Category Archives: Psychological Fitness

Fleet Feature: “Yoga for the Mind, Body and Soul”

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To read “Yoga for the Mind, Body and Soul” in its original form and learn more about Senior Chief Terrish Bilbrey, click here.

In today’s competitive, fast-paced Navy environment, tending to your own basic needs can sometimes take a backseat to getting the job done and getting ahead. Reactions to stress can take various forms, and when left unchecked or unacknowledged, they can take a toll on emotional and physical health.  This is something that one Sailor attached to aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) learned firsthand. Senior Chief Terrish Bilbrey, Operations Department Leading Chief Petty Officer, recently shared how one self-care practice helped her make positive changes in her life and pay it forward.

“I came into the Navy with this really badass attitude” Bilbrey said in a related John C. Stennis (CVN 74) blog post. She served 10 straight years of sea duty, during which time her career flourished. She was selected for Sailor of the Quarter twice in one year, as well as Pacific Fleet Sailor of the Year. She advanced to chief on her first try. Yet difficulties in Bilbrey’s personal life, in combination with a childhood that led her to seek achievements to validate her self-worth, began weighing on her.  Without an outlet, the stress and her need to succeed began to lead her to make destructive decisions.

After some lows, Bilbrey described what led to a turning point in her life: yoga. Though she already led an active lifestyle, she turned to this self-care practice to help her regroup, decompress, and self-reflect. “I started to realize that I would have these sensations of forgiveness and I would start to let go of some feelings and anger and all of those things that I held inside,” she shared. Bilbrey learned to view challenges as inspiration, asking herself what she can learn from them rather than allowing the presence of challenges to negatively influence her.

Eventually, Senior Chief Bilbrey went on to pursue her yoga teaching certificate while stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to share with her shipmates all of the positive impacts that the practice continues to have on her life. She currently teaches yoga classes to her Stennis shipmates with a goal of helping them understand that they are perfect the way they are. “I don’t want anyone else to feel that they are not worthy because that is the way I felt for 30 years of my life,” Bilbrey says. Yoga has brought Bilbrey a new sense of clarity and purpose for her own life. Beyond her current teaching, she hopes to build upon what she’s started by helping others realize their potential through mindfulness and lifestyle changes.

Good self-care can be challenging to adopt or maintain, often due to demands on time, energy or putting others needs before your own. As this New Year begins, find an accessible personal practice that you can work into your routine to help you recharge both physically and emotionally. Whether it be yoga, running, journaling, or connecting with spirituality, your commitment to yourself not only benefits you—it enables you to be there for others, stay present during challenges and stay mission-ready. Bilbrey chose yoga, and now she believes that “we have the ability to design our life, the ability to take whatever it is you dream of… and make anything happen in your life.”

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.

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!