Tag Archives: Community

Connectedness: Relationships Strengthen Resilience

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How connected are you? Many people value their self-reliance – the ability to solve and manage problems on their own. While self-reliance and grit are important qualities, relationships are one of the key principles of resilience.

What is Connectedness?

In its Suicide Prevention Strategic Direction published in 2011, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines connectedness as “the degree to which a person or group is socially close, interrelated, or shares resources with other persons or groups.” Connectedness can include relationships with friends, a spouse or other family members, as well as professional relationships and community ties. No matter what type of relationship is involved, the connection created can have significant positive effects on a person’s well-being. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Network (2019), “positive and supportive social relationships and community connections can help buffer the effects of risk factors in people’s lives.”

Is There a Connectedness Crisis?

In today’s world, it appears like we are more connected than ever – at least with technology. Social media and mobile communication seem to make it easier to stay close to others. However, a 2018  survey by global health company Cigna of more than 20,000 U.S. adults showed increasing levels of loneliness despite the ability to stay in touch. Some of the key takeaways from the survey were:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others.
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to.
  • Only around half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family.
  • Generation Z is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

It’s important to find a balance between healthy use of social media, maintenance of in-person social connection and opportunities to create new relationships. Check out this article from the NavyNavStress blog for tips to help you reset your relationship with social media and your relationship with yourself.

Building Community Connectedness

In addition to unit cohesion and finding meaning in the mission, belonging to a social group can increase a person’s sense of personal value and feelings of connectedness with others. It also gives people access to a larger source of support. According to the CDC (2011), these effects indicate that people who belong to social groups may be more capable of healthy coping in stressful situations. Additionally, group members can notice when someone is struggling with a problem and offer support to that individual. Stronger ties to community organizations may also benefit people by providing better access to formal helping resources outside of the group itself.

A social group may be a formal organization, like a faith-based study group or a petty officer association. They can also be informal, like coworkers who grab lunch together or gym buddies who work out together a few times a week. What’s most important is that the social group is positive and supportive for its members.

For Sailors and their families, two resources to find opportunities for social connection are the Fleet and Family Support Program (FFSP) and the Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program.  FFSPs support individual and family readiness through a full array of programs and resources which help Navy families to be resilient, well-informed and adaptable to the Navy environment. MWR offers diverse programs with something to interest almost everyone, and the offerings are great opportunities to meet others who share similar interests.

Connecting with a Spouse or Significant Other

A romantic relationship is the closest form of social connectedness for many people. Conversely, the loss of a romantic partner can cause significant loneliness and stress. Navy life can be tough on romantic relationships. Unpredictable schedules, time apart and other factors can make it difficult to sustain and grow romantic partnerships. There are many resources to help, though. One of the most productive options to consider is to attend some form of counseling, and the Navy has several options for Sailors and their loved ones to reclaim their connection. Those resources include non-medical counseling through Military and Family Life Counseling, Navy Counseling, Advocacy and Prevention services  at Fleet and Family Support Centers (FFSCs); Navy chaplains and medical counseling available through a Military Treatment Facility.

Building Connection 1 Small ACT at a Time

Caring is at the heart of connectedness. When interacting with others, remember that 1 Small ACT can make a difference. Like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @NavStress on Twitter for information from the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

3 Ways to Take ACTion this Suicide Prevention Month

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Suicide Prevention Month is an opportunity to reenergize the conversation and set a positive tone for the upcoming fiscal year. Here are three meaningful ways to build community, strengthen protective factors and demonstrate your command’s commitment to suicide prevention:

Connect with your shipmates. Use this month to find everyday ways to make a difference to others. Bringing a shipmate a cup of coffee or sharing a meal together may seem small, but they can have a huge impact when someone is feeling disconnected. These are also opportunities to check in on your shipmate and offer a listening ear. Pay attention to cues that may be warning signs of a crisis, like indicating that they feel like they’re trapped by their current circumstances; are more agitated, angry or anxious than usual; are drinking more alcohol than usual, etc. If you hear these or other concerns, ACT (Ask, Care, Treat). Start by asking if they’re thinking about killing themselves. Listen closely and let your shipmate know you care about their well-being and are concerned for their safety. Get your shipmate to someone who can help: a Navy chaplain, provider or call the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-TALK, press 1). Don’t leave your shipmate alone and remind them that you will be there to support them throughout their recovery process. Check out BeThe1To.com for additional tips to help someone in crisis.

Get Moving, Together. Exercise strengthens our physical and psychological health, and can boost connection with others; protective factors against suicide. Organize a 5K walk or run aboard your ship or installation in support of suicide prevention and Total Sailor Fitness. Include stations along the route to educate and motivate participants, like a trivia table staffed by the command SPC, health promotion coordinator, drug and alcohol program adviser (DAPA) or other personnel. Use the information in the 1 Small ACT Toolkit to develop questions related to self-care, stress zones, suicide risk and protective factors, and offer incentives to those who participate. You can also set up a Small ACT Selfie station stocked with printed signs and markers. Snap a photo of participants holding their completed signs and email them to navysuicideprevention@gmail.com for inclusion in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery. Following the event, collect the signs and post them throughout high-traffic areas in your command to serve as reminders of the simple ways to be there for others and support your own psychological health.

Share Stories of Hope and Recovery. We are all influencing the conversation about stress and suicide and have the power to reshape negative perceptions. Less than one percent of security clearances are revoked or denied because of psychological health reasons. Real-life stories of those who have sought help for psychological health concerns and have gone on to live healthy and productive lives can be powerful reminders that help works. Make the Connection offers testimonial videos featuring service members and veterans that you can share on social media or play during a small group discussion, such as this veteran describing how he got through tough times with support from friends and family. You can also view and share the story of PRC Jeromy Kelsey (Ret.) from the NavStress YouTube page. Be sure to brush up on how to safely communicate about suicide by checking out the tips in the 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

Every Sailor, Every Day starts with US. For additional ways to make a difference and lead by example, download the 30 Days of Small ACTs calendar and share it with your shipmates.

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!

Small ACTs to Make the Most Out of the Holiday Season

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While the holiday season is full of joy, giving thanks and celebration, the festivities on our social calendars can also be a source of stress or mixed emotion. The holidays are certainly not the only time of year we feel stress, but if normal stress feels like stepping on a gas pedal, the holidays may feel like you have a lead foot. Given the increase in social activities, family demands, financial strain and mixed emotions, it is more important now than ever to take a moment and savor the spirit of the season. Check out some of our favorite small acts to help you keep your days merry and bright:

  • Break Tradition to Make Tradition. Establishing a new holiday tradition with shipmates, friends or family can bring you some comfort and joy this season no matter where or what you’re celebrating. The time that you spend connecting with others can help you find meaning during difficult situations (such as spending the holidays away from loved ones), helping you reduce anxiety and stay focused on the positive. Plan to enjoy a meal with others and go around the table to share something that each of you are grateful for, or reflect on a positive experience from 2016. You could also break out a deck of cards or board game. Even as adults, playtime is an important tool to fuel connections with others and boost emotional well-being.
  • Don’t Dismiss your Emotions. Feeling all of your emotions can be as difficult as it is rewarding, but can allow you to confront what may dampen your outlook or negatively impact your decision-making. Take a moment to identify not only what you’re feeling, but why. Then make a plan for how you will positively deal with these emotions – whether setting aside some time for meditation, journaling or speaking with a provider. To thrive during the holidays even if you’re not into festivities or merriment, allow yourself the time and space to regroup and look for the good around you by noting the positive and appreciating the ordinary.
  • Connect with your Community. Helping others can help you find a renewed sense of purpose and contribution, whether you’re experiencing your own challenges or simply want to pay your good fortune forward. Not only does volunteering at a local shelter, soup kitchen, food bank, toy drive or other community relations project speak to the meaning of the holidays, but lending a helping hand to the community also provides a way for families to get involved in an activity together.
  • Press Pause. Make time for yourself and stick to a routine to help keep the happy in the holidays. Be brave enough to slow down and rediscover perspective. A timeout can be in the form of a walk or giving yourself space to gather your thoughts for an hour. Identify your sources of holiday stress by asking yourself what’s most important. Then discuss expectations with others to help you exercise Controllability and enable you to move forward with confidence and calm.

Keep watch for more tips to help you strengthen your Psychological and Emotional Fitness this season as we celebrate the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas, now through January 3, 2017!

Eat Together to Live Better

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The dinner table has long been a cherished icon of American culture, signifying connection, communication and shared experience. While mealtime with loved ones and friends may be a staple of the holiday season, the frequency often decreases dramatically during the rest of the year. Work schedules, family commitments and the daily churn may make regular “sit-down-dinners” seem nearly impossible. However, the advantages of enjoying a meal with others far outweigh the excuses.  As you gear up for a healthier year, take a look at a few ways that sharing meals can benefit your physical and psychological health.

You’re likely to eat smarter. According to Stanford University, Americans consume one out of every five meals in the car [1]. It’s no secret that when eating alone on the go, you’re likely to make less nutritious choices and eat hurriedly without stopping to consider whether you’re still hungry. Sitting down to share a meal with others is an opportunity to slow down the pace, as you’re likely to pause between bites to engage in conversation. These pauses are chances to listen to your body and be mindful of signals that you may not have room for more. As an added bonus, frequency of shared meals is associated with higher intake of fruits and vegetables [2]. Try practicing mindful eating to reap the full benefits of engaging with others while focusing on your meal.

Mealtime can foster community. Gathering around the table to enjoy meals with shipmates or family helps to promote connectedness and belongingness, protective factors against suicide and the negative effects of stress. Mealtime is an opportunity to bond and engage with others by sharing experiences, offering support and improving communication. To encourage interaction, optimize your mealtime environment by turning off the television and ensuring that mobile devices are out of sight.

Likelihood of risk-taking behavior may decrease. Sharing meals together, especially as a family, has been linked with decreased risk-taking and destructive behaviors. This includes lower likelihood for alcohol misuse, illegal drug use, as well as suicide related behavior [2]. One study indicates that youth who ate a meal with their family five or more days a week were half as likely to consider suicide. Additionally, those who experienced depressive symptoms within the previous year who regularly shared meals with others were also less likely to consider suicide during that timeframe [3]. Actively engaging with others during mealtime can enable early recognition of distress, providing the opportunity for proactive support and care.

Don’t think you have enough time to sit down and eat with your shipmates and loved ones? Start by committing to achievable goals, like setting aside thirty minutes one day per week to build a routine. Get everyone involved in the decision-making process, and remember, any meal can be a shared meal (not just dinner on a weeknight!). Plan your meals in advance to minimize stress and spending while maximizing nutrition. To promote connection among shipmates, organize a regularly occurring potluck within your unit or association.

Make your mealtime an opportunity to step away from your hectic day and connect with others on a personal level. Fostering engagement is 1 Small ACT that can help you be there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

Sources:

  1. What’s for Dinner? (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://news.stanford.edu/news/multi/features/food/eating.html
  2. Oregon Shared Meals Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2015, from https://public.health.oregon.gov/PreventionWellness/Nutrition/SharedMeals/Pages/index.aspx
  3. Utah Health Status Update: Risk and Protective Factors to Youth Suicide. (2015, February 1). Retrieved December 23, 2015, from http://health.utah.gov/opha/publications/hsu/1502_Suicide.pdf