Category Archives: self-care

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.

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.”

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.

Being There for Others Starts with Being There for Yourself

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150920-N-CH038 ARABIAN GULF (Sept. 20 2015) Sailors participate in a sunrise yoga class on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) as a part of Suicide Prevention Month.

How many times have you heard a version of the following precaution when preparing for takeoff on a commercial flight?

“In the event that cabin pressure should change, oxygen masks will deploy from the overhead panel….Secure your mask before assisting others.”

This statement can be practically applied in daily life, where seemingly predictable routines can be suddenly interrupted by turbulence or a change in course. Those unpredictable moments can test your capacity to maintain balance, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. That’s why it’s important to build Small ACTs of self-care into your regular routine, enabling you to optimize your health from the inside out while strengthening your abilities to help yourself navigate challenges, and be there for others.

Think of self-care as your oxygen mask for everyday life and unpredictable moments alike. It includes basic activities (that are sometimes taken for granted) such as eating a balanced diet, attending to medical concerns, getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly. Self-care also includes activities and strategies that can promote emotional well-being and build coping skills. Your individual needs are likely different than those of your shipmates, family or friends and it may take some open-mindedness to determine which self-care practices work best for you. Here are a few Small ACTs of self-care you can try:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each week, take a few moments to reflect and write down three to five things that you are grateful for. Focus more on quality rather than quantity, elaborating on how a person, event or thing has made a difference in your life. The University of California Berkeley’s “Greater Good Project” has a myriad of resources to help you reap the benefits of giving thanks—which include better sleep, improved relationships and reduced symptoms of physical and psychological illness—here.
  2. Set boundaries. Before you reach the point of feeling overloaded with mission demands, family responsibilities and social commitments, consider what you may be able to take off of your plate. Be honest with yourself about what you can reasonably tackle and what’s most important. If you are able to say no to doing a last-minute favor or task in order to give yourself time to focus on immediate priorities, give yourself permission to do so without feeling guilt or regret. You can always help by identifying and directly expressing confidence in another person who has the capability and bandwidth to support the request.
  3. Check in with yourself. Try setting a daily reminder to take a “mindfulness break,” helping you focus on the present by non-judgmentally tuning into your breath, body and thoughts. To get started, sit in an upright position with your eyes closed or open, and bring your attention to each inhale and exhale. Whenever the mind wanders, acknowledge your thoughts and then bring your focus back to your breath. If it helps to have a timer, set it for two minutes for your first try and see if you can work your way up from there. You can also download the T2 Mindfulness Coach to guide you through meditations and track your progress. Mindfulness practices can help you reset and relax, boost your attention span, improve memory function and promote feelings of well-being [1]. For additional information on the benefits of mindfulness, check out this article from the Real Warriors Campaign.
  4. Push pause before you fast forward. After a rough day, your initial inclination may be to vent to the first person who will listen (or sound-off on your social media platform of choice). But while venting in the moment may feel good temporarily, it can reinforce negative thoughts and reactions to stress—especially if the person you’re venting to piles on a story of his or her own. Instead, take a moment to pause, rewind and process your emotions, making an effort to avoid jumping to conclusions and overgeneralizations. Think about what tools and skills you have to navigate the challenge you’re facing and how you may be able to grow from the situation. Then reach out to a trusted shipmate, friend, mentor or family member whom you know to be a good listener and positive thinker. He or she may be able to help you see your challenge from a different perspective, offer hope and help you choose a healthy way to overcome it. Aim to keep in touch with that person regularly to foster connection so that you’re not waiting until “it hits the fan” to talk about your stress. Speak with a professional resource like a Deployed Resilience Counselor, Fleet & Family Support Center counselor, Peer-to-Peer counselor, chaplain or medical provider for added support, before and especially if your stress worsens.

Similar to securing your oxygen mask first, practicing self-care isn’t an act of selfishness. Taking care of yourself emotionally and finding strategies to lessen the negative effects of stress can not only improve both your personal and professional relationships, but can boost your abilities to be there for others and make a positive contribution to your team. Every Sailor, Every Day starts with YOU.

For additional self-care tips for Sailors and families, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

[1] Money, N., MD, MPH, ABIHM, Moore, M., PhD, Bates, M., PhD, & Brown, D., PhD. (2011, June). Mind-Body Skills for Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System (Rep.). Retrieved August 28, 2016

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.