family rituals “are powerful organizers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition.”[1] Traditions give us a sense of connectedness and continuity. They’re also associated with relationship satisfaction, stronger family bonds, and better psychological and emotional health. Still, the stress and transition pieces can leave you struggling to keep traditions going while balancing others’ expectations, navigating a deployment, or adapting to new circumstances. Here are some tips to give your traditions a boost this FITmas:

  • Know the difference between ritual and routine. Routines tend to be more systematic when it comes to planning, and, by extension, can be automatic in terms of execution. There may be a lot of work involved but not as much thought, connection or processing that occurs afterward (other than a sigh of relief). Rituals, however, are where the magic happens. Researchers have found that rituals give participants a sense of identity through active participation and emotional connection. What’s the difference? Meaning. One Navy chaplain reflected on the significance behind his family’s holiday tradition in this NavyNavStress post, noting how a humorous family custom they’ve created has brought them a sense of familiarity no matter where they live and an opportunity to create new memories. Take a moment to look at your family’s routines and identify ways that you can add meaning to create sustainable (and portable) rituals. If preparing a particular dish each year has slowly lost its significance, consider letting the younger chefs take on some of the more kid-friendly roles so that they feel a sense of contribution, learn a family recipe and have some fun.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch it up. Just because a tradition has been a part of your family’s holiday season for generations doesn’t mean your family can’t add its own spin to keep it going. If you’re deployed or separated from those who you typically enjoy your traditional holiday meal with, schedule a recipe-share. Send your family your favorite barracks-friendly recipe and pick a night that you can both prepare the dish. Take photos along the way or give them a call to hear about their experience preparing the meal with only the ingredients and tools you outlined for them. The simplicity of the meal is sure to be a conversation starter and the experience of creating something “together” can help everyone feel connected—a key ingredient for traditions new, old, or refreshed.
  • Get creative to keep it going. Elves and other holiday toys that mysteriously appear in unlikely places have become a recent tradition that’s seemingly here to stay. But there’s no need to stress if the whole family isn’t together to go searching for the mischievous holiday guest each morning. If you’re deployed, you can find your own holiday helper (such as a small Navy teddy bear) to photograph in different spaces on your ship. Save each photo and write a little story to describe your helper’s journey that day, tying in fun facts that relate to what you’re doing, your recent or upcoming port of call, etc. If you have access to email or social media, send each photo and storyline to your family. If connectivity is an issue, present the compiled photo-story to your family when you return from deployment.

Deployments and changing demands around the holidays aren’t the only things that may hamper tradition. Changes to family structure like divorce or loss of a loved one may impact them as well. Doing what you can to adapt traditions in an effort to keep them going can harness the power of healing for both children and adults alike. No matter what challenges your family may face—and no matter the size, age or geographic location(s) of your family—traditions are most impactful when everyone feels committed, is able to contribute and is actively communicating. Taking the time to sit down as a family to discuss changes, emotions and expectations can build Trust, emphasize Meaning, strengthen Relationships, promote Predictability and Controllability; each helping to build resilience this season and for holidays to come.

[1]  “A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?,” Barbara H. Fiese, Thomas J. Tomcho, Michael Douglas, Kimberly Josephs, Scott Poltrock, and Tim Baker; Syracuse University; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 16, No. 4.

Staying Connected While Apart: A Spotlight

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Staying connected to your family during deployment in the Navy can be highly challenging, emotionally draining, and stressful. This is something that Chief Petty Officer Shanna Todd came to understand very quickly.

“As great as deployments can be, it is time lost from your family,” Todd said in a related Navy.mil story.” As a father or mother, it’s extremely hard especially to see the effect that it has on the children.” However, during her 11 years in the Navy and numerous deployments, Todd has created small yet meaningful ways to stay connected to her husband, daughter Marissa (age 9) and son Sylar (age 2). Todd has learned how to make deployments successful for both herself and her family. So much so that she is even the pre-deployment coordinator aboard assault ship USS Makin Island.

Chief Todd’s perseverance allowed her to not only give 100% of her focus to a job that she loves in service to a country she loves, but lets her also stay involved in her family’s day-to-day lives while overseas so that “they know she is always thinking of them.”

While it is hard to be separated from your children, Todd knows that they are proud of her. She exercises elements of the Principles of Resilience (Predictability, Controllability, Relationships, Trust and Meaning) by reminding herself of her purpose and Meaning as both a mom and a Sailor which helps her be stronger in both roles.

She fostered Relationships she has with her family while overseas by leaving her daughter “little notes that she finds in her lunch box at school. They’re just little encouraging notes that she can read throughout the day and know [her mom is] thinking about her.” And even though upon returning home to her infant son, Todd felt like stranger to him, she overcame this distressing obstacle by placing Trust in the relationship that her maternal bond would persevere, and sure enough her and her son were inseparable within just a few days.

Upon deploying this past September for the entirety of the holiday season, Todd alleviated potential future stress by applying Predictability and buying her children presents months in advance of Christmas that she could feel good about picking out and wrapping herself. She also utilized Controllability by leaving a checklist for her husband, Mark, and mother-in-law, Margie with details of “all the children’s events, important dates and times, and of course a comprehensive list of items which need to be purchased.” Todd could both help support Mark and Margie in parenting her children while deployed and also feel connected to her kid’s daily activities.

Small yet meaningful acts like these “bridge the gap between you and your family back home” Todd explained to first time deploying Sailors, “[your family’s] know that [you’re] going away to go help people who need it, and they know that [you’re] still with them in some sense” too.

Celebrate Friendsgiving

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Traveling to relatives’ houses and gathering around the dinner table to give thanks and celebrate what we’re grateful for is an iconic American tradition. However, while congregating with family to watch the parade, cheer on a football team or cook the turkey can be fun and rewarding, celebrating Thanksgiving can also bring about an increased level of stress and anxiety. Travel costs, such as airfare, gas and possible hotel stays, can be expensive and pile up quickly. Traffic snarls can be stressful and plentiful. Work and leave schedules can be hectic and inflexible. This year, AAA has predicted the most Thanksgiving travel since 2007 with almost 49 million Americans expected to travel between November 23rd and November 27th – of which 43.5 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles.

If you are celebrating Thanksgiving apart from loved ones this year – whether due to deployment, temporary duty status, relocation, travel costs, work schedules or other circumstances – you can still enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving by celebrating “Friendsgiving.” Friendsgiving is a celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday among friends, and can fill a void for those unable to spend the holiday with family. Celebrating Friendsgiving can also help de-stress the Thanksgiving holiday and promote relaxation while still reaping the benefits of shared mealtimes. Gathering around the table to enjoy meals with shipmates, friends and/or family helps to foster community and promote connectedness and belongingness—protective factors against suicide and the negative effects of stress.

Whether it’s your first or fifteenth year spending the holiday with friends instead of family, here are a few tips to get you started hosting a great Friendsgiving:

  • Plan Ahead. The most celebrated meal of the year shouldn’t also be the most stressful and nerve-racking. Exercise Predictability, one of the Principles of Resilience, by making a plan, and use Controllability to determine what’s most important so that you’re not adding too much to your proverbial plate. Decide what you will provide for the meal and ask shipmates or friends to bring a dish so that you’re each contributing to the meal’s success. Challenge each other to try a new recipe or offer alternatives for those who may not be able to contribute a dish (paper goods, setup and clean-up duty, etc.). Check out some of Guard Your Health’s Class I Recipes for inspiration.
  • Break Tradition to Make Tradition. Let Friendsgiving be the start of a new tradition for you and your shipmates, during the holidays and throughout the year. It’s not just about a meal—you can go around the table and each share something that you’re grateful for, reflect on a positive experience or offer some encouragement for the days ahead. This not only helps to connect with Meaning, but it also helps to reduce stress, anxiety and stay focused on the positive.
  • Play a game. Bring a board game, break out a deck of cards, look up a group game app or play a quick game of football. Play is an important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of adult life. Engaging in play improves relationships, fosters connections with others and fuels emotional well-being.

Know that you are not alone. A national survey found that 42% of 25-34 year olds and 37% of 18 to 24 year olds planned to spend the holiday with friends last year in 2015 and that number is expected to increase. Last year, more than 75,000 Friendsgiving Facebook events  were created in November and mentions of “Friendsgiving” on the money transfer app Venmo doubled. More and more people are holding an annual Friendsgiving for the same reasons many families do Thanksgiving: to maintain relationship bonds amid the hectic pace of the year. It’s about being there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

Seasonal Self-Care for Military Families

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“Sweater weather” is here, but there’s more to the fall season than overhauling your family’s wardrobe by swapping bathing suits and sandals for warm jackets and boots. Though cleaning is typically associated with the spring, the fall season is synonymous with change and is an opportunity to clear out the excess and the negative from our lives, tune-up our engines and start fresh. As you notice the leaves starting to change color, the sun setting earlier and the days getting cooler, take a look at how your family’s schedules and routines may have transformed since the summer months as well. The fall season is a good time to evaluate, adjust or establish self-care strategies for yourself and your family to help everyone keep an even keel leading into the holiday season.

In the post Being There for Others Starts with Being There for Yourself, self-care is described as “your oxygen mask for everyday life and unpredictable moments alike.” It includes tending to basic needs that may sometimes fall by the wayside during busy times, such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. Self-care also includes coping skills and strategies to help you regroup and decompress. Good self-care can be challenge for many and is unique for everyone. Check out these ideas to get your entire family on a path to restoring, revitalizing and recharging your self-care routines this fall:

  1. Give Your Fitness Routine a Facelift. Exercise is an overlooked but important type of self-care. Our daily lives are often dictated by schedules and sometimes run on auto-pilot. When things pop up and throw us off course, workout time may be the first thing to go. But exercising isn’t merely a tool to promote physical health or just another item on the to-do list. Your workout can also serve as a daily escape from routine and challenges. If you can’t make it to the gym to take your usual run on the treadmill, move your run outdoors to enjoy the fall foliage, cooler temperatures and convenience that nature has to offer. While building your workout into your regular routine is ideal, switching it up will help you meet your goals without causing your fitness gains to plateau or your schedule to spin out of control. Whether you get in 30 minutes of cardio at the gym or on the trail, you’re still caring for your mental and physical strength. Check out other workouts you can try here.
  1. Make Good Zzz’s a Priority. As we adjust to winding the clocks back an hour, make an effort to help your family build better sleep habits. Creating a sleep-ready environment, following a consistent and relaxing sleep ritual, and avoiding stimulants before bedtime (such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine) are all examples of healthy sleep habits that you and your family can incorporate into your self-care practices. A good night’s sleep is so vital, that even slight deprivation beyond the recommended seven to nine hours can negatively affect performance, memory, mood, judgment and healthy stress navigation. In fact, research demonstrates that after only one day without sleep, even young, healthy service members lose 25 percent of their ability to think clearly [1]. For more sleep tips, check out Human Performance Resource Center’s Sleep Optimization section for strategies, apps, assessments and tools.
  1. Make Time for Play Time. Even though it is sometimes dismissed as unproductive, “recess” is just as essential for adults as it is for kids. Play is important for many aspects of our lives, boosting creativity, improving relationships and connection with others, fostering problem-solving skills, improving brain function and fueling emotional well-being. Rather than adding to your sensory overload from electronic gadgets, find unstructured activities that allow you to unplug while having fun and enjoying yourself. Fall provides the perfect backdrop for investing in some play time. Carve or paint a pumpkin with friends or family, jump in a pile of leaves, go apple-picking, attend a local fall festival, or go hiking.
  1. Practice Gratitude. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to share what you’re thankful for; start now to cultivate an attitude of gratitude throughout the year. New Small ACT Selfie signs with a seasonal twist are now available, providing you and your family with the opportunity to jot down what you’re grateful for, take a photo with the sign, and submit to navysuicideprevention@gmail.com for publishing in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery on Flickr and Facebook. To keep the practice going, create a gratitude jar and place it in a high-traffic area in your home with small strips of paper and a pen or pencil nearby. Encourage everyone to write down one or two things for which they’re grateful and take a moment to reflect on what life would look like without those things. Whenever challenges arise or anyone needs a motivational boost, pull a strip from the jar.

The onset of the holiday season often sneaks up on us, placing increased demands on our time, wallets and relationships, as well as our physical and emotional health. This year, don’t let taking care of yourself fall by the wayside; make it a priority for your entire family so that you can each find simple and healthy ways to navigate stress, restore a sense of Controllability and enjoy all that the season has to offer. Practicing healthy self-care habits is one way to be there for yourself, your family and Every Sailor, Every Day.

Every Sailor, Every Day Starts with YOU

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September is Navy Suicide Prevention Month. The 21st Century Sailor Office’s Suicide Prevention Branch, OPNAV N171, has the resources you need to get ACTively involved in supporting yourself and others this month and throughout the year. 1 Small ACT will remain the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s primary message, encouraging simple actions that can make differences in others’ lives while leveraging relationships between peers and community members.

Every Sailor, Every Day doesn’t just apply to those in uniform. Research indicates that immediate family members are more likely to notice behavioral changes and stress reactions in Sailors, including those that may be less obvious to peers and leaders. No matter how minor the stress reaction may seem, ACT (Ask, Care, Treat) and start the conversation with your Sailor early to open the door for proactive intervention and support. 1 Small ACT—being there to listen, encouraging use of professional resources, and promoting health and safety at home—can lead to one big step in the right direction.

One of the many reasons service members may not seek help for mental health concerns is fear that doing so will jeopardize their clearance eligibility and careers. You can help spread the truth. Emphasize that less than one percent of security clearance denials and revocations involve psychological health concerns. In fact, seeking help to promote personal wellness and recovery may favorably impact a person’s security clearance eligibility. Remember, counseling and treatment for adjustments related to military service in a combat environment, marital or family concerns (unrelated to violence committed by the service member), grief, and sexual assault victimization do not need to be reported when answering Question 21 on the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (SF 86). Seeking help is a sign of strength and help exists in many forms, including Fleet and Family Support Centers, the Military Crisis Line, Military One Source and Navy chaplains. Navy chaplains offer 100% confidential support and cannot be compelled by the command, medical professionals or others to disclose what a service member or family member shares in confidence.

During day-to-day conversation, make stress and psychological health an active part of your family’s dialogue. When possible, enjoy a meal together as a family without distraction. Mealtime is an opportunity to bond and engage with loved ones by sharing experiences, offering support and improving communication. Research indicates that sharing meals as a family benefits emotional health and connectedness, and is linked with decreased risk-taking and destructive behavior. Another way to promote health and safety at home is to ensure that privately-owned firearms are stored unloaded, in a locked safe or cabinet and secured with a gunlock. These simple steps can not only help prevent injury among children in the household, but are proven ways to prevent suicide when loved ones are experiencing stress and psychological health concerns, placing them at increased risk.

While suicide prevention is an ongoing effort, this month’s observance is the perfect time to encourage your family to take care of themselves and each other during calm and rough seas. You can set an example by participating in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery on our Navy Operational Stress Control Page (www.facebook.com/navstress). Download the new “Small ACT Selfie” sign from www.suicide.navy.mil, personalize it with an example of a small act that you and/or your family can take to make a difference, snap a photo with you and/or your family holding the sign, and email it to us at navysuicideprevention@gmail.com for uploading in the gallery. Like us on Facebook to share your photo—and all of our resources—with your friends and family.

For more resources to navigate stress as a family and be there for every Sailor, every day, bookmark Navy Suicide Prevention’s webpage, subscribe to our blog, like us on and follow us on Twitter.

1 Small ACT can save a life. It starts with you.