Category Archives: Resilience

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.

Celebrate Friendsgiving

Marines, Sailors gather for Thanksgiving feast

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.

Mind Over Mood: Six Ways to Think Positively

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Positive thinking can improve your mood and help you keep stress in check. Here are six ways you can turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts:

  1. Don’t Overgeneralize. Overgeneralization is the belief that because something happened once it will happen again.
  • You have trouble sleeping this week and think “I will never get a good night’s sleep.” Instead, replace never with more accurate words such as sometimes or occasionally.
  1. Manage your Mental Filter. Using a mental filter means focusing on the negative details of a situation and ignoring the positive aspects.
  • Your children say they love you but wish you would not yell so often and you think “I am a terrible parent.” Instead, challenge yourself to use a calm, positive tone in the future.
  1. Avoid Jumping to Conclusions. Jumping to conclusions is quickly making assumptions without all the facts.
  • A friend has not returned your phone call and you think “I must have done something to anger him.” Instead, allow yourself time to rethink what may have happened and check in with him again.
  1. Beware of Magnification. Magnification is blowing negative situations out of proportion.
  • Your boss points out an area where you can improve and you think “I am awful at my job.” Instead, choose not to let a small mistake overshadow your accomplishments.
  1. Drop the Labels.Labeling is attaching a general label to yourself or others based on a limited amount of information.
  • You forget about a doctor’s appointment you scheduled and you think “I am an idiot.” Instead, remind yourself that you only missed one appointment and come up with a reminder system for the future.
  1. Relieve yourself of Blame.Blaming is holding yourself responsible for an act you did not do or placing your pain onto others.
  • You and your spouse get in an argument and you think “It’s all your fault. You always make me angry.” Instead, use your energy to solve problems together instead of placing blame.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Support

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of counseling used to help you understand and change the way you think and behave. Try the following strategies on your own to increase your positive thinking:

  • Identify Your Negative Thoughts. Write them down and determine which forms of negative thinking you use often. Use the above examples to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Examine the Evidence. Ask yourself if your negative thoughts are actually true. List the evidence that supports and goes against your thoughts. Come up with a more balanced thought that takes all the evidence into consideration.
  • Show Yourself Compassion. Avoid putting yourself down. Treat yourself in the same kind way you would treat a friend.

The way you choose to think about an event in your life can influence how you feel and act. Challenge yourself to recognize and change negative thoughts as a way to improve your mood and behavior.

This article was contributed by the Real Warriors Campaign and can be viewed in its original form at www.realwarriors.net/veterans/treatment/positivethinking.php.

Five Small ACTs to Strengthen your Mental Health

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Promoting mental health involves a combination of strategies supporting psychological, emotional and social well-being. While mental health is often discussed in relation to mental illness, it is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.” [1]

In honor of Mental Health Month (May), try incorporating these five small ACTs into your daily routine to build strength from the inside out:

  1. Practice self-care.
    Whether you’re navigating life’s daily stressors or are working through ongoing challenges, self-care is an important mental health tool. Journal writing is a self-care technique that can help you relieve stress, find meaning during adversity, and process thoughts and emotions in a healthy manner. To build this habit, seek a quiet place and aim to write for a few minutes at the same time each day (set a reminder on your smart phone if you need a nudge). Pick a format that’s most accessible and comfortable for you, such as a notebook or computer. If you’re ready to go but feel a bit of writer’s block coming on, try starting with phrases like “I am most grateful for…” or “I believe in myself because…” to get you going. Our partners at the Real Warriors Campaign have more tips on journaling and other self-care tools, such as practicing mindfulness.
  1. Fuel with nature’s best.
    When it comes to optimizing physical or mental health, the benefits of drinking water are a “no-brainer.” Moderate dehydration can elevate cortisol levels (one of the body’s fight or flight hormones) leading to feelings of anxiousness and stress. Just a two percent decrease in weight due to fluid loss has been shown to impair both mental and physical performance, including memory function [2]. The Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System recommends drinking at least 0.5 to one fluid ounce of water per pound of body weight daily to promote physical and mental performance. Be sure to pair your H2O with nutrient-packed fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Research shows that people with diets high in whole foods have a lower risk of depression than those who consume mostly processed food [3]. For more tips on fueling with your physical and mental health in mind, click here.
  1. Maintain a physical fitness regimen that you enjoy.
    What can you do to improve your mood, get better sleep, increase endurance, navigate stress, boost energy and stay mission (and PFA) ready? Exercise. Physical activity has been proven to do all of the above, in addition to potentially reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boosting cognitive function [4]. Round up a few shipmates and go for a run around the flight-deck, try a group fitness class on your installation, sweat it out on the yoga mat or get fit with interval training. The objective is to find a physical activity you enjoy that strengthens your body and mind! Aim for a minimum of two hours and thirty minutes of moderate physical activity per week, strength training all major muscle groups. Short on time or space? Try this workout.
  1. Have a plan to navigate stress—and put it in ACTion.
    Challenges are inevitable, and sometimes determining where you can turn for help can be a challenge in itself. A Stress Navigation Plan can help you identify your physical, emotional and social reactions to stress; note helpful coping strategies; and determine who and where your resources are before you need them. Your plan is a reminder that no matter the situation, you don’t have to navigate it alone. Personalize your Stress Navigation Plan today and keep it in a safe, easily accessible place. Key resources such as the Military Crisis Line, Military OneSource and Navy Chaplain Care are already populated in the plan for your convenience.
  2. Practice kindness, 1 Small ACT at a time.
    Performing a kind act stimulates “emotional warmth,” which promotes release of oxytocin in the brain [5]. Whether you volunteer to be an on-call designated driver for your shipmates, tell a loved one how much they mean to you, or simply hold the door for someone, you’re contributing to your own feelings of connectedness, purpose and belonging. These are important aspects of social and emotional well-being that build mental health. 1 Small ACT not only makes a difference to others—it makes a difference to you.

While you’re working these small ACTs into your daily routine, don’t forget to find the funny in life. Laughter can help thwart the release of stress hormones, trigger production of feel-good hormones and promote relaxation. Just don’t take it as far as Jonesy (pictured above, courtesy Julie Negron)!

For more small ACTs to strengthen your mental health this month and throughout the year, follow Operational Stress Control on Facebook and Twitter at @NavStress.

 References:

[1] Mental Health Basics. (2013). Retrieved April 2, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics.htm

[2] Department of the Navy, Morale, Welfare and Recreation. (n.d.). Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System. Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://www.navyfitness.org/_uploads/docs/NOFFS_Nutrition.pdf

[3] Akbaraly, T. N., Brunner, E. J., Ferrie, J. E., Marmot, M. G., Kivimaki, M., & Singh-Manoux, A. (2009). Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 195(5), 408-413. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.108.058925

[4] Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106.

[5] Acts of Kindness can make you Happier. Retrieved March 01, 2016 from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/new/articles/2013/01/24/acts-of-kindness-can-make-you-happier

Relationship Goals: Using the Principles of Resilience to Jumpstart Connections with Others

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The overuse of emojis, prevalence of heart-shaped chocolates and presence of sentimental greeting cards are just a few things that have come to symbolize the month of February, leading up to Valentine’s Day. While relationships are a big focus this month, they play an invaluable role in our lives 365 days a year and are one of the Principles of Resilience. All of our connections with others—from romantic and family relationships, to friendships and professional interactions—can shape our outlook, feelings of belongingness and ability to navigate stress. To keep your relationships strong and promote cohesion in your unit, family or community, consider these tips:

  • Be a good listener. Relationships are built on a foundation of trust and support. Mutual understanding is important and can only be achieved through active listening. This is especially important during conflict resolution, when the listener is likely to be formulating a response rather than hearing what the speaker is saying. Whether you’re a leader speaking with a Sailor who has concerns about mission resource or are engaged in a debate with your spouse at home, focus your attention first on what the speaker is saying to you. Then, repeat what you think they’ve expressed in your own words. This opens the dialogue and allows the speaker to determine whether or not he or she feels understood by you (the listener), allowing for further explanation, minimizing emotionally charged responses and promoting understanding. Check out the Human Performance Resource Center’s tips on active listening for more.
  • Stay connected, even when apart. “Make new friends and keep the old” may be a nursery rhyme, but preserving relationships should be a priority no matter how old you are or how far you go. If your buddy transfers to a new command, make an effort to regularly reach out to him or her throughout the transition phase and maintain that frequency in the future. It can be tough arriving to a new duty station, so a reminder that he or she still has friends in their corner can brighten rough days by preserving a sense of belonging. You can also strengthen your family and romantic relationships while navigating the separations that accompany Navy life, such as long deployments. Start a book club with your partner and/or children, where you each read the same book and schedule time to “discuss” it through email or social media. Just pulled into a scenic port? Grab a photo of your loved one and snap a picture of it in a cool setting so that you can all “experience” the place together. Explore ways to stay involved in daily life as well, such as video chat sessions to help your children with homework or a virtual date with your spouse or partner. Find more tips on connecting during deployment here.
  • Communicate through the good and the bad. There is always an opportunity to maintain a positive tone in the toughest of conversations. When a shipmate does a good job, be sure to offer specific praise explaining what he or she did well and how that can contribute to mission success. Acknowledging successes, big or small, can be motivating, builds cohesion and fosters trust. Conversely, when there is room for improvement in the workplace or at home, offer direct yet constructive feedback to help steer things in the right direction. Outright criticism can breakdown communication and result in diminished quality of the task at hand, as well as your relationship. Working with your partner or shipmate to set clear expectations together can minimize the need for uncomfortable conversations down the line.

Take the time to invest in your relationships. Lean on your shipmates for support, schedule time to speak with your leaders and confide in your family members. Having a strong support network can help you stay grounded and carry you through life’s challenges. Nurturing your relationships is 1 Small ACT that can you can do to help take the stress out of what’s coming next.

Additional Resources