Category Archives: Stress

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.

Reframing Stress to Help You Grow

Stress takes on many forms and looks different for everyone. Recognizing and addressing your stressors before they escalate to distress is important. Even understanding the physical signs of stress unique to you (e.g., muscle tension, upset stomach) helps your mind feel more empowered to transform anxious thoughts to more relaxed feelings.

According to the American Institute of Stress, stress can produce both positive and negative impacts on individuals physically, emotionally or mentally. The Cleveland Clinic mentions how stress that progresses to distress may lead to headaches, elevated blood pressure, problems sleeping and a heightened sense of anxiousness. Sometimes, intrusive thoughts or memories lead to heightened anxiety. Addressing feelings when you feel them is important, even if that means trying new behavioral techniques or taking a break to help you stay healthy.

Eustress, also commonly referred to as “good stress,” may actually help you learn new skills, navigate major life changes and determine how to effectively address new roles and responsibilities. Too much eustress is not good, but when experienced in manageable moments, it can improve our well-being. Successfully overcoming smaller stressors helps build resilience and equips you with the tools to address other concerns. Positive thinking often goes hand-in-hand with eustress and may help you view perceived barriers as opportunities to grow rather than challenges that feel overwhelming or cumbersome. Setting reasonable expectations, giving yourself daily affirmations or expressing gratitude may also help boost your outlook.

The Navy Suicide Prevention Program’s Stress Navigation Plan contains actionable strategies for how to recognize and respond to stress. Thinking more positively is made easier once you’ve set healthy habits. Consider these ideas from the American Heart Association:

AMA

For more ideas on how to understand your stressors and refocus your stress, try completing activities from this worksheet from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

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:

SAIL Referrals Decreasing during COVID-19

SAIL_logo (002)Last month, there was a significant decrease in the SAIL referral rate. There is concern that commands are not submitting referrals due to the COVID-19 crisis. Now more than ever, the Navy Suicide Prevention Program is encouraging commands and Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPCs) to continue submitting SAIL referrals following instances of suicide-related behaviors (SRBs). SAIL services are critical during this crisis and commands must continue to submit referrals. Due to COVID-19 operations, caring contacts have transitioned from in-person contacts to telephonic contacts, but SAIL Case Managers are still standing by to assist Sailors.

Sailors sometimes do not speak up about their feelings of hopelessness or emotional distress prior to an SRB because they fear judgement and other negative perceptions. The Navy created the SAIL Program to provide a support network that assists Sailors in navigating resources. Participation in SAIL initiates a series of caring contacts during the first 90 days after an SRB to ensure the Sailor has ongoing resources and support. SAIL is not therapy and does not replace therapy or the care the Sailor may receive from medical and chaplains. It is risk assessment, safety planning and a link to all the additional resources that Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) offers to support our Sailors.

The SAIL Program launches into action when a command notifies their SPC when an SRB occurs. The SPC then contacts the Navy Suicide Prevention Program, which forwards the Sailor’s information to Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC). CNIC contacts the appropriate FFSC Case Manager, who first reaches out to the command, and then reaches out to the Sailor to offer SAIL. SAIL case managers help Sailors understand, choose and engage with resources they need. Sailors are empowered to strengthen their coping skills throughout the process.

Although risk factors associated with SRBs do not cause or predict suicide, several relate to social connection:

  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Loss of relationship or significant personal loss
  • Feeling like a burden to others, helplessness

If you hold a leadership position, be sure to actively listen to your Sailors with the intent to understand, not just respond. After someone experiences an SRB, one of the most important things they need is support. Support from leadership is critical at this time. Remaining transparent with others in discussing thoughts of suicide or other forms of self-harm openly promotes help-seeking behavior. Facilitating positive and ongoing dialogue around stress helps empower proactive self-care.

Psychological health is just as critical to readiness as physical health. Feeling connected to others can help reduce the isolation of suicidal thoughts, which often stem from a desire to stop intense pain rather than a desire to die. Leaders at all levels of the Navy contribute to their shipmates’ understanding of resources and command climate. Whether you’re a deckplate leader, front-line supervisor or commander, investing in relationships with your team through mentorship and other forms of social connection helps create an environment where all Sailors feel heard and valued. We all play a part in creating a supportive environment where those who need help have the courage to seek help and feel heard.

To learn more about the SAIL Program and access additional resources for leaders, visit this website.

If you or someone you know is in need of immediate assistance, the Military Crisis Line is available 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255 (Option 1), text 838255 or visit http://www.militarycrisisline.net for free and confidential support.

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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