Category Archives: self-care

Boost your mental performance with better nutrition

Smoothie bowl with fresh blackberries, blueberries, banana, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia  seeds and coconut

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Human Performance Resource Center. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Human Performance Resource Center. To learn more, visit https://www.hprc-online.org/.

Have you ever felt tired, sluggish, or foggy after eating a big meal? Have you seen how kids (and kids at heart) get hyper or seem like they’re not thinking straight after a candy binge? Then you probably know that what you eat affects how you feel.

In a state of optimal nutritional fitness, what you eat supports healing and your immune system, helps prevent injury, improves energy levels, and allows you to achieve optimal emotional, cognitive, and physical performance. When you eat right, you’re likely to feel more energized, less fatigued, and have better focus, judgment, accuracy, and reaction time. The opposite is true when you fuel your body improperly. Whether you’re at home or deployed, follow these tips to help you to stay alert, focused, and performing at your best.

Mental Performance Nutrition Tips

To achieve nutritional fitness, focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. Read more on the recommended diet for Military Service Members.

  • Boost your intake of magnesium. Magnesium is important to regulate muscle and nerve functions, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It also helps make protein, bone, and DNA. Nearly half of all Americans over age one are deficient in magnesium, and the deficiency is even greater for some gender and age groups. Foods high in magnesium include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), fortified breakfast cereals, milk, and yogurt.
  • Eat plenty of foods high in B vitamins. These nutrients support metabolism, brain development, blood and nerve cell health, DNA production, and the development of serotonin, which impacts mood, memory, and emotions. Foods high in B6 include poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and noncitrus fruits. Foods high in B12 include beef, liver, clams, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy, and fortified breakfast cereals. Foods high in folate include asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, oranges, nuts, beans, peas, and grains. Food is the best source of most vitamins, but supplements can help if you’re unable to eat some of these foods.

“We don’t eat nutrients, we eat food.”

Paul Jacques and Katherine Tucker,
Tufts Human Performance Research Center on Aging

  • Fuel your body consistently. Eat meals regularly to maintain blood glucose (sugar) and muscle glycogen (stored energy) levels throughout the day. Balance meals and snacks with whole grains, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help keep your blood sugar steady. Avoid skipping meals, too much sugar, and imbalanced meals that are mainly refined flours (carbohydrates). Dips and spikes in your blood sugar can make you feel tired, shaky, or less focused. If you skip meals or don’t eat enough, your blood sugar can drop, resulting in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and a decline in performance. Symptoms of low blood sugar include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, weakness, fatigue, sweating, confusion, and fainting. You don’t actually need to have full-blown hypoglycemia to begin feeling these effects.
  • Rethink your meal choices on the night shift. At night, your body’s metabolic processes slow down. Eating at night has been shown to be bad for your health, including an increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infections. But for night-shift workers, it can mean the difference between staying alert—or not—on the job. The right type and amount of foods and beverages can help keep up your blood sugar to stay alert.
  • Get a caffeine boost, but not too much. Caffeine improves alertness, vigilance, attention, and reaction time when taken in small to moderate amounts. Caffeine can also help mental performance in sleep-deprived situations. But dose and timing matter;  refer to Operation Supplement Safety for more information.
  • Drink enough water. Water is the most abundant component of the human body—around 50–70% of your weight—so your body needs fluids regularly to function properly. Performance can start to decline once you’ve lost as little as 2% of your body weight. Even mild to moderate dehydration can reduce alertness and cause fatigue, tension, and difficulty concentrating. Carry a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day. Aim to drink half your body weight in water each day to stay hydrated (e.g. 100 oz if you weigh 200 lbs). And don’t rely on thirst as a good indicator of your fluid needs. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already a little dehydrated.

Bottom Line

Mental performance is just as important as physical performance. Fortunately, proper nutrition can help with both.

Practice Self-Care with Healthy Boundaries

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Trying to keep the happy in people’s holidays and avoid rocking their boats can be demanding and draining to one’s physical, emotional and psychological health. Sometimes you may feel that you must please everyone in your life, even to your own detriment – especially during the season of giving. People-pleasing can come in the form of agreeing to every favor, task or assignment. It could be allowing people to be present in personal space even when preferring to be alone. Or it may be putting up with behaviors that cause feelings of anger, frustration or sadness but never acknowledging offenses to the offender.

These actions may indicate a need to explore the process of setting boundaries. A boundary is the deliberate space that you establish between yourself and someone else. Boundaries define the behaviors, actions and characteristics that are not tolerable within a relationship. It is important to determine what you will and will not accept in all relationships, including those with family, friends or shipmates.

Benefits of Boundaries

Setting boundaries limits unwanted behaviors and treatment from the people in your life. It indicates that while your relationship with others is important to you, you still prioritize your own feelings and emotions. Boundaries can prompt loved ones, friends or fellow Sailors to realize they should also consider your feelings in their interactions with you and respect the limits that you have established.

Remembering that “no” is a complete sentence is essential in the process of setting boundaries. Comfortably saying “no” to unwanted requests or inconsiderate actions tells your family members, friends, romantic partners and fellow Sailors that you are not afraid to advocate for yourself. For family or romantic partners, navigating situations involving household tasks or frequency of communication may require setting boundaries and saying “no.” Social situations involving drinking or unethical actions could arise and require you to be assertive and say “no” to a fellow Sailor. Whatever the situation may be, maintaining boundaries signals to others that you do not feel obligated to accept unwanted actions or requests and promotes healthy relationships with friends, family and shipmates and also with yourself.

Steps for Setting Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries can be a difficult process, but it is a necessary act of self-care that is crucial for psychological well-being and for maintaining integrity in your relationships with others. Here are some tips for setting and maintaining boundaries in your relationships:

  • Understand and acknowledge your values and your feelings. When someone engages in a certain unwanted behavior towards you, take a mental or even written note of what feelings the behavior causes, but do this when you are away from the person. Understanding and centering your own feelings and emotions over those of others is necessary for establishing boundaries. It could also be helpful to have a mentor that can help you navigate your feelings as well.
  • Make your boundaries and consequences clear. Unless you clearly communicate to the people in your life what your boundaries are, they will never know what they are or how to avoid overstepping them. Be assertive and explain the results that would accompany their disregard for your boundaries. Avoid making compromises that may still cause you to feel uncomfortable or upset.
  • Do not feel bad about setting boundaries. Remember that setting boundaries is a necessary part of a comprehensive self-care routine. Maintaining boundaries allows you to focus on your own physical, emotional and psychological health. Just as you may have regular doctor’s appointments that take precedence over other things, your own immediate needs should also come first. Saying “no” to things that may cause you undue stress should not cause guilt, and you do not have to provide an explanation of your feelings. Know your personal worth and expect others to respect you.
  • Know when your boundaries are not being respected and respond accordingly. Explore the actions of those with whom you have established boundaries, and understand your options. If someone oversteps a boundary that you have clearly set, acknowledge it. Explain that you have already communicated your boundary and that you will have to resort to the consequences. Respect your own boundaries in this situation, and do not feel pressured to give multiple chances to someone who has a clear understanding of your boundaries but still refuses to acknowledge them.

Relationships After Setting Boundaries

People may feel hurt when you establish and enforce boundaries because they realize that they will no longer be able to interact with you in ways that are only beneficial to them (and potentially damaging to you). When someone does not respect a boundary you have set, it is a sign that they may also not respect you. For some, the frustration with your boundaries may be temporary, but for others, it could be the tipping point toward the end of your relationship.

The people you should allow in your life are those who respect you and realize that maintaining boundaries is a necessary part of demonstrating that respect and maintaining their relationship with you. No matter what, adhering to your boundaries and refusing to allow negotiation is crucial. That is a part of the process of learning to prioritize and take care of yourself.

Reaching out for Help

Problems in your relationships can be difficult to deal with. If you or a shipmate are dealing with psychological health concerns or issues with a spouse, family member or children, the Fleet and Family Support Program provides support through counseling services. Be sure to follow U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook, on Twitter and our holiday hashtag #HealthyHolidays for ongoing self-care tips throughout the holiday season and into the New Year.

Connect and Learn Online this Suicide Prevention Month

2018 Webinar Blog Photo

Each September during Suicide Prevention Month, Navy Suicide Prevention Branch’s (OPNAV N171) Every Sailor, Every Day (ESED) campaign releases new resources to empower conversations about psychological health, encourage Sailors to recognize risk among their shipmates and themselves, and motivate Small ACTs to prevent suicide. This year, in addition to introducing new educational materials in the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit, ESED will offer learning opportunities for Navy gatekeepers, leaders, command resilience team (CRT) members and families.

Start off 2018 Suicide Prevention Month with Navy Suicide Prevention Branch and Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s (NMCPHC) Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) Department who will be co-hosting a webinar entitled “Your ACTions Could Save a Life: 3 Ways to #BeThere for Every Sailor, Every Day.” Join us September 6, 2018 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT to explore current and emerging best practices in suicide prevention and findings from recent Navy suicide “Deep Dives.” This discussion will equip Navy leaders, health promotion coordinators, suicide prevention coordinators (SPCs), and the gatekeepers who most frequently encounter at-risk Sailors (e.g., legal staff, school house instructors and housing staff) with the tools to:

  • Identify challenges that Sailors may be encountering and recognize risk factors to provide interventions;
  • Cultivate a climate that encourages help-seeking and facilitates connections to needed psychological health resources; and
  • Promote a safe and consistent suicide prevention narrative that utilizes evidence-informed messaging and materials for local engagement.

Register for the webinar by August 31, 2018 at https://survey.max.gov/933674. You must have a Common Access Card (CAC) to register. To learn more, visit the HPW Webinars page or click here to email NMCPHC with any questions that you may have about the webinar.

End the month with U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control’s first Twitter chat; a perfect opportunity to learn more ways to recognize risk and be there for Every Sailor, Every Day. #ACT2PreventSuicide will focus on how to apply and operationalize ACT day-to-day and create discussions on:

  • Recognizing warning signs and risk factors in daily interactions, including those that take place on social media;
  • Tips to start the conversation with someone who may be at risk or displaying warning signs;
  • How and where to reach out for help for yourself or others; and
  • How to fit Small ACTs of self-care into hectic schedules.

The Twitter chat will be hosted by @NavStress on September 27, 2018 at 2 p.m. EDT. It is ideal for all audiences, including Navy family members, SPCs, gatekeepers, military health organizations and others that serve the Navy community. To participate, login to your Twitter account at the above day and time, and search #ACT2PreventSuicide. Include the hashtag in your questions and responses. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to learn more about the webinar and join the conversation on September 27.

Suicide Prevention Month is right around the corner. To get a head start on your command’s local efforts, visit www.suicide.navy.mil > Every Sailor, Every Day > Get Involved. Additional articles and useful tips will be shared throughout the month and upcoming fiscal year on our blog, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Unplugging from Social Media for Psychological Health

Unplugging from social media for psych health blog pic

Human communication and interaction have vastly changed over the past few decades. Twenty years ago, we never would have imagined that we could hold a phone in our hands and see pictures of what our friends are eating at a new restaurant in town or watch live videos of their babies’ first steps. We can only imagine the innovations to look forward to in the next ten years.

We see people scrolling on their smart phones, tapping and sharing photos, videos, and posts made by friends and family on social media platforms. Unfortunately, that scrolling can create feelings of inadequacy when the newsfeed is full of pictures of an old classmate’s new car, videos from a friend’s island vacation or posts about a cousin’s well-paying job. Social comparison is comparing yourself to the people in your social circle. With social networks, it’s much easier to engage in because of the constant barrage of updates from your connections. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy.”

The Effects of Social Comparison

Social comparison can impact self-esteem. A study from the University of Toledo and a study co-conducted by the University of Michigan and University of California, Santa Barbara examined social media use and its effects on self-esteem and psychological health. These studies show that upward social comparison, or comparison to people believed to have more positive qualities, can negatively affect self-esteem, mental health, and body perception.

Social media gives us the opportunity to present ourselves in the way we wish to be perceived. We can choose not to reveal the dozen “bad” selfies that preceded the flawless one. We don’t have to post about that embarrassing thing that happened at work and relive it through others’ reactions. The perfection we see on our social media feed may not be an accurate portrayal of our connections’ overall lives.

Resetting Your Connection with Yourself

While social media helps us stay linked to friends and family, receive updates about their lives, and even get quick access to what’s going on in the news, it can also create negative consequences, especially when those updates cause feelings of inadequacy or if the news is discouraging. Additionally, excessive social media use can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation when we replace real-life human interaction with digital communication. It’s important to find a balance that includes healthy use of social media, maintenance of in-person social connection with family and friends and opportunities to create new relationships.

Taking a break from social media can help improve your psychological health. If you don’t think you can break away from social networks completely, but find that certain connections make you feel drained, these tips can help make your feed become less emotionally exhausting:

  • Take a break from a Facebook friend by unfollowing or using the “snooze” feature, which removes their updates from your feed for 30 days.
  • Facebook’s Messenger app can still be used even if your account is deactivated, so you don’t have to stay on Facebook to communicate with your friends on Messenger.
  • On Twitter, “muting” allows you to continue to follow someone but no longer see their tweets on your timeline.
  • While many people have difficulty navigating Snapchat after its newest update, it may help make it easier to skip the stories that you can’t stand anyway.
  • If the fitness gurus on Instagram make you notice your imperfections instead of motivating you to get in shape, unfollow them.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your settings to hide status updates or your story from anyone who you’d prefer to keep in the dark about of certain aspects of your life.

National Day of Unplugging

If you think you might want to take the plunge into disengaging with social media, try it for just 24 hours on the National Day of Unplugging, from sunset to sunset March 9th through March 10th. Use the day to get in some needed self-care. Meditate, read, go for a walk, enjoy a screen-free lunch with a friend, or get some needed sleep. Screen time, especially around bedtime, can have negative impacts on your sleep cycle, so taking a break can also help you get a better night’s rest.

Unplugging can help improve your psychological health and make you feel better about yourself. Put your social media newsfeeds on pause occasionally, so you can reconnect with yourself, friends and family in more genuine and meaningful ways that can’t be edited or photoshopped.

If you or a shipmate is dealing with psychological health concerns, the BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center offers resources and information 24/7/365 via phone at 844-357-7337 or on their website at http://www.betherepeersupport.org.

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.