Category Archives: Self-Care

Making the Most of Your Summer Meals

One piece of nutrition advice that may never go out of style? Eat more fruits and vegetables. Although Americans need 2-4 servings of fruits and 3-4 servings of vegetables daily, many individuals face challenges in meeting these goals. Adding more of these low-calorie and nutrient-dense items to your diet results in several health benefits. Fruits and vegetables often have high-levels of fiber. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) mentions the amount of high-level fiber fruits and vegetables contain. Adding these to your diet can help an individual maintain a healthy weight due to their naturally low in calorie and high fiber content. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), increasing your fruit and vegetable intake can help reduce the risks of chronic diseases and certain types of cancers. Studies have shown how eating healthier helps boost your mood and increase your immunity levels, which may help provide protection against disease to include COVID-19.

In the summertime, many different (and delicious) fruits and vegetables are in season. Several fruits and vegetables hold water and are a great source of additional hydration when temperatures continue to rise. From strawberries to bananas to corn to carrots, adding these colorful ingredients to your plate or next dish is an easy way to help balance your diet and feel healthier. Eating nutritious options is a form of self-care.

Here are a few fun ideas for incorporating more fruits and vegetables in your diet this season:

Try something new. Never tried beets, okra, plums or tomatillos? There’s no way of knowing you won’t like the taste of something until you try it. The USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide highlights what’s in season throughout the year. Try making a habit of trying a few new fruits and vegetables each season to expand your palette.

Channel your inner gardener. If your living space allows for a garden, consider growing your own produce. Gardening is a an easy way for anyone to unwind, get some sunshine and feel connected to a project. Invite your family or other household members to join you to make growing your garden a collective goal. If you’re just getting started, you can visit a local nursery or home and garden shop for starter plants.

Shop local. Shopping at a farmer’s market or farm stand in your area helps supports local business and is a quick way to add more color to your plate. Use the USDA’s Farmers Market Directory to find opportunities for fresh fruit and vegetables in or around your community. Consider inviting a friend or family member to go with you and then make a meal together.

Transform the ingredients. If you aren’t the biggest fan of some raw fruits and vegetables, review different recipes that call for creativity. Instead of munching on an apple as-is, consider making baked apple chips. Cauliflower is a great substitute for pizza crust and tater tots. Stock up on different spices, seasonings, dressing and marinades you like you like to use to make cooking different fruits and vegetables efficient.

For more ideas, visit the following resources:

  • 5 Ways Series (USDA Choose My Plate): outlines five different ways to use different ingredients, including canned pears, frozen broccoli and berries; the USDA Start Simple with MyPlate mobile application is also a useful tool in helping you shape your nutritional habits  application also helps notify you when you have not had all of your fruits and vegetables for the day
  • How to Eat More Fruit and Vegetables (American Heart Association): discusses quick ways to include fruits and vegetables across each meal 
  • Health Promotion & Wellness Interactive Map (Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center): offers a map-based tool where individuals can type in an address and see nearby resources including farmer’s markets, recreational clubs and more
  • Healthy Eating Tips (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): provides information about general considerations for nutrition, including how to reduce your sodium intake and eat healthy fats
  • How to Eat Healthy (U.S. Health and Human Services): includes ways to add fruit and vegetables to your lunches for your loved ones and prepare healthy snacks 

5 Ideas to Boost Your Mental Resilience

Conversations around psychological, mental and emotional health are evolving. While stigma still exists in some communities when it comes to discussing mental health, we all play a role in reducing these barriers. Starting open discussions with yourself and others about your thoughts and emotions is important during the COVID-19 crisis and can help make you more resilient.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and resulted in approximately 48,000 deaths in 2018. However, suicide is preventable. Talking openly about suicide without fear or shame is helpful and encourages help-seeking behavior and effective intervention.

While individuals of all backgrounds and identities may grapple with addressing or improving their mental health, men are featured as a potentially  vulnerable group due to their lower instances of help-seeking behavior. Men die at a higher rate by suicide than women.  One study notes: “too often many men do not talk about feeling down, sad, or depressed, and might not mention emotional or behavioral difficulties at all … although asking for help is difficult for many people, it is well documented that men tend to be reluctant to seek help in various contexts, including help for mental health concerns.”

Since June is Men’s Health Month, we want to highlight opportunities to support men – and everyone – in increasing their mental immunity:

Get enough sleep and rest. Sleep helps us process our experiences and recharge our mind and bodies for what’s ahead. Review common myths around sleep and ways to improve your sleep habits from Real Warriors. It’s okay to feel tired and to take time to rest. Pausing on a task or something you are working on is not a sign of giving up. Although it may seem like there are not enough hours in the day, taking short, 15-minute microbreaks may help you feel more focused and energized.

Grow and nurture your support network. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center outlines how “positive and supportive social relationships and community connections can help buffer the effects of risk factors in people’s lives.” Asking for help is a sign of strength, and building strong social ties leads to a happier and more fulfilled life. Instead of worrying about something, talk it out with a trusted friend or family member. Leaning on others when you need support does not detract from your personal strength – it just helps grow it.

Prioritize self-care. Self-care isn’t limited to cucumber face masks – it means different things to everyone and can be viewed through the lens of several health aspects. Self-care can be physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual or social, whether that means taking time to go for a relaxing bike ride, journaling your thoughts or reading a great book. Learn more about opportunities for self-care from the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s fact sheet on Psychological Toughness.

Role model positive behaviors and actions. Once you’ve developed a few healthy habits or found things that help you unwind, share them with others. Finding opportunities to informally mentor or provide advice to others may help you feel more refreshed. It’s okay to not have all of the answers and to ask questions.

Stay open to change. Several things in life look different over time, and we’re often faced with periods of uncertainty. You may not be able to control every aspect of your life, but you can control your response. Recognize and reflect on the good parts of the day and feel empowered to address adversity by responding more mindfully. When a stressful event occurs, take a moment to stop, regroup and ask yourself how you choose to respond. Focusing on putting energy into what you can control instead of putting energy to things outside of your control can help you feel more grounded.

If you or someone in your network is having a hard time, connect with resources that can help, like the Military Crisis Line. Call 24/7: 1-800-273-8255, press 1, text 838255 or chat.

Words Matter: Power of Caring

Caring Cards FB 5 FINAL (002)While it may be easy to notice that a fellow shipmate or loved one isn’t acting like themselves, it may be hard to know what you can do to respond. Sometimes, all it may take to bolster someone’s outlook is a simple gesture. Whether you send a quick text or a message on social media to a friend on deployment or send a handwritten letter to a family member that lives in a different state, offering simple words of support and concern can have a positive impact on a loved one’s psychological health.

The Navy’s Suicide Prevention Program’s Every Sailor, Every Day campaign (ESED) empowers Sailors to reach out to their shipmates and ACT (Ask, Care, Treat) if they notice something out of the norm. One critical element of ACT is “Care,” which means to listen without judgment and with empathy. Gestures of “Care” do not need to be big – 1 Small ACT can make a difference and save a life.

To coincide with National Mental Health Month in May and address mental health concerns around COVID-19, the ESED campaign created “Caring Connections,” an initiative encouraging Sailors and the Navy community to actively reach out to peers, shipmates, friends, family members and their loved ones to facilitate connectedness. Several postcard-style templates can be accessed on the NavStress Facebook and Twitter. Download and share all graphics on Flickr. Use these as templates and feel free to write your own message on them for added personalization.

Caring Cards Screenshot 2For those potentially at risk for suicide, several studies have shown that regularly sharing caring words and messages can help individuals feel more connected. Protective factors against suicide include: sense of community and belonging, strong connections with family and friends, sense of purpose and personal fulfillment and contribution or responsibility to others.

To reflect on your own capacity for empathy and how you can strengthen you support to others, take this Empathy Quiz from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

For inspiration on how to curate caring messages for others, review the Caring Contacts toolkit from NowMattersNow.org.

For more resources to consider for Mental Health Month, visit the following links for actionable ideas:

If you’d like more information for Mental Health Month, check out the following organizations:

Self-Care for Those Supporting Others

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If you’ve ever provided support to a loved one when they are facing a crisis, challenge, traumatic or stressful event, you may know how difficult it can be to maintain your own emotional and mental health. While practicing self-care is important throughout life’s ups and downs, it is especially critical to remember when supporting others during trying times. Whether you’re helping a friend that has a mental health challenge or a family member dealing with substance misuse, maintaining your self-care plan is critical to ensuring your own well-being.

Although it may feel selfish or unwarranted to practice personal self-care when a loved one is facing challenges, continuing to make healthy choices will ultimately empower you to better take care of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights how “taking care of your emotional health during an emergency will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family. Self-care during an emergency will help your long-term healing.”

Here are a few ways to take care of yourself when supporting a loved one:

Stay close to your routine. A huge part of self-care is upholding your established schedule. Eat healthy meals, get a full night of sleep and exercise when you can. Focus on work and family responsibilities one task at a time.

Talk to someone. Tap in to your own support network to bolster your relationship health when caring for others. The National Institutes of Health’s Social Wellness Toolkit offers several checklists for how to build healthy relationships during a variety of situations. Even though it may feel uncomfortable to ask for individual help while a loved one is suffering, connecting with others will help you stay sharp and motivated. Go to an event, plan a meal with family or video chat with a trusted friend.

Let go of negative feelings. If you have decision-making power over a loved one’s stressful or traumatic event, try to reframe your perspective in order to protect your own health. Caregiver.org recommends the following: “Change ‘guilt’ to ‘regret.’ Guilt is you did something wrong, regret is that you are in a difficult situation and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, but they are not wrong.” Keep in mind that the situation your loved one is facing is likely temporary. Recognizing small positive moments on a daily basis is also a useful way to maintain a more resilient headspace.

Dedicate time for full-on relaxation. You may feel like you’re tied to your phone to receive the latest updates on a loved one’s challenges, and then even more pressure to relay updates to other friends and family. When your attention is concentrated on helping someone, allot specific times to put your digital devices away and redirect your focus to a relaxing activity. Consider journaling, reading a book, going for a walk or doing a deep breathing exercise to meditate. Try to take regular breaks, even if you can only step away for a few minutes throughout the day to unwind.

Remove the noise. Consider unsubscribing to social media and email push notifications on your phone to allow for more space to focus on what’s most important to you. Reducing the amount of unnecessary information coming your way may help you feel less overwhelmed when supporting a loved one. Pressing pause on your news consumption can also help you clear your mind. Minimize any pressure you may be putting on yourself to respond quickly to outside friends and family that may not know what you or your loved one is going through.

Understand your role and its limits. As much as you may think that caring for or supporting your loved one falls on your shoulders, you will likely not be able to solve all of their problems alone. Ask people in your support network for resources and nudge your loved one to consider meeting with a mental health specialist or other relevant medical provider if necessary. Setting boundaries and fostering a wider support network for your friend or family member will help you navigate your own stressors and create some potentially needed distance from the situation.

For a full list of mental health hotlines and other resources, review this article.

Tips for Staying Positive during Uncertain Times

Relaxed adult man breathing fresh air in a forestCurrent conversations about COVID-19 are pervasive. Whether you’re talking to your fellow Sailors in-person about the latest updates or connecting with friends and family digitally, concern about the impact of COVID-19 remains widespread across the globe. Uncertainty and ambiguous situations can often produce negative emotions, but there are many healthy ways to cope.

If you are finding yourself with limited mobility or feeling a heightened sense of stress, you are not alone. Consider these activities and related NavyNavStress blog posts for improving your health and well-being:

Reach out to your support network. Since social distancing continues to be recommended by federal public health professionals, it is important to determine new and creative ways to connect with your loved ones. Consider setting up regular times to video chat with your friends, plan virtual dinner dates with your long-distance partner or organize a digital happy hour with your friends or colleagues. You can also do a workout routine with a shipmate over a video chat and send funny photos or memes to your friends to let them know you care. For more:

Maintain your healthy habits. If your typical work and family routine feels disrupted, remain flexible in upholding your established activities. Go on walks for fresh air and cook meals with your family. Reframe this uncertain time as an opportunity to even develop new practices to improve your well-being. Be kind to yourself and others when adjusting to new schedules. For more:

Practice mindfulness. With the news changing every day, it may feel like you’ve lost a sense of control over your psychological and emotional wellness. Take time to push pause and cultivate gratitude for the little joys in life. Relish in small, positive tasks like reading a book or writing a letter to a loved one. You may have more time to dedicate to activities that fall by the wayside during your normal daily responsibilities. For more:

To learn more about mental health in the time of COVID-19, check out the following posts:

For the latest military-centric updates on COVID-19, visit the following resource hubs:

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