Category Archives: Holidays

Don’t Let Arguments Spoil Your Holiday Meal

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Biting into bad potato salad isn’t the only sign of a spoiled holiday meal. Raised voices, passive-aggression and button-pushing top the list of signs that your family gathering is souring quickly as well. Luckily this year you’ll have a few extra tricks up your sleeve if the know-it-all offers unsolicited parenting advice or the overachiever in the room constantly finds ways to remind everyone that he or she is expecting to make this year’s 100 Most Influential People list…

Check in with yourself first. Emotions tend to run higher during the holidays, especially when we’re feeling more stressed than usual. If upon arriving to a friend or family member’s house you see the person who tends to cause friction no matter the setting, employ Predictability and Controllability by reminding yourself that you can’t control others’ behavior but you can control your reactions. Our friends at the Human Performance Resource Center recommend watching for an edgy tone in your own voice and noting whether you’ve stopped using eye-contact as signs that you’re stress level is rising. Also check in with your breathing patterns, noting whether your breath is getting shallow, or if you’re feeling agitated. Before getting to the point that you’re only focusing on a “come-back” and no longer hearing what that person (or anyone else) is actually saying, remove yourself from the situation by going for a walk, engaging with other people or taking a few deep breaths. In the end, you’ll feel better knowing that you didn’t let the person get the best of you despite their best attempts.

Set some rules for engagement. Maybe you’re thinking about avoiding your traditional gathering altogether this year because you know Cousin Larry will bring up that one subject that really grinds your gears. Or perhaps you’re not looking forward to Aunt Sally prying into your relationship or financial status. Rather than no-showing and breaking tradition (see our last post for a quick breakdown of why tradition is important for connection, meaning and emotional well-being), be honest with yourself up front about what issues will lead to highly-charged conversations. Then come up with a few strategies to defuse these discussions before they head into murky-water. For the personal questions, kindly let the inquirer know that you appreciate him or her looking out for you, but that you’re handling it the best that you can and aren’t seeking any advice at the moment. For the broader issues, keep it simple. Short statements like “I’d rather not discuss [topic] today” can often be the hint others need to change the subject and keep the peace. If highly-charged conversations are a regular occurrence, ask if those topics can be saved until after mealtime so that everyone can enjoy their meal and so that those who don’t want to participate can retreat to a quieter space before the storm erupts.

Be the conversation starter rather than the conversation stopper. This proactive approach can help you lead things in the right direction, especially toward the beginning of your get-together when small talk is big. Share some fun highlights of your recent deployment or assignment, spend a moment reflecting and asking others to share what they’re grateful for, or pick a topic that’s fun to debate (like sports, for example). By spending time engaging in positive and light-hearted conversation, you can strengthen your connection with others and your connection to the true meaning of the season.

Spending time with friends and family during the holidays and throughout the year is important for emotional health, helping to protect against the negative effects of stress. However, when those precious moments have the potential to turn into monumental disasters, starting with a little personal reflection and strategizing can help you keep an even keel. If after considering the above strategies, you’re still uneasy about attending the event in question, it’s alright to give yourself permission to say no to that particular invitation if the environment isn’t going to be healthy for you and say yes to a smaller or safer gathering. Check out additional Strategies for Managing Stress at Events from the Real Warriors Campaign for more ways to help you have a Merry FITmas and healthy New Year.

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.

Small ACTs to Make the Most Out of the Holiday Season

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While the holiday season is full of joy, giving thanks and celebration, the festivities on our social calendars can also be a source of stress or mixed emotion. The holidays are certainly not the only time of year we feel stress, but if normal stress feels like stepping on a gas pedal, the holidays may feel like you have a lead foot. Given the increase in social activities, family demands, financial strain and mixed emotions, it is more important now than ever to take a moment and savor the spirit of the season. Check out some of our favorite small acts to help you keep your days merry and bright:

  • Break Tradition to Make Tradition. Establishing a new holiday tradition with shipmates, friends or family can bring you some comfort and joy this season no matter where or what you’re celebrating. The time that you spend connecting with others can help you find meaning during difficult situations (such as spending the holidays away from loved ones), helping you reduce anxiety and stay focused on the positive. Plan to enjoy a meal with others and go around the table to share something that each of you are grateful for, or reflect on a positive experience from 2016. You could also break out a deck of cards or board game. Even as adults, playtime is an important tool to fuel connections with others and boost emotional well-being.
  • Don’t Dismiss your Emotions. Feeling all of your emotions can be as difficult as it is rewarding, but can allow you to confront what may dampen your outlook or negatively impact your decision-making. Take a moment to identify not only what you’re feeling, but why. Then make a plan for how you will positively deal with these emotions – whether setting aside some time for meditation, journaling or speaking with a provider. To thrive during the holidays even if you’re not into festivities or merriment, allow yourself the time and space to regroup and look for the good around you by noting the positive and appreciating the ordinary.
  • Connect with your Community. Helping others can help you find a renewed sense of purpose and contribution, whether you’re experiencing your own challenges or simply want to pay your good fortune forward. Not only does volunteering at a local shelter, soup kitchen, food bank, toy drive or other community relations project speak to the meaning of the holidays, but lending a helping hand to the community also provides a way for families to get involved in an activity together.
  • Press Pause. Make time for yourself and stick to a routine to help keep the happy in the holidays. Be brave enough to slow down and rediscover perspective. A timeout can be in the form of a walk or giving yourself space to gather your thoughts for an hour. Identify your sources of holiday stress by asking yourself what’s most important. Then discuss expectations with others to help you exercise Controllability and enable you to move forward with confidence and calm.

Keep watch for more tips to help you strengthen your Psychological and Emotional Fitness this season as we celebrate the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas, now through January 3, 2017!

FITmastime is Here!

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The Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas are back just in time for the 2016 holiday season! From now through January 3, 2017 we’ll offer a daily dose of tips, tricks and small acts to keep the happy in the holidays and build resilience into the New Year. Whether you anticipate the holidays or dread them, the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas can help you unwrap new tools to strengthen fitness from the inside out, with a seasonal spin to bring you comfort and joy no matter what challenges you may face.

Each day will focus on navigating holiday stress related to a particular area of Total Sailor Fitness, including physical, psychological, family, behavioral, financial and spiritual fitness.  We’ll address navigating deployments and family separations, simple ways to keep up with your physical training and nutrition to avoid seasonal weight gain (and guilt), facing the stress of attending large gatherings, self-care, connecting with spirituality and more. This 21 day journey represents the 21st Century Sailor Office’s comprehensive programs to help Sailors and families make healthy decisions all year long.

And because the holiday season is about connecting with others, we’ve partnered with our fellow 21st Century Sailor programs, U.S. Navy social media, the Navy Chaplain Corps, Real Warriors Campaign, Guard Your Health, Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center, and the Human Performance Resource Center to bring you the best tips of the season.

To celebrate the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas with us, like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/navstress), follow us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/navstress) and stay tuned right here on NavyNavStress. Tis the season of giving, so don’t forget to encourage those on your gift list to tune in as well. You’ll also find additional tips on our partners’ social media channels.

Looking to start FITmas off right? Spread holiday cheer by contributing to the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery in three easy steps:

  1. Visit http://go.usa.gov/x8qNu to select and print a 1 Small ACT Sign from the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign webpage. Choose from a seasonal gratitude sign to share what you and/or your family are grateful for, or our 1 Small ACT sign to share your commitment to be there for yourself or others.
  2. Personalize your sign and take a photo with you and/or your family holding it.
  3. Submit your photo to navysuicideprevention@gmail.com or upload to Facebook and tag @U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control for inclusion in the gallery on Facebook and Flickr.

What’s on your FITmas list? Join us as we help you, your shipmates and your family find simple ways to stay present this season.

For more information, visit the Every Sailor, Every Day webpage.

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.