Tag Archives: emotional health

Relax and Recharge for a Good Night of Sleep

Woman on bed reading book and drinking coffee

Going to sleep at night can be easier said than done. Whether you’re up late reflecting on the past or thinking about the future, our minds may need additional prompting in order to slow down before bed. From our emotional well-being, to our safety, to supporting our circadian rhythm, maintaining healthy sleep habits and routines positively impacts several aspects of our health.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute outlines how sleep deficiency occurs if you have one or more of the following experiences:

  • You don’t get enough sleep (sleep deprivation)
  • You sleep at the wrong time of day (that is, you’re out of sync with your body’s natural clock)
  • You don’t sleep well or get all of the different types of sleep that your body needs
  • You have a sleep disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep or causes poor quality sleep

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute discusses how sleep deficiency can make you “have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal health.

Here are a few ideas on how to unwind before going to sleep:

Read a hardcover book or magazine. Scrolling through social media accounts, watching online videos or reading articles from a phone or laptop does not help our minds relax and get ready for sleep. Many sleep experts even recommend removing all digital devices from your bedroom or sleeping area. Although we live in a world of constant digital connectivity, swapping your phone for a book will help you relax and sleep more peacefully through the night.

Write down your thoughts. Instead of ruminating about an experience, take time to journal about your thoughts and experiences to help contextualize them before you go to sleep. For tips on how to get started journaling, check out this article.

Practice physical self-care. Exercise, stretch and/or take a bath to relax your muscles before going to sleep. Consistent exercise and movement throughout the day will also help you sleep better.

Do some light cleaning. Whether it’s your room, apartment, barracks or living space, take time before you go to bed to fold laundry, wipe down your counters or straighten up your papers. Focusing on small tasks each night will help you settle down with a sense of accomplishment and lead to a more relaxing wake up.

Meditate in a way that works for you. Several mobile applications now focus on guiding individuals through breathing and meditation activities. If you have already found a successful way to meditate, consider expanding your sensory experience by using a white noise machine or listening to nature sounds.

Prep for the next day. If you are feeling anxious about what the next day may bring, consider ways for how you can feel more empowered to take on new challenges and opportunities. Consider creating a to-do or goals list for the next day, checking the weather or packing your lunch.

For more ideas on how to get a better night of sleep, review the following items:

Three Easy Tips for Improving Your Heart Health

Healthy lifestyle concept, clean food good health dietary in heart dish with sporty gym aerobic body exercise workout training class equipment, weight scale and sports shoes in fitness center

While Valentine’s Day gets the majority of the heart-related attention in February, there’s another reason to celebrate – February marks American Heart Month, an observance focused on raising awareness about maintaining a healthy heart through proactive prevention. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Even if you are young and healthy, it is important to begin tracking and monitoring your heart’s health. Healthy habits formed in early adulthood can have long-lasting positive impacts on your well-being. Although some individuals may face certain risk factors for this disease outside of their control, the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center outlines how certain medical conditions associated with heart health are “controllable, and entirely preventable in some cases with lifestyle changes.”

Here are a few ideas for improving your heart health:

Understand your potential risks. Consider making an appointment with your primary care physician at least once a year to exclusively discuss and evaluate your heart health.  Be open about your family history, discuss your current medications and routinely monitor your cholesterol. You can also use self-service blood pressure kiosks located at several pharmacies and drug stores to check-in on your levels. The American Heart Association’s My Life Check® self-assessment tool can provide insight in to your personal risk factors.

Get your heart pumping. While any form of routine exercise is likely to bolster your holistic health, this blog from Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends focusing on three types of exercise for your heart: aerobic, resistance training and flexibility-centric movements. Boosting your endurance and strength doesn’t always have to happen at a gym, and you can always consult your Command Fitness Leader for new ideas on how to stay active. No matter your preferred activity, reducing your stress levels through exercise can also improve your heart health.

Practice healthy eating. Ingredients found in processed food may lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even heart disease. Building balanced meals and incorporating healthy options as much as possible is important to maintaining your health. NHLBI’s comprehensive set of heart healthy eating resources offers recipe ideas and tailored eating plans. From avocado and shrimp spring rolls to banana oat cookies, this list of aggregated recipes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Million Hearts® 2022 initiative outlines creative ideas for eating mindfully.

Improving your overall health doesn’t just start and end with making sure your heart is strong. Push forward with your other 2020 resolutions and your heart, as well as the rest of your body and mind, will thank you.

How to Get Started Journaling

MINDFULNESS hand-lettered sketch notes in notepad on wooden desk with cup of coffee and pens

As we’re in the month of New Year’s resolutions, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the past and the opportunities for growth that lie ahead.  If one of your goals is to live more mindfully and empathetically this year, consider committing to regular journaling.  While journaling is not a one-size-fits-all solution to following your full self-care plan, journaling can have several benefits for your psychological, emotional and relationship health.  Recording your thoughts and feelings is often useful when navigating stressful experiences, revisiting interpersonal dynamics and reflecting on your evolving activities and perspectives.

According to the University of Rochester’s Medical Center, journaling can advance your well-being by:  “helping you prioritize problems, fears and concerns, tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them and providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.”  Jumpstart your journaling with these tips:

Carve out time.  Like forming any other healthy habit, devoting time and energy to journaling will help establish the practice as a routine part of your schedule.  Picking a specific time of day devoted to journaling may also help solidify the norm.  Whether its daily, twice a week or a few times a month, consider making a goal about the frequency of creating your entries that effectively fits in to your calendar.

Let go of ideas of what you “should” write.  You may be thinking – what is worth recording?  How do I get all of my thoughts out on a page?  What details should I include or leave out?  By eliminating any parameters, you’ll be able to think more about journaling with a stream-of-consciousness mindset.  This could lead to increased self-discovery and a more representative picture of what’s on your mind and your types of responses to different situations.  There’s no correct or incorrect way to journal, and how you document different experiences is completely up to your preference.

Get inspired if you feel stuck.  While journaling and other forms of self-reflection may create an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability, there are several accessible resources and frameworks to leverage as prompts or inspiration.  Your entries could focus on highlighting items such as:  one positive thing you did for someone over the course of a day, an affirmation to yourself, or one memorable expression of gratitude from your week. Finding prompts online that resonate with you can help you progress and lead to new ideas.  If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick list of prompts that can help you process and write about something going on in your life:

  • What’s on my mind?
  • How should I have reacted in hindsight?
  • How are things different now?
  • What would I say to a younger version of myself?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • Who helped me?

Choose the right format for you.  Journaling is often associated with physically writing down thoughts and feelings via a pen and paper.  If picking out a new notebook isn’t something that gets you motivated, consider exploring different digital apps that offer online spaces for journaling.  You could devote a specific section of your planner or calendar tool for journal notes and entries.  If you prefer to learn and communicate more visually, you could opt to include forms of artistic expression to complement or substitute entries (e.g., photo collages, graphics, paintings).

For more ideas on how to live mindfully this year, check out these other articles from our blog:

Mental Health Month: Finding Work-Life Balance in the Navy

Concept of harmony and balance. Balance stones against the sea.

May is Mental Health Month and cultivating a healthy work-life balance is key to navigating the stress of Navy life. The idea of work-life balance may seem at odds with the duties of a U.S. Navy Sailor.  When the Navy calls, Sailors answer. Unpredictable schedules, lengthy hours and assignments away from home are some of the many challenges Sailors face. However, there are ways to optimize your own work-life balance, no matter what your job in the Navy.

The Effects of Chronic Stress

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key to reducing stress and preventing burnout. When professional demands prevent you from taking time for yourself, you’re at risk of living in a state of chronic stress, and that can have major impact on your mental and physical health. A 2015 study by the British Heart Foundation found that chronic stress led to less-than-optimal health choices, including poor diets, lack of exercise and excessive drinking and smoking among millions of workers. The National Institute of Mental Health also cites digestive symptoms, headaches, sleeplessness and sadness as other potential consequences of ongoing stress.

Top Tips for Work-Life Balance

So with all these consequences at risk, how can you improve work-life balance? We’ve gathered some of the top tips, including some tips that are specifically for families and for leaders.

For Everyone:

  • Prioritize and set manageable goals. When we have goals in place, and we are able to complete them, it helps us have a sense of accomplishment and control. Setting priorities every day can help you gain clarity on what really matters. Be realistic about your workload and deadlines and communicate if you need help. Don’t forget to set personal goals as well!  Choose one personal goal and consistently take one small step towards that goal – it can help you balance work demands if you are working towards something for yourself at the same time.
  • Cut yourself some slack. You’re allowed to be human and to make mistakes. Sometimes, everything won’t get done as quickly as you’d like it. It happens to everyone. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and be kind to yourself. Ask for help and be forgiving of yourself and others.

For Sailors with Families:

  • Don’t take your work home. If possible, leave your work at work. Turn off e-mail notifications when you can – in fact, ditch the phone as much as possible. Set boundaries around what you will and won’t be available for during off duty hours and stick to them.
  • Nurture your personal network. There are a million ways to stay connected these days, so take advantage of them when you’re away from home. Whether communicating in person or electronically, give those closest to you the undivided attention they deserve. Ask questions about their days, and really listen to their answers.

For Leaders:

If you’re in a leadership role, you can help others to create a healthy work-life balance by modeling one yourself. In addition to the tips above, here are some ways to impact the way your team navigates stress and competing priorities.

  • Listen to your team. Meet with your team to discuss deadlines, workloads and overtime hours. You may not be able to change mission demands, but you can find common ground with those around you about meeting those demands. Try to set realistic expectations with your team, and listen if they are struggling under workloads that could lead to burnout. Be sure to regularly ask for feedback, and practice active listening skills when you receive it.  Focusing closely on your team’s responses will help build trust within your team, so they will be more likely to provide honest, thoughtful feedback.
  • Send them home when you can. Some days will require your whole team for long hours. Most days won’t. When possible, send people home early from time to time. You can expect them to give 100% when you really need them if you try to get them home when it counts most.

Additional Resources

The Navy Operational Stress Control (OSC) Program promotes an understanding of stress, awareness of support resources, and provides practical stress navigation tools to help build resilience of Sailors, families, and commands. OSC Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) deploy to provide face-to-face training to assist Sailors and their families with navigating stress. Learn more about these courses here.

The Navy Fleet and Family Support Program offers resources and training to support service members and their families for the physical, emotional, interpersonal and logistical demands of military life. Learn more about their programs and services here.

Military OneSource has information on specialty consultations and a variety of resources to assist with the unique challenges faced by service members and their families. Learn more on their website here.

Boost your mental performance with better nutrition

Smoothie bowl with fresh blackberries, blueberries, banana, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia  seeds and coconut

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Human Performance Resource Center. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Human Performance Resource Center. To learn more, visit https://www.hprc-online.org/.

Have you ever felt tired, sluggish, or foggy after eating a big meal? Have you seen how kids (and kids at heart) get hyper or seem like they’re not thinking straight after a candy binge? Then you probably know that what you eat affects how you feel.

In a state of optimal nutritional fitness, what you eat supports healing and your immune system, helps prevent injury, improves energy levels, and allows you to achieve optimal emotional, cognitive, and physical performance. When you eat right, you’re likely to feel more energized, less fatigued, and have better focus, judgment, accuracy, and reaction time. The opposite is true when you fuel your body improperly. Whether you’re at home or deployed, follow these tips to help you to stay alert, focused, and performing at your best.

Mental Performance Nutrition Tips

To achieve nutritional fitness, focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. Read more on the recommended diet for Military Service Members.

  • Boost your intake of magnesium. Magnesium is important to regulate muscle and nerve functions, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It also helps make protein, bone, and DNA. Nearly half of all Americans over age one are deficient in magnesium, and the deficiency is even greater for some gender and age groups. Foods high in magnesium include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), fortified breakfast cereals, milk, and yogurt.
  • Eat plenty of foods high in B vitamins. These nutrients support metabolism, brain development, blood and nerve cell health, DNA production, and the development of serotonin, which impacts mood, memory, and emotions. Foods high in B6 include poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and noncitrus fruits. Foods high in B12 include beef, liver, clams, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy, and fortified breakfast cereals. Foods high in folate include asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, oranges, nuts, beans, peas, and grains. Food is the best source of most vitamins, but supplements can help if you’re unable to eat some of these foods.

“We don’t eat nutrients, we eat food.”

Paul Jacques and Katherine Tucker,
Tufts Human Performance Research Center on Aging

  • Fuel your body consistently. Eat meals regularly to maintain blood glucose (sugar) and muscle glycogen (stored energy) levels throughout the day. Balance meals and snacks with whole grains, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help keep your blood sugar steady. Avoid skipping meals, too much sugar, and imbalanced meals that are mainly refined flours (carbohydrates). Dips and spikes in your blood sugar can make you feel tired, shaky, or less focused. If you skip meals or don’t eat enough, your blood sugar can drop, resulting in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and a decline in performance. Symptoms of low blood sugar include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, weakness, fatigue, sweating, confusion, and fainting. You don’t actually need to have full-blown hypoglycemia to begin feeling these effects.
  • Rethink your meal choices on the night shift. At night, your body’s metabolic processes slow down. Eating at night has been shown to be bad for your health, including an increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infections. But for night-shift workers, it can mean the difference between staying alert—or not—on the job. The right type and amount of foods and beverages can help keep up your blood sugar to stay alert.
  • Get a caffeine boost, but not too much. Caffeine improves alertness, vigilance, attention, and reaction time when taken in small to moderate amounts. Caffeine can also help mental performance in sleep-deprived situations. But dose and timing matter;  refer to Operation Supplement Safety for more information.
  • Drink enough water. Water is the most abundant component of the human body—around 50–70% of your weight—so your body needs fluids regularly to function properly. Performance can start to decline once you’ve lost as little as 2% of your body weight. Even mild to moderate dehydration can reduce alertness and cause fatigue, tension, and difficulty concentrating. Carry a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day. Aim to drink half your body weight in water each day to stay hydrated (e.g. 100 oz if you weigh 200 lbs). And don’t rely on thirst as a good indicator of your fluid needs. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already a little dehydrated.

Bottom Line

Mental performance is just as important as physical performance. Fortunately, proper nutrition can help with both.