Category Archives: Stress

Celebrate This FITmas!

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When you think about the holiday season, what comes to mind? Eating way too much and feeling like there’s no time to exercise? Feeling stressed out, maybe because of money issues from holiday purchases? Worrying about how to deal with family without pulling all your hair out? Having a hard time feeling grateful because it seems like there’s just always something that comes up to cause more stress? Okay, hopefully not all of that. But in spite of the great opportunity to reconnect with family and friends and share love, laughs, food, and fun, sometimes, the holidays can be a difficult time with unique challenges to navigate.

That’s where 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas come in! From December 14, 2017 through January 3, 2018, the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign will have tools, tips and tricks to help you develop and continue to build healthy habits that you can sustain into the New Year and beyond. “Healthy habits” may sound like eating well and doing cardio, but for the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas, it’s much more than that. It’s about taking proactive steps that can help you reach your goals related to physical fitness, behavioral health, financial responsibility, psychological and emotional well-being, family relationship strength and spiritual wellness.

We will offer tips on maintaining your physical fitness routine when you’re short on time and space, ways that journaling and gratitude can improve your mood, the positive impacts of mindfulness, links between nutrition and stress levels, how screen time isn’t just something to worry about for toddlers and much more. Practical and helpful action steps will allow you, friends and family members to learn things to incorporate into daily life to improve multiple facets of fitness and get a head start on those New Year’s resolutions!

And, keeping with the holiday theme of connection, the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas will include tips from Navy partners in the 21st Century Sailor Office, the Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center, the Navy Chaplain Corps, as well as Guard Your Health, Real Warriors Campaign and the Human Performance Resource Center.

Unwrap new FITmas tools this season by following Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook, on Twitter and WordPress. And don’t be a Grinch! Share the resources and tips with your shipmates, friends and family, too!

What are you and your family grateful for this season? Kick off the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas by sharing your inspiration through the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery:

  1. Visit http://go.usa.gov/x8qNu to select and print a 1 Small ACT Sign from the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign webpage. Choose from a seasonal gratitude sign to share what you and/or your family are grateful for, or our Small ACT Selfie sign to share your commitment to be there for yourself or others.
  2. Personalize your sign and take a photo with you and/or your family holding it.
  3. Submit your photo to navysuicideprevention@gmail.com or upload to Facebook and tag @U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control for inclusion in the gallery on Facebook and Flickr.

Stress Reduction Techniques for High-Stress Operations

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Real Warriors Campaign. To learn more, visit www.realwarriors.net.

Any role in the military can be stressful. However, for those like special operators, explosive ordinance technicians, submariners, aviators and others, stress is a significant part of the job. The extreme stress faced by these warriors, and others, can lead to psychological health concerns.

Recent research focusing on special operations forces (SOF) highlights the risks faced by service members working in any high-stress role. Heavy physical, mental and emotional strain can lead to psychological health concerns. These can include depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder.

It is important for all warriors to learn stress-management techniques. Stress can cause anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, irritability, heavy drinking or other concerns. If you experience any of these symptoms, or have other concerns, talk to a health care provider now. Your provider can address your concerns and help you develop a stress-management plan. Getting care early helps you stay mission ready. It also avoids new or worsening symptoms.

The Effects of Stress on SOF

SOF personnel are an example of service members supporting high-stress operations. The nature of their work is sensitive, and they make frequent deployments, often on short notice. They have strong resilience skills because of SOF selection screenings and their follow-on training. However, they aren’t immune to the effects of high-stress operations. In one survey about twice as many members of SOF units reported symptoms associated with PTSD when compared to members of conventional units.

Others, like drone pilots, face similar stressors. Executing critical missions, dealing with life-and-death decisions and safeguarding classified information all adds up. That makes robust skills for managing stress crucial if you’re in these types of roles.

Skills That Aid Job Performance Under High Stress

The ability to perform under high stress is critical to mission readiness. Service members, like special operators, use stress inoculation training to stay focused and effective when the going gets tough. This type of training teaches you skills to manage stress responses at critical times by:

  • Controlling emotions. Reduce negative thinking and fear. This avoids distracting thoughts during a critical mission.
  • Calming physical reactions to stress. Use regular, slow breathing from your diaphragm and progressive muscle relaxation. This reduces your heart rate and anxiety.
  • Training with repetition. Repeat tasks that require a consistent response until you can do them on autopilot.
  • Visualizing tasks. Envision successfully using your skills in action right before you need them.
  • Learning prioritization. Order tasks to deal with information overload and manage multiple high-priority assignments at the same time.
  • Building team skills. Communicate, give constructive feedback, coordinate group efforts and ask for help when needed.

Additional skills woven into service-specific trainings for high-stress operations include:

  • Goal-setting
  • Persistence
  • Situational awareness
  • Attentional conditioning
  • Muscle control

Stress Reduction Techniques

All warriors with high-stress jobs can benefit from basic stress-reduction techniques. To reduce stress:

  • Exercise regularly. Cardio and strength training reduce stress levels and keep you mission ready.
  • Get good sleep. Poor sleep or not enough sleep has a significant negative impact on wellbeing.
  • Eat healthy. A good diet helps keep your body and mind in shape.
  • Participate in relaxing activities. Breathing-based meditation and yoga, for example, can improve symptoms and reduce anxiety.
  • Stay connected. The support of friends and family improves psychological health when facing stress.

Remember, reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources:

Fall into Healthy Stress Navigation with “Sailors on the Street”

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Self-care isn’t just important, it’s essential. Picture this:

You’re feeling overwhelmed at work. You have overdue projects piling up, both at work and at home. Perhaps you are deployed or deploying soon and your “to do” list feels endless.  It seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day, so you skip lunch one day. Then maybe you skip the gym the next, and then by Friday you have cut the number of hours you’re sleeping to four hours per night.

Any of this sound familiar?

When we’re stressed, self-care is typically the first thing to go, and that only makes matters worse. Good self-care can be a challenge for many and is unique for everyone, but overall includes basic activities that promote physical and emotional well-being.

Autumn is a great time to “fall” in love with taking care of your mind, body and spirit by taking the time to re-evaluate, adjust and establish a cohesive self-care strategy and routine. And this fall, you can gain some inspiration and motivation from your shipmates.

This October, the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign is launching a series of “Sailor on the Street” videos, with Sailors from around the fleet sharing some of their personal tips, hacks, opinions and personal experiences with stress, stress navigation and self-care. Real Sailors, giving their real take. All videos are also accompanied by Small ACTs and actionable steps that you can take to help navigate stress, such as reaching out to the DoD BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center or doing a quick breathing exercise.

You can check out some of the things your shipmates are doing to get a handle on their stress here:

Like all Every Sailor, Every Day products, these videos are not a one-off, standalone effort to educate Sailors about stress navigation, but rather a sustainable and flexible way to start conversations about stress navigation and self-care strategies. These videos can be used as ice breakers for Operational Stress Control and/or life-skills trainings as well as for small group discussions. They can be shared on social media to help generate conversations and awareness about the importance of self-care strategies.

Don’t let self-care “fall” by the wayside this autumn. Even when it seems like every moment should be dedicated to work and personal life responsibilities, take some time to incorporate the things that help you feel a little less stressed into your life. And encourage your friends, family, and shipmates to do the same. Get out and do something for yourself with the people in your life you care about. Take a walk with a friend. Cook one of your favorite meals with a relative. Work out with a shipmate who may be feeling like their plate is full. Or just be there to listen to someone who needs to talk. Those Small ACTs can be a great way to reset and relieve stress.

How Stress Impacts Your Heart Health

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Heart disease refers to numerous problems which are often related to plaque build-up in the heart’s arteries (atherosclerosis)[1]. There are a variety of risk factors for heart disease, some of which may be out of your control, such as genetics and age. Other risk factors – such as lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet or unchecked stress – can be minimized through lifestyle changes. That’s good news considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.

Stress is a natural reaction; it is the body’s way of coping with a perceived threat. As part of the ‘fight or flight’ response, stress signals the body to produce more energy by elevating the heart rate, increasing production of LDL cholesterol and blood glucose. This response should subside when the perceived threat (stressor) is no longer present. However, when we’re unable to unwind or are exposed to stress for a prolonged amount of time, the short and long term effects can be damaging. Stress can lead to poor eating choices, missed workouts and a lack of sleep. Without action, this combination of factors may lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

According to the 2013 Fleet and Marine Corps Health Risk Assessment, only 12 percent of active duty Navy respondents and 13 percent of active duty Marine respondents indicated that they experienced work stress. However, those numbers increased as time away from home station increased. To help navigate stress, follow these tips:

Not all risk factors can be avoided, but exercising Controllability when it comes to navigating stress and making lifestyle choices can reduce risk. Small acts can help you do your part to protect your heart, improve your health and enhance your military readiness.

February is Heart Health Month. The Every Sailor, Every Day campaign thanks Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center for providing the above information, which can be found in their fact sheets “Heart Health: Risk Factors and Lifestyle Choices” and “Help your Heart, Help your Life” located in the February HPW Toolbox.

 

[1] What is Cardiovascular Disease? (2017, January 10). Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp#.WJns3dXR_9c

Don’t Let Arguments Spoil Your Holiday Meal

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Biting into bad potato salad isn’t the only sign of a spoiled holiday meal. Raised voices, passive-aggression and button-pushing top the list of signs that your family gathering is souring quickly as well. Luckily this year you’ll have a few extra tricks up your sleeve if the know-it-all offers unsolicited parenting advice or the overachiever in the room constantly finds ways to remind everyone that he or she is expecting to make this year’s 100 Most Influential People list…

Check in with yourself first. Emotions tend to run higher during the holidays, especially when we’re feeling more stressed than usual. If upon arriving to a friend or family member’s house you see the person who tends to cause friction no matter the setting, employ Predictability and Controllability by reminding yourself that you can’t control others’ behavior but you can control your reactions. Our friends at the Human Performance Resource Center recommend watching for an edgy tone in your own voice and noting whether you’ve stopped using eye-contact as signs that you’re stress level is rising. Also check in with your breathing patterns, noting whether your breath is getting shallow, or if you’re feeling agitated. Before getting to the point that you’re only focusing on a “come-back” and no longer hearing what that person (or anyone else) is actually saying, remove yourself from the situation by going for a walk, engaging with other people or taking a few deep breaths. In the end, you’ll feel better knowing that you didn’t let the person get the best of you despite their best attempts.

Set some rules for engagement. Maybe you’re thinking about avoiding your traditional gathering altogether this year because you know Cousin Larry will bring up that one subject that really grinds your gears. Or perhaps you’re not looking forward to Aunt Sally prying into your relationship or financial status. Rather than no-showing and breaking tradition (see our last post for a quick breakdown of why tradition is important for connection, meaning and emotional well-being), be honest with yourself up front about what issues will lead to highly-charged conversations. Then come up with a few strategies to defuse these discussions before they head into murky-water. For the personal questions, kindly let the inquirer know that you appreciate him or her looking out for you, but that you’re handling it the best that you can and aren’t seeking any advice at the moment. For the broader issues, keep it simple. Short statements like “I’d rather not discuss [topic] today” can often be the hint others need to change the subject and keep the peace. If highly-charged conversations are a regular occurrence, ask if those topics can be saved until after mealtime so that everyone can enjoy their meal and so that those who don’t want to participate can retreat to a quieter space before the storm erupts.

Be the conversation starter rather than the conversation stopper. This proactive approach can help you lead things in the right direction, especially toward the beginning of your get-together when small talk is big. Share some fun highlights of your recent deployment or assignment, spend a moment reflecting and asking others to share what they’re grateful for, or pick a topic that’s fun to debate (like sports, for example). By spending time engaging in positive and light-hearted conversation, you can strengthen your connection with others and your connection to the true meaning of the season.

Spending time with friends and family during the holidays and throughout the year is important for emotional health, helping to protect against the negative effects of stress. However, when those precious moments have the potential to turn into monumental disasters, starting with a little personal reflection and strategizing can help you keep an even keel. If after considering the above strategies, you’re still uneasy about attending the event in question, it’s alright to give yourself permission to say no to that particular invitation if the environment isn’t going to be healthy for you and say yes to a smaller or safer gathering. Check out additional Strategies for Managing Stress at Events from the Real Warriors Campaign for more ways to help you have a Merry FITmas and healthy New Year.