Category Archives: Sleep

Seasonal Self-Care for Military Families

Fort Hood Oktoberfest 2014

“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.

Fatigue: “The Big Grey Elephant in the Room”

USS Freedom, LCS-1 swaps crew

As Sailors, sleep can seem like a luxury or low priority relative to mission demands, and surviving off of little to no sleep is often worn like a badge of honor. However, the amount of sleep the body needs doesn’t vary by individual—seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is ideal for all Sailors, according to Naval Postgraduate School’s Crew Endurance website.

The 2011 DoD Health Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Personnel found that less than 50 percent of active duty service members get at least seven hours of sleep per night, increasing risk for a myriad of psychological health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicide risk.

A good night’s sleep is so vital that even slight deprivation can negatively affect performance, memory, mood and judgment, as well as one’s perception of and response to stress. When you’re sleepy, you may feel irritable, lack motivation, or lose patience more quickly, impacting everything from decision-making and impulsivity, to family relationships and operational readiness.

Crew Endurance, developed by Naval Postgraduate School with collaboration from Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program, offers practical tips, research and operational tools for promoting adequate rest. To build your endurance:

  • Aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, preferably at the same time each day. While uninterrupted sleep is ideal, compensating for any sleep deficit with a nap has proven benefits. A twenty-minute nap can help mitigate the effects of extended periods without rest on the mind and body, giving you a power boost. Avoid trying to plow through your day without adequate rest. Going 22 hours without sleep has the same effect on performance as being legally drunk!
  • Avoid large meals and vigorous exercise close to bedtime. Consuming a nutritious and balanced diet is essential for fueling the mind and body, however, eating large meals before bedtime can lead to sleep disturbances. Aim to make your last meal of the day your smallest, and avoid alcohol in the last few hours before bedtime. Similarly, while exercising regularly can lead to stable energy throughout the day, avoid exercising within two to three hours before going to bed. For fitness and nutrition tips, check out Navy Physical Readiness.
  • Use caffeine strategically. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages are best suited for the first part of your shift to promote alertness. However, caffeine, including soft drinks, should be avoided before bedtime. Instead, hydrate with nature’s best: water.

Other tips for promoting optimal rest include blocking light and limiting noise in your sleep environment by using eye masks and ear plugs. It’s also preferable to use bright light in the workspace to aid the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

There are several ways to promote healthy sleep and work patterns at the command level as well, such as the Circadian-Based Watch Schedule, which has been tried by more than a dozen ships around the fleet. A circadian-based watchbill is any schedule which is built around a 24-hour day, with stable sleep periods each day vice those built upon 15, 18 or 20 hour days. In combination with adjusting meal hours, allowing adequate time for physical training and holding most meetings mid-day, Circadian-Based Watch Schedules can promote crew alertness, optimize readiness and enhance command climate.

To learn more about sleep, test your fatigue level or find out how your command can implement a Circadian-based Watch Schedule, visit Crew Endurance at my.nps.edu/web/crewendurance/index.

Getting Ahead of the Post-Holiday Blues

21 Days of TSF PSYCH

Now that the gifts have been opened, loved ones have left, holiday leave is ending and leftovers are gone, you may find that the happy is starting to fade with the imminent passing of the holidays. While you might be looking forward to returning to routine, the “come-down” from the fast pace and merriment of the season may leave you feeling a little blue. Here are a few strategies to help you start off the New Year with a positive outlook and shake off the humbugs for good.

Take a Moment to Unplug and Recharge. Though we think of the holidays as a break from work, that’s not always the case. Whether you were forward-deployed, working your usual hours or were hurriedly preparing for family gatherings and last minute shopping, you may have found yourself short on rest. As the New Year begins, make a commitment to incorporate more downtime into your routine and make sleep a priority, aiming for at least seven hours per day. To help you reach this goal, take advantage of any opportunity for brief naps during the day. And, while staying connected with loved ones is important, consider “unplugging” 15-30 minutes before bedtime to create an optimal sleep environment. Check out this post for more tips to help recharge your resilience with a good night’s sleep.

Get Moving! Physical activity helps increase the production of endorphins (our brain’s feel-good neuro-transmitters) helping to counter effects of stress while keeping you physically and emotionally fit. According to the Navy Physical Readiness Program, Sailors should participate in moderate physical activity for at least two hours and 30 minutes per week, and should strength train all major muscle groups at least twice per week. If you’re short on time or motivation, get going with this do-anywhere-workout to help you re-establish your exercise regimen. Short on space? There’s a workout for that, too!

Regain a Sense of Control. Does a lack of green in the bank have you a little blue? Though you may have given it your strongest effort this season, realities of overspending can take anyone by surprise when the bills start to roll in. Knowing where you stand can help you regain a sense of Controllability and peace of mind. Start by collecting your receipts and matching them against expenses to separate holiday transactions from regular household expenses. This will also help to ensure that each expense on your credit card statement is valid (for identity theft information, click here). Now that you have a better idea of what you may owe beyond what you originally budgeted for, you can create a feasible plan to eliminate holiday debt or reduce spending to increase cash on hand. In addition to seeking advice at your local Fleet and Family Support Center, check out www.militarysaves.org, and www.powerpay.org to help you determine the best way ahead.

Connect with Gratitude to Combat Loneliness. Though there are holidays that are oriented toward conveying gratitude and love, you can connect with these feelings at any time of year to reap their benefits. If you find yourself feeling lonely, write a note to a loved one, shipmate or friend describing how he or she makes a difference in your life. Expressing thanks can strengthen connections with others and benefit both parties. Volunteering for a cause that holds personal Meaning is another way to find satisfaction, connection and a sense of purpose.

Try incorporating these small acts into your daily life to help you perk up post-holidays, or choose one to practice throughout the New Year. For more strategies to help you keep an even keel, check out Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s updated Relax Relax Toolkit.

Celebrate the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas this Holiday Season!

21 Days of TSF MINI overview

While the holidays are considered “the most wonderful time of the year,” they’re not without challenges that can impact overall health – from physical fitness, to emotional well-being, relationship strength, financial readiness and more. This year the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign has the resources you need to proactively navigate holiday stress and build resilience throughout the season and into 2016.  From December 14, 2015 through January 3, 2016, the campaign will promote the “21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas,” providing a daily dose of quick tips and tricks to help keep the happy in the holidays.

Each of the 21 days will focus on navigating holiday stress related to a particular area of Total Sailor Fitness, providing Sailors and their families with resources to care for themselves physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially and psychologically. Through collaboration across and beyond the 21st Century Sailor Office, the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas will address topics such as navigating transitions and deployment during the holidays, fitness and nutrition tips to avoid seasonal weight gain (and guilt!), the impact of alcohol on stress navigation, strengthening relationships, finding meaning and more. Complementary to the “1 Small ACT” message, the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas will highlight the little things that we can do as shipmates, leaders and family members every day to make a big difference and a positive impact in the lives of ourselves and of others.

This holiday season is the perfect time to exercise Controllability by gifting yourself with healthy habits and coping strategies. To help you and your shipmates identify stress reactions, a new Stress Continuum graphic is available for use on social media. This graphic is ideal for promoting at-a-glance understanding of the Stress Continuum Model, illustrating each stress zone on a thermometer just in time for the season’s changing temperatures. Look for the new Stress Continuum graphic on our social media channels during and beyond the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas for sharing with shipmates and family. The graphic is also available for download on the Navy Operational Stress Control website (www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/osc/Pages/default.aspx > Background).

You can help your shipmates and family celebrate the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas by following Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook (www.facebook.com/navstress), Twitter (www.twitter.com/NavStress) and WordPress (navstress.wordpress.com), and by encouraging others to do the same. You can also spread holiday cheer by contributing to the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery. Give your shipmates and the entire Navy community the gift of commitment by submitting a photograph of yourself or your shipmates holding the 1 Small ACT sign (available in our toolkit here or on Navy.mil here), personalized with your example of a small act that can make a difference in the lives of your shipmates during the holidays or all year long. Submissions will be published to our Facebook page.

FITmas is almost here – join us as we help you and your family stay fit from the inside out!

Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation Techniques

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog post provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. More information and tools are available at www.realwarriors.net.

Staying fit requires more than physical strength – it requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on the mind, body and spirit working together. Whether you are preparing to deploy, are currently deployed or are reintegrating, it’s important to consider how mind and body practices like breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques can assist you in staying resilient or coping with invisible wounds. Mind and body skills are part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative health practices that focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body and behavior, in order to use the mind to strengthen physical functioning and promote health.1 CAM and integrative health are a diverse group of medical and non-medical health care practices that are not considered to be part of conventional medicine, or clinical care practiced by a health provider.[1 ]Note, CAM and integrative health practices are not currently covered under TRICARE military health care plans. For more information on TRICARE coverage, visit TRICARE Covered Services online.

Used on their own or as a supplement to your provider’s clinical care, mind and body practices may reduce the severity of combat stress, relax your mind, assist in your recovery, build resilience and help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Practice Breathing Exercises to Relax

Breathing exercises, a fundamental component of mind and body practices, have been proven to activate the body’s relaxation response. Additionally, breathing exercises can help control the body’s reaction to stress by balancing its “fight or flight” response and relaxation response.[2] Incorporating breathing exercises such as the one below into your daily routine can improve physiological factors like blood pressure, heart rate and muscle relaxation, which in turn may help you manage anxiety, improve concentration, sleep sounder or improve your immune system.[3]

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s Breathe2Relax mobile app can help you manage stress through proven diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Breathe2Relax can be used as a stand-alone stress reduction tool or it can be used in tandem with clinical care, as directed by your healthcare provider. The app is available for Apple iOS and Android operating systems. To download the app, search for “Breathe2Relax” in the App Store for iOS and in the Android Market from your smart mobile device.

To practice breathing on your own, sit in a comfortable position and be sure to inhale and exhale evenly and slowly. An alternate nostril breathing exercise is a good technique to start with because it brings balance to both sides of the brain and control the body’s reaction to stress:[4]

  • Close off your right nostril by placing the thumb of your right hand on your right nostril
  • Inhale through your left nostril
  • Close off your left nostril with the ring finger of your right hand
  • Remove the thumb and exhale through your right nostril
  • Inhale through your right nostril
  • Close off your right nostril with your thumb
  • Exhale through your left nostril
  • Inhale through your left nostril
  • Continue alternating five to 10 times

For more information on breathing exercises, download the Controlled Breathing Techniques fact sheet on our website and try incorporating breathing exercises into your daily routine.

Calm Your Mind with Meditation

Meditation is a technique that restores calm and inner peace and produces a deep state of relaxation by focusing attention. It is not yet fully known what changes occur in the body during meditation or whether or how they influence health, but research is ongoing. Meditation can be effective for building resilience and easing anxiety, depression or reintegration stress. Some forms of meditation instruct the practitioner to become mindful of thoughts, feelings and sensations and to observe them in a nonjudgmental way. Most types of meditation have four elements in common:[5]

  • A quiet location. Meditation is usually practiced in a quiet place with as few distractions as possible. This can be particularly helpful for beginners.
  • A specific, comfortable posture. Depending on the type being practiced, meditation can be done while sitting, lying down, standing, walking or in other positions.
  • A focus of attention. Focusing your attention is usually part of meditation. For example, you might focus on a mantra (a chosen word or set of words), an object, the sensations of breathing or whatever topic or thought is dominant in your consciousness.
  • An open attitude. Having an open attitude during meditation means letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them. If your attention goes to a distracting or wandering thought, no need to suppress those thoughts. Instead, gently return your attention back to focus.

If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, check with your nearest military facility to inquire if they offer a meditation course. An increasing number of facilities offer meditation courses – and some offer a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You can also talk to your health care provider about meditation resources in your community. For information on choosing a CAM practitioner or program, check out the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s tips for selecting a CAM practitioner.

Relax Through Yoga
For a review and comparative summary of popular mind-body techniques, read “Mind-Body Skills for Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System” by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The term “yoga” means to “unite” and typically involves a combination of exercise, breathing and meditation. Research indicates that benefits of yoga may include lowered blood pressure, reduced stress response, increased strength, flexibility endurance, immune response and improved concentration, among other benefits.[6] Yoga is an important part of the Specialized Care Program at Defense Department’s Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC), which is designed to treat patients with deployment-related stress and PTSD. Before enrolling in a yoga class at the DHCC or at another military facility, you should consult with your healthcare provider to confirm yoga is suitable for you. For service members coping with trauma, a yoga class which focuses on trauma-sensitive meditation may be more appropriate than a more traditional class.[6]

For those who wish to practice yoga at home, DHCC recommends a program called iRest, which offers voice-guided sessions on meditation and deep relaxation.[6] Visit iRest’s military webpage to listen to a free download (short practice) of iRest Yoga Nidra or view a 15-minute introductory video of guided meditations for warriors.

Additional Resources

 

Sources

1 “What is CAM?” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

2 Mahoney, Louise. “Reduce Stress with 10 Minutes of Chair Yoga,” [PPT 889KB] Department of Veterans Affairs War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

3 Carnes, Robin. “Holistic Therapies Help Manage Stress At Home,” Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

4 “Controlled Breathing Techniques,” [PDF 77KB] Department of Veterans Affairs War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

5 “Meditation: An Introduction,” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

6 Carnes, Robin. “Yoga and Yoga Nidra Meditation at the Deployment Health Clinical Center’s Specialized Care Program,” [PDF 1.1MB] Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014