Category Archives: Tools

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

Sailors on the Street blog image

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.

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

Get in on the ACT – Ways to Engage for Suicide Prevention Month 2015

1 small act 3Editor’s Note: The NPC website is currently experiencing technical difficulties. If you have problems accessing resources, please e-mail suicideprevention@navy.mil.

September is Suicide Prevention Month and we have the resources you need to get actively involved in supporting your shipmates this month and throughout the year. Building on the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign, the 21st Century Sailor Office’s Suicide Prevention Branch, OPNAV N171, is introducing the message “1 Small ACT” during this year’s observance. The little things that we can do as shipmates, leaders and family members every day can make a big difference in the lives of others.

While suicide prevention is an ongoing effort, this month’s observance is the perfect time to catalyze engagement and encourage your shipmates to support one another through life’s challenges. You can get started today by participating in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery on our Navy Operational Stress Control Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/navstress) to illustrate practical applications of the 1 Small ACT message. By contributing to the photo gallery, you can demonstrate your commitment to supporting every Sailor, every day by highlighting simple ways to make a difference, inspire hope and save a life. Submissions will be accepted through Aug. 31, 2016.

Contributing to the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery is quick, but the impact can last a lifetime. To participate:

  • Submit 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 or save a life. For example, you could write “I will remember to personally thank my Sailors for their contributions to our mission.” Or, “I will speak to my command chaplain before my stress becomes overwhelming.”
  • Send your photo to suicideprevention@navy.mil for review and posting in the photo gallery. In the email, include your command or organization and the small act written on the sign (may be used as caption).
  • Like us on Facebook (facebook.com/navstress) to view and share your image as inspiration to your shipmates, friends and family!

You can also submit your 1 Small ACT photo through the Real Warriors mobile application. The Real Warriors app is an online photo-sharing service that offers peer support for warriors, veterans and military families. Users can upload photos to the Wall, salute others and access 24/7 resources. If you don’t have the sign, just hold up your index finger in the photo, pick an inspirational message (e.g. “Real Strength”) and write your 1 Small ACT as a caption. You can download the app on the Apple App Store or view the Wall on your mobile browser at realstrength.realwarriors.net.

Don’t stop there! Other ways to get involved include:

  • Using the 1 Small ACT a Day calendar from the toolkit (available for download with a free Issuu account here), include examples of simple actions to promote suicide prevention in your command’s Plan of the Day or Plan of the Week notes.
  • Educate five shipmates on five risk factors or warning signs for suicide, and asking them to pass it on.
  • Organize a 1 Small ACT challenge. Encourage your shipmates to perform meaningful acts throughout the month of September and share each on a designated wall in a high-visibility area, using the 1 Small ACT photo gallery sign.
  • Organize a 5K walk/run aboard your ship or installation, using 1 Small ACT as the theme. Have a 1 Small ACT photo station next to the check in table, stocked with printed photo gallery templates from the toolkit and bold markers so that participants can submit their images to the photo gallery (include instructions for submission at the table as well).
  • Post educational content to your command, unit, installation or organization’s social media networks. You can use the sample social media messages in the toolkit or choose your own messaging. Make sure to use the #1SmallACT hashtag!
  • Organize a showing of the “Every Sailor, Every Day” video followed by an open discussion about bystander intervention, peer support and active engagement. Be sure to follow communications guidelines described in the What’s in a Word fact sheet in the toolkit.

The 1 Small ACT Toolkit, available for download here, includes materials such as printable posters, social media graphics and sample messages, talking points, a sample proclamation from the commanding officer and more. Bookmark Navy Suicide Prevention’s webpage, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more resources to support every Sailor, every day.

What will your small ACT be?

Gearing Up for 2015 Suicide Prevention Month – 1 Small ACT at a Time

Navy Suicide Prevention Branch’s annual Cross Disciplinary Case Reviews blog actconsistently find that the majority of Sailors who die by suicide experienced a loss of belongingness, such as an inability to connect with shipmates, feeling like a burden on friends or family, or a perceived lack of purpose in the workplace or mission. While suicide is rarely the result of a single stressor or risk factor, strong connections and support are protective factors during challenging times. One small act from a shipmate, leader or family member can make a difference, and save a life.

September is Navy Suicide Prevention Month, kicking off our upcoming fiscal year Suicide Prevention efforts across the fleet. This year we are launching a new message within our Every Sailor, Every Day campaign, 1 Small ACT. This message encourages simple yet meaningful interactions to support one another, foster dialogue, promote early use of resources and prevent suicide.

Our goal isn’t to prevent suicide on a single day or month—and we need your help to be there for every Sailor, every day. By leveraging Suicide Prevention Month in September, shipmates, leaders, family and community members can reenergize local efforts and build sustainable initiatives that motivate positive action all year long. To help you kick off this phase of the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign at the deckplate or in your community, Navy Suicide Prevention Branch has developed the 1 Small ACT Toolkit to implement in September. This printable toolkit includes resources to help in times of crisis, high-resolution graphics for use on social media or in print products, and ideas for actions you can take during September and year-round.

This year, Sailors, families and the entire Navy community will have the opportunity to engage and contribute at the peer level by participating in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery. Individuals or groups can post photos of themselves holding up the 1 Small ACT sign personalized with a simple action that they can perform to make a difference in a shipmate’s life (e.g., “I will continue to reach out to my shipmates, even after they’ve changed duty stations.”). The image gallery will be housed on the Navy Operational Stress Control Facebook Page, illustrating the many ways to support every Sailor, every day. Submissions will be accepted from Sept.1, 2015 through Aug. 31, 2016 by emailing photo(s) to suicideprevention@navy.mil or uploading via the Real Warriors App. Be sure to check out the entry details in the toolkit or online before submitting!

On Sept. 1, suicide prevention coordinators, health promotion personnel, chaplains, leaders and other key influencers will have an opportunity to learn more about Navy’s evidence-based suicide prevention and intervention tools through a live-facilitated webinar. More information about this training, co-hosted by Navy Suicide Prevention Branch (OPNAV N171) and Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) is available on the Webinars page of NMCPHC’s Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s website. Registration is required by August 27 and can be completed by visiting https://survey.max.gov/933674.

One small act can make a big difference. Let us know how we can help you plan and organize your efforts to fight suicide, in September and throughout the year! To get the latest Navy Suicide Prevention Month resources, including the 1 Small ACT Toolkit, visit our Every Sailor, Every Day webpage. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for examples of small acts that you can perform on a daily basis to support your shipmates, and stay tuned to NavyNavStress for more resources.

Food And Mood – Eat Healthy, Mitigate Stress

FoodAndMood2

The following is a guest blog provided by Sally Vickers, MS, CHES, and Dr. Mark Long, Ed.D., and Health Promotion and Wellness Department, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center.

Have you ever woken up after a day of unhealthy eating feeling bloated and unhappy?

The connection between food and your mood is a two-way street. Food choices influence your mood, and mood influences your food choices. That’s why it is so important to eat healthy. Nutrient-dense foods, such as 100-percent whole grains, lean protein, low-fat or fat-free dairy, fruits, and vegetables fuel your body and mind in ways that not only optimize your health and enhance your performance, but can help navigate stress and balance mood as well [1].

Food Choices Affect Mood

Your brain plays a primary role in determining your mood [2]. Chemicals in your brain, known as neurotransmitters, send signals throughout your body that affect your stress level and ability to concentrate [2]. The three neurotransmitters that are most closely associated with mood are [1]:

  • Serotonin: promotes a sense of calm and lessens cravings
  • Dopamine: sharpens attention and increases motivation
  • Norepinephrine: heightens awareness and improves memory

Although additional research is needed, initial data suggests that deficiencies in these chemical messengers can lead to depression, anxiety, and difficulties with sleeping, fatigue, irritability, and apathy. [1,2]

Nutrients serve as the building blocks for serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine [3]. Without proper nutrition, your brain cannot adequately communicate with the rest of your body, which may lead to changes in your mood [3]. For example, processed foods may heighten the risk of developing depression [4]. Research shows that those who maintain a diet of mostly whole foods have lower odds of developing depression [4]. Check out the chart below to learn more about the effects that different nutrients have on your mood. Make sure to identify food sources that you can include in your daily intake to help maintain your overall health and well-being.

FoodAndMoodTable2

Mood Affects Food Choices

Do you eat because you’re happy or sad? What about when you’re bored or stressed? In addition to what you eat, you need to be aware of when and why you eat. Your mood can wreak havoc with your appetite and food cravings, causing you to overeat or make poor food choices [9]. Mindful eating is about paying attention to your hunger cues and your level of fullness. If your mood regularly affects your food choices, talk to a health care professional and check out the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s (HPW) fact sheets on Eating with Food in Mind and the Tracker to Identify Your Food Triggers to help improve your eating habits.

The relationship between food and mood is complex. Proper nutrition can help you navigate stress and stabilize your mood. However, healthy eating is not a substitute for medication prescribed to treat a psychological health concern. If you have a psychological health concern or if you have been diagnosed with a condition, seek medical advice from your health care provider.

References

[1] Food and Your Mood: Nutrition and Mental Health. National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability. http://www.nchpad.org/606/2558/Food~and~Your~Mood~~Nutrition~and~Mental~Health. Accessed June 2015.

[2] Brain Basics. National Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/educational-resources/brain-basics/brain-basics.shtml. Accessed June 2015.

[3] Gomez-Pinilla F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients of brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008;9(7):568-578.

[4] Akbaraly TN, Brunner EJ, Ferrie JE, et al. Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. British J Psychiatry. 2009;195:408-413. Available at http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/195/5/408.long. – See more at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/apa2013/you-are%E2%80%94and-your-mood-is%E2%80%94what-you-eat#sthash.vD09kg1s.dpuf

[5] Vitamin B6. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. Offices of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/. Reviewed 15 September 2011. Accessed June 2015.

[6] Valizadeh M, Valizadeh N. Obsessive compulsive disorder as early manifestation of B12 deficiency. Indian J Psychol Med. 2011;33(2):203-204.

[7] Miller, A. The methylation, neurotransmitter, and antioxidant connections between folate and depression. Altern Med Rev. 2008;13(3).

[8] Beard J. Iron deficiency alters brain development and functioning. J Nutr. 2003;133(5):14685-14725.

[9] Garg N, Wansick B, Inman J. The influence of incidental affect on consumers’ food intake. J Mark. 2007;71:194-201.