Tag Archives: Chaplain

The Role of Resilience after Setbacks

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Health scares, forgotten deadlines, missed promotions, and failed classes are just a few of the unexpected setbacks that life can toss our way; and most of us have or will encounter some sort of setback in life. These obstacles can be disheartening at best. At worst after facing an obstacle or multiple obstacles, we may feel like we have no control and resign to accepting the failure as permanent. We may feel depressed, angry, defeated, frustrated, experience a depleted sense of self-worth, or even all of those at once.

While they may skew our outlook temporarily, learning how to constructively deal with setbacks and other obstacles can actually improve psychological health by helping to build resilience. This resilience not only helps us bounce back from failures and defeats, but helps us thrive in future efforts.

Risk and Reward vs. Fear of Failure

Risk and reward seem like they go hand-in-hand with fast-paced military life, and service members are often thought to be fearless. When we’re successful at something we took a risk on—whether a difficult mission or an advancement exam that took months to prepare for—our brains release a chemical signal called dopamine that makes us feel good. This builds our confidence and contributes to more success. Unfortunately, it can also impact our ability to handle failure1.

After a major setback or series of repeated ones, just the thought of failing at something can be discouraging and can ignite fear. Fear is an understandable feeling, but it often prevents us from taking the risk of trying again because our brains begin to associate that risk with a threat, leading to avoidance. Courage gives us the mental and moral strength to move forward even when facing challenges. It is honesty about fears, willingness to be vulnerable, the desire to succeed and the preparation for a potential failure. Engaging in courageous acts helps break down fears. Avoiding risks may seem like the best way to avoid failure, but the reality is that you fail at anything you don’t try.

Self-Care for Setbacks

Failure after taking a risk doesn’t have to signal the end of your effort. In fact, failure can breed some of our most creative moments that can lead us back to the rewards of success. Here are some ways to productively deal with setbacks:

  • Take a step back. Naturally, after dealing with a setback, you will want to replay it, figure out what went wrong, and fix it. Just as illnesses or injuries need time to heal, so do you after encountering an obstacle. Take the time you need to process what has happened, but try not to ruminate and cause yourself additional stress. Utilizing a breathing exercise can help you stay relaxed.
  • Take ownership without blame. Once you have dealt with a setback, acknowledge it and own it. Blame is a common response to a setback, but transferring the responsibility, whether to yourself or to someone else, will not eliminate or change the situation, and it may discourage you from trying to find solutions. Journaling is a great outlet to express and understand stress, increase self-confidence, boost mood and let go of negative thoughts after dealing with a setback.
  • Find support. Looking to the family, friends, and shipmates who you trust can help you feel better when dealing with setbacks. Encouragement from those you are connected to can be reassuring during times of disappointment. Also, spirituality helps many people feel motivated to persevere, and it can help you recognize your purpose and understand the potential reasons that a situation did not work out as you wanted it to. Chaplains can help you explore spiritual factors when dealing with disappointment and uncertainty from setbacks.
  • Regain control. While certain factors that caused a setback may be unrelated to your actions, remember that you still have control. Being able to face setbacks and understand how you can apply lessons learned in the future is empowering. Try making a list of your proudest accomplishments or your favorite personal attributes to remind yourself that you have the ability to succeed and are not defined by your current circumstances.

Bouncing Back

While setbacks are disheartening, they can be a catalyst for progress. Maintaining positive thoughts after facing an obstacle can help you better navigate stress and feel encouraged to accomplish potential goals. Engaging in self-care after a setback can alleviate stress and frustration. And getting SMART about your future goals can help prevent future setbacks.

Take some time after encountering a setback to avoid rushing into finding solutions before thinking through the options. Acknowledge the setback and realize that many factors may have contributed to it. Lean on friends, family, and shipmates for support, and remember that spirituality can be helpful for understanding purpose after a setback. Keep your cool after a setback to response positively and feel empowered to make needed changes for future opportunities. And always remember that even taking a risk is a sign of courage. If things didn’t go your way this time, don’t feel defeated. See a setback as an opportunity to learn and grow. Even if you have failed, remember the words of Robert Louis Stevenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

Resources for Keeping Your Relationship Strong

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While many couples may have been feeling love-struck by Cupid’s arrow this Valentine’s Day, that love and affection may not necessarily mean that things are always rosy. For Sailors, the stressors that come with their Navy career can have an impact on their relationships with their significant other. Whether it’s a breakdown in communication, constant arguments, or just feeling like the spark is gone, there is always hope for rebuilding the connection and enhancing the love. Counseling can help strengthen your relationship and minimize the potential for relationship stress to impact other areas of your life and well-being.

Strengthening Relationships through Counseling

Healthy communication is a vital component of healthy and resilient relationships. The ability to express yourself clearly while also being able to listen attentively can help build trust with your partner, ensuring that you both feel secure and validated. A great setting for this communication is in counseling, where licensed therapists offer unbiased facilitation of discussion among partners to help you develop practical skills. This can include talking through thoughts and feelings, and exploring different ways to think or act in the relationship. Counseling can provide a safe space to proactively work through the challenges of a new or long-time marriage, a relationship that’s been strained by long deployments and frequent transitions, and a myriad of other stressors that Navy couples may face. Finding the type of relationship counseling or support that suits both your needs and your partner’s needs may take some work, but can ultimately lead to a stronger connection.

Counseling Services Available to Sailors and their Spouses

  • Non-medical Counseling: Short-term and solutions-focused non-medical counseling is available through Military OneSource and the Military and Family Life Counseling (MFLC) Program. These free services offer counseling with trained and licensed mental health professionals that can help you and your partner navigate a variety of relationship stressors, from reintegration challenges post-deployment, to parenting issues and more. Military OneSource sessions can be conducted via phone, secure video, online chat, or in-person. MFLC services are provided in-person, with additional resources offered through briefings and presentations on and off military installations. For more information, visit militaryonesoure.mil.
  • Counseling, Advocacy and Prevention (CAP): CAP services offer individual, group and family counseling services, including non-medical counseling and clinical counseling for issues related to the challenges of military and family life. These services are available free of charge to active duty personnel and their families at your local Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC). A referral is not required for clinical and non-medical counseling offered through FFSCs and your command is not notified that you are seeking care. For more information and to contact your local FFSC, visit https://www.cnic.navy.mil/ffr/family_readiness/fleet_and_family_support_program/clinical_counseling.html.
  • Navy Chaplains: Navy chaplains provide a safe, non-judgmental and confidential space for individual Sailors and their family members (including spouses) to work through challenges, build connections and strengthen spiritual fitness. Chaplain care is available in-person through your local chaplain or you can reach out to Navy311 to be connected with one. The Navy Chaplain Corps also operates Chaplains Religious Enrichment Development Operation (CREDO). This program aims to strengthen spiritual well-being and individual resilience for Sailors, civilians, and families through workshops, seminars and retreats. Most CREDO sites have a Facebook page where you can find information on their program and any upcoming events and retreats that they may be hosting.
  • Medical Counseling: If there are issues with drug or alcohol abuse, physical abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, or other psychological health issues impacting the stability of a marriage, Sailors and spouses can be seen by a Military Treatment Facility (MTF). A great start for figuring out medical counseling eligibility and services is to check with TRICARE (typically, a referral and prior authorization is needed), your health care provider or the Psychological Health Resource Center.

For couples who are not yet married, premarital counseling is a way to learn about communication styles, conflict resolution, and understanding one another’s expectations in marriage. Counseling for both married and engaged couples may be offered by the Fleet and Family Support Center at your home installation.

Connecting with Social Support

While professional help from a therapist is extremely useful, Sailors and their spouses can tap into the benefits of peer support from those who have experienced similar challenges. Fleet and Family Readiness Groups offer social support from other spouses who understand Navy life first-hand, promoting connectedness. The DoD Be There Peer Support Call and Outreach Center, provides free and confidential peer support to individual Sailors and family members for a range of relationship and family life issues, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To connect with a BeThere Peer Counselor, call 1-844-357-PEER, text 480-360-6188 or visit www.betherepeersupport.org.

Reaching Out is a Sign of Strength

Your relationship with your partner can be a protective factor against stress and adversity. Remember that counseling for marital or family concerns not related to violence by the Sailor are not required to be reported when answering question 21 on Standard Form 86 (the questionnaire for National Security Positions). For more information on psychological health treatment and security clearances, check out this Every Sailor, Every Day campaign infographic.

Upcoming Webinar: “From Awareness to Action: Lessons Learned from Navy’s Annual Cross Disciplinary Case Reviews”

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Recognizing the factors that may increase suicide risk—such as barriers to seeking help, experiencing multiple or worsening stressors, declining self-care, rage and easy access to lethal means—is an important step toward taking actions that can save lives. Each year, Navy Suicide Prevention Branch (OPNAV N171) works with experts from across the Department of Defense to take a deep dive into individual Navy suicides that occurred two years prior, examining all available information, reports and records. These Cross Disciplinary Case Reviews enable experts to piece together a clearer picture of the circumstances surrounding each Sailor’s death and produce recommendations to close gaps, strengthen current efforts and shape future initiatives.

In observance of Suicide Prevention Month, OPNAV N171 and Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center’s (NMCPHC) Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) Department will co-host a webinar, “From Awareness to Action: Lessons Learned from Navy’s Annual Cross Disciplinary Case Reviews.” Join us on September 12, 2017 from 1200-1300 EST for a discussion on what you can do prevent suicide, promote belongingness and encourage well-being year-round. Speakers, including OPNAV N171’s Clinical Psychologist, will foster an understanding of Cross Disciplinary Case Review findings and available evidence-based tools, enabling participants to:

  • Identify the leading risk factors and warning signs present in recent Navy suicides, and proactively intervene when recognizing these signs in themselves or others;
  • Take appropriate action as leaders, suicide prevention coordinators, health promotion coordinators and gatekeepers to foster command climates supportive of psychological health;
  • Incorporate new and updated resources to strengthen local suicide prevention programs and promote collaboration; and
  • Engage with 2017 Navy Suicide Prevention Month and Fiscal Year 2018 (FY-18) Every Sailor, Every Day campaign efforts.

This webinar is intended for leaders, suicide prevention coordinators, health promotion coordinators and gatekeepers who have frequent contact with at-risk Sailors (chaplains, providers, first responders, legal staff, etc.).

Register by day, date at https://survey.max.gov/933674. You must have a Common Access Card (CAC) to register for and attend this webinar. For more information, visit the HPW Webinars web page.

Navy Suicide Prevention Month is right around the corner! This September and throughout FY-18, OPNAV N171’s Every Sailor, Every Day campaign will be focusing on ways to help you identify risk factors, take action and practice everyday ways to be there for yourself and others, based on the 1 Small ACT message. For materials and resources to jumpstart local efforts at your command, visit www.suicide.navy.mil > Every Sailor, Every Day > Get Involved, look out for new content here on the NavyNavStress Blog and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Together, we can make a difference. Be there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

Connecting with the Spirit of the Season

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“On the first day of Christmas, the season gave to me: one cross-country trip, two white elephant gifts, three treks to the mall, four holiday parties, five credit card bills…”

That may not be how the original song goes, but if you can relate to this remix then it might be time to push pause and connect with something a little deeper.

The holidays can be a harried, hectic time of year, but it is also a time of hope, goodwill, celebration and renewal. Beneath the frenetic drumbeat of traveling and to-do lists, this is a time when we recognize the best in people and enjoy the rich traditions and unique customs of Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah to name a few. Whether you are leaving cookies out for Santa, placing candles in the Kinara or lighting a Menorah (or some of each!), try not to let energy spent on gift-giving and merry-making take time away from reflecting on the reason for the season that you identify with the most.

Spirituality can help you cope with stress by connecting you to something bigger than yourself, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. For some, spirituality may come in the form of relationships with shipmates, friends, family, nature, etc. For others, it may come in the form of a relationship with a Higher Power and religious practices. However you choose to express your spirituality, it can create values, beliefs, peace, purpose and connections that give life meaning. Spiritual fitness can increase happiness and well-being, reduce anxiety and depression, promote a positive outlook, mend feelings of moral injury, strengthen personal relationships and help maintain healthy lifestyle choices.

This FITmas time, take a moment to both reflect on your spiritual fitness and strengthen your bonds with these tips for a more fulfilling holiday season:

  • Be purposeful and find perspective. As Navy Chaplain Andrew Sholtes reflected in his post, “December: a Season of Goodness,” it’s easy to feel obligated to go overboard with shopping, cooking, decorating or pleasing others. Keep these things in perspective by pausing to think about what you’re doing and how it fits within the season’s meaning. Let this meaning guide your actions, rather than trying to please everyone or falling into the traps of commercialism.
  • Put your faith or spirituality into practice. Share thoughts and questions with others who have similar beliefs or can help you gain new perspective, read about spiritual teachings and focus on spiritual fulfillment. Explore your personal beliefs and find the best application for you and/or your family, staying connected to tradition. Give yourself and others the gifts of presence and forgiveness by using the spirit of the holidays to rekindle relationships that may have dwindled, mending differences and moving forward.
  • Make new friends, and keep the old. Another Navy chaplain suggests adding new tools to your toolbox during the holiday season by focusing on connection. Engage in fellowship by surrounding yourself with people when you can. A sense of community can warm even the coldest of moments. Reach out to others and make an effort to create new friendships, expand your circle of family and acquaintances and involve those who may be alone or struggling this season. A great way to alleviate your own struggles is to help others with theirs.

This season has different meaning for each and every one of us, but also common threads that we can share to stay connected. As you seek ways to strengthen your spiritual fitness—which can also include brief breaks for mindfulness practices and embracing the outdoors—remember that help is always available whenever you or others need it. Navy chaplains are always available, offering confidential support and guidance for Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and their families to help reinforce a sense of connectedness, build spiritual resilience and navigate life’s challenges. Call Navy 311 to request chaplain support in your area by dialing 1-855-NAVY-311.

Keep an eye out for more tips to help you strengthen your Spiritual Fitness this season as we continue to celebrate the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas!

A Chaplain’s Case for Gratitude

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Thankfulness and gratitude are powerful aspects of life.  Still, sometimes circumstances make it hard to look around and be thankful.  How does light get in during times like that? As a Navy chaplain, I too have days where I find myself battling such heaviness and challenges.  For me, it’s a matter of seeking perspective, finding meaning and connecting to purpose.  Sometimes that comes from my reaching out to another to allow them to shine a ray of light into my darkened view.  Sometimes it is someone reaching out to me for help, or just to say thanks.

There are times when a small ray of light is all we need to break the darkness. With that light, I am reminded that when we go through things alone we can become convinced that they will not get better, but when we have someone by our side we can find strength to move forward. With that small glimmer of light, I am reminded of my purpose.  Even a small word of thanks from one person to another can make all the difference.

Gratitude can be a source of hope when we are most vulnerable. I will never forget a time when I was preparing to say goodbye to another group of wounded warriors who had come for several weeks to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence.  As a chaplain, part of my role was to create a parting ‘ritual.’  Knowing that this was a vulnerable time, after making connections and beginning some healing, I wanted the ritual to give each person an opportunity to honestly own the challenges and fears ahead, and to say thank you for the little rays of light that they received through the work of the dedicated team of providers. Once again, I was reminded of the reciprocal benefits of not just being there for someone, but being with them in their journey.

Three of the guys—each uniquely challenged who all shared the same experience as the pivotal moment in their healing—decided to take the risk to travel on the metro to the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  They “just had to do it,” they said. For one, it meant facing an absolute aversion to going in confined spaces with lots of people.  For another, it meant being in wide open spaces with no security, and likely talking to others. It probably meant that they would have to walk a bit farther than the third of the trio had walked in a very long time. But together they decided that they owed it to each other and those who had gone before them to do this, and get each other through it. They decided to be with each other on a journey that was uniquely theirs as individuals yet shared between them at the same time.

You can imagine the team as they set out and then finally reached the wall. That was celebration enough. But what life had in store for them, they could not have anticipated. They each described in their own way how when they finally arrived, they spotted a woman standing at the wall in tears and they all felt drawn to her. The outgoing one of the bunch walked over and approached the woman.  The others followed. They all heard her describe how her husband had been killed in Vietnam.  This was the first time she had made it to the wall. All she wanted to do was to do a rubbing of his name, but it was too high up and she just didn’t know what to do. She was desperate and alone.

“Don’t worry ma’am,” they said. “We got this!” With that they leveraged their collective height to get to her husband’s name so that she could do the rubbing.  With mission accomplished, they were met with grateful hugs. And they quietly walked away.

The three men shared this story with the group of providers and reflected almost with one voice: “We knew from that time on- there was a purpose for our lives. There is still something we can do.” They drew strength from each other. And they found gratitude; gratitude from others and gratitude for still being able to give a little light or a tiny ember.

Maybe today you will reach out to say thanks, or reach out to ask for help. Don’t just be there for others, be with them to light their path and watch as they light yours. Connect with gratitude. Your perspective of your purpose may be mysteriously renewed beyond your wildest imaginings. Your own moment to make a difference may be just around the corner.

Cmdr. Kim Donahue, CHC, USN,  is the Director for Force Structure for the Navy Chief of Chaplains Office. She has previously served as Group Chaplain for USS Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Strike Group TWELVE. Check out her earlier NavyNavStress post on mindfulness and reconnecting with spirituality through labyrinth walking here.