Category Archives: 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.

Every Sailor, Every Day Starts with YOU

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September is Navy Suicide Prevention Month. The 21st Century Sailor Office’s Suicide Prevention Branch, OPNAV N171, has the resources you need to get ACTively involved in supporting yourself and others this month and throughout the year. 1 Small ACT will remain the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s primary message, encouraging simple actions that can make differences in others’ lives while leveraging relationships between peers and community members.

Every Sailor, Every Day doesn’t just apply to those in uniform. Research indicates that immediate family members are more likely to notice behavioral changes and stress reactions in Sailors, including those that may be less obvious to peers and leaders. No matter how minor the stress reaction may seem, ACT (Ask, Care, Treat) and start the conversation with your Sailor early to open the door for proactive intervention and support. 1 Small ACT—being there to listen, encouraging use of professional resources, and promoting health and safety at home—can lead to one big step in the right direction.

One of the many reasons service members may not seek help for mental health concerns is fear that doing so will jeopardize their clearance eligibility and careers. You can help spread the truth. Emphasize that less than one percent of security clearance denials and revocations involve psychological health concerns. In fact, seeking help to promote personal wellness and recovery may favorably impact a person’s security clearance eligibility. Remember, counseling and treatment for adjustments related to military service in a combat environment, marital or family concerns (unrelated to violence committed by the service member), grief, and sexual assault victimization do not need to be reported when answering Question 21 on the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (SF 86). Seeking help is a sign of strength and help exists in many forms, including Fleet and Family Support Centers, the Military Crisis Line, Military One Source and Navy chaplains. Navy chaplains offer 100% confidential support and cannot be compelled by the command, medical professionals or others to disclose what a service member or family member shares in confidence.

During day-to-day conversation, make stress and psychological health an active part of your family’s dialogue. When possible, enjoy a meal together as a family without distraction. Mealtime is an opportunity to bond and engage with loved ones by sharing experiences, offering support and improving communication. Research indicates that sharing meals as a family benefits emotional health and connectedness, and is linked with decreased risk-taking and destructive behavior. Another way to promote health and safety at home is to ensure that privately-owned firearms are stored unloaded, in a locked safe or cabinet and secured with a gunlock. These simple steps can not only help prevent injury among children in the household, but are proven ways to prevent suicide when loved ones are experiencing stress and psychological health concerns, placing them at increased risk.

While suicide prevention is an ongoing effort, this month’s observance is the perfect time to encourage your family to take care of themselves and each other during calm and rough seas. You can set an example by participating in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery on our Navy Operational Stress Control Page (www.facebook.com/navstress). Download the new “Small ACT Selfie” sign from www.suicide.navy.mil, personalize it with an example of a small act that you and/or your family can take to make a difference, snap a photo with you and/or your family holding the sign, and email it to us at navysuicideprevention@gmail.com for uploading in the gallery. Like us on Facebook to share your photo—and all of our resources—with your friends and family.

For more resources to navigate stress as a family and be there for every Sailor, every day, bookmark Navy Suicide Prevention’s webpage, subscribe to our blog, like us on and follow us on Twitter.

1 Small ACT can save a life. It starts with you.

Mind Over Mood: Six Ways to Think Positively

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Positive thinking can improve your mood and help you keep stress in check. Here are six ways you can turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts:

  1. Don’t Overgeneralize. Overgeneralization is the belief that because something happened once it will happen again.
  • You have trouble sleeping this week and think “I will never get a good night’s sleep.” Instead, replace never with more accurate words such as sometimes or occasionally.
  1. Manage your Mental Filter. Using a mental filter means focusing on the negative details of a situation and ignoring the positive aspects.
  • Your children say they love you but wish you would not yell so often and you think “I am a terrible parent.” Instead, challenge yourself to use a calm, positive tone in the future.
  1. Avoid Jumping to Conclusions. Jumping to conclusions is quickly making assumptions without all the facts.
  • A friend has not returned your phone call and you think “I must have done something to anger him.” Instead, allow yourself time to rethink what may have happened and check in with him again.
  1. Beware of Magnification. Magnification is blowing negative situations out of proportion.
  • Your boss points out an area where you can improve and you think “I am awful at my job.” Instead, choose not to let a small mistake overshadow your accomplishments.
  1. Drop the Labels.Labeling is attaching a general label to yourself or others based on a limited amount of information.
  • You forget about a doctor’s appointment you scheduled and you think “I am an idiot.” Instead, remind yourself that you only missed one appointment and come up with a reminder system for the future.
  1. Relieve yourself of Blame.Blaming is holding yourself responsible for an act you did not do or placing your pain onto others.
  • You and your spouse get in an argument and you think “It’s all your fault. You always make me angry.” Instead, use your energy to solve problems together instead of placing blame.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Support

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of counseling used to help you understand and change the way you think and behave. Try the following strategies on your own to increase your positive thinking:

  • Identify Your Negative Thoughts. Write them down and determine which forms of negative thinking you use often. Use the above examples to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Examine the Evidence. Ask yourself if your negative thoughts are actually true. List the evidence that supports and goes against your thoughts. Come up with a more balanced thought that takes all the evidence into consideration.
  • Show Yourself Compassion. Avoid putting yourself down. Treat yourself in the same kind way you would treat a friend.

The way you choose to think about an event in your life can influence how you feel and act. Challenge yourself to recognize and change negative thoughts as a way to improve your mood and behavior.

This article was contributed by the Real Warriors Campaign and can be viewed in its original form at www.realwarriors.net/veterans/treatment/positivethinking.php.

Understanding the Different Responses to Traumatic Stress

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Make the Connection offers peer testimonials from veterans and service members who have sought help for stress issues, as well as resources for understanding symptoms and finding treatment.

If you’ve ever directly or indirectly experienced a shocking or life-threatening event—from a car accident or operational mishap, to sexual assault or combat exposure—you may recall a few of your body’s reactions. Your muscles may have tensed and you may have started breathing rapidly, preparing to protect yourself or escape to avoid harm. Or you may have felt physically unable to move or react; temporarily paralyzed. This reflexive response is known as “fight, flight or freeze.[1]” It is the brain’s pre-programmed way of preparing the body for perceived or actual threats—or temporarily impairing its ability to react to the threat—and is a normal frontline reaction to extreme stress. Once the threat has passed, the body can naturally return to its optimal state, rebalancing functions that were briefly intensified or suppressed.

While the body can self-regulate, some reactions may linger for a short time afterward, such as feeling nervous or overly cautious when a situation reminds you of the traumatic experience. These reactions—which may temporarily impair behavior or function—are known as posttraumatic stress. In many cases, posttraumatic stress symptoms will subside naturally within a few days or weeks following the traumatic experience. Speaking with a chaplain, harnessing the support of friends and family, as well as maintaining a balanced diet and fitness regimen can help ease posttraumatic stress symptoms and promote recovery. Practicing self-care can also help build resilience after a traumatic experience. Try journal writing as a tool to promote calmness while expressing feelings, worries and concerns. If you have questions about your stress reactions or those of a shipmate or loved one, the Defense Centers of Excellence (DcoE) Outreach Center is a 24/7 non-clinical resource that can connect you with answers and additional support tools.

Anyone can be at risk of developing injuries and illnesses from stress. Reactions vary by individual and are influenced by several factors, from genetics and neurobiology, to available social support and positive coping skills. Some may not encounter extended or interfering symptoms after a traumatic experience. For others, these experiences (or other situations like the sudden loss of a loved one) may lead to development of more lasting and serious psychological health impacts, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a clinically-diagnosable stress illness where certain symptoms persist over an extended period of time and severely interfere with daily function. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-living the event through flashbacks and/or nightmares, or reacting to reminders of the event (known as re-experiencing);
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities and/or avoiding things or people that may be reminders of the event (known as avoidance); and
  • Becoming easily agitated or constantly feeling on edge (known as arousal). [2]

PTSD can feel like a constant state of “fight, flight or freeze” even when there is no actual threat present. While PTSD can only be diagnosed and treated by a behavioral health provider, acknowledging your feelings and talking to someone about your experiences are important first steps toward recovery. Remember that you are not alone. By visiting www.maketheconnection.net, you can view hundreds of candid video testimonials shared by veterans, service members and their families who have experienced various forms of trauma, sought help and returned to living life fully. Additionally, Make the Connection offers customized information relevant to your own experiences, helping you better understand and navigate the issues you may be facing while connecting you with resources and services near you.

The National Center for PTSD and the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2) have developed a mobile app available for Apple and Android devices, designed to assist service members, veterans and civilians who may be experiencing PTSD symptoms. PTSD Coach includes features that provide users with individualized feedback on their symptoms while suggesting coping skills, sources of emotional support and professional treatment resources.

Whether navigating daily stress, posttraumatic stress or PTSD, remember that it’s okay to speak up when you’re down. The more you are able to talk about your experiences, the less power the intrusive memories will have over you. Seeking the help of a qualified professional can help you understand your symptoms, build new coping skills and return to living a full, productive and meaningful life.

For more information on PTSD, visit the National Center for PTSD. For immediate help, call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (Press 1).

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201507/trauma-and-the-freeze-response-good-bad-or-both

[2] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml