Tag Archives: holiday season

Practice Self-Care with Healthy Boundaries

Sneakers from above.

Trying to keep the happy in people’s holidays and avoid rocking their boats can be demanding and draining to one’s physical, emotional and psychological health. Sometimes you may feel that you must please everyone in your life, even to your own detriment – especially during the season of giving. People-pleasing can come in the form of agreeing to every favor, task or assignment. It could be allowing people to be present in personal space even when preferring to be alone. Or it may be putting up with behaviors that cause feelings of anger, frustration or sadness but never acknowledging offenses to the offender.

These actions may indicate a need to explore the process of setting boundaries. A boundary is the deliberate space that you establish between yourself and someone else. Boundaries define the behaviors, actions and characteristics that are not tolerable within a relationship. It is important to determine what you will and will not accept in all relationships, including those with family, friends or shipmates.

Benefits of Boundaries

Setting boundaries limits unwanted behaviors and treatment from the people in your life. It indicates that while your relationship with others is important to you, you still prioritize your own feelings and emotions. Boundaries can prompt loved ones, friends or fellow Sailors to realize they should also consider your feelings in their interactions with you and respect the limits that you have established.

Remembering that “no” is a complete sentence is essential in the process of setting boundaries. Comfortably saying “no” to unwanted requests or inconsiderate actions tells your family members, friends, romantic partners and fellow Sailors that you are not afraid to advocate for yourself. For family or romantic partners, navigating situations involving household tasks or frequency of communication may require setting boundaries and saying “no.” Social situations involving drinking or unethical actions could arise and require you to be assertive and say “no” to a fellow Sailor. Whatever the situation may be, maintaining boundaries signals to others that you do not feel obligated to accept unwanted actions or requests and promotes healthy relationships with friends, family and shipmates and also with yourself.

Steps for Setting Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries can be a difficult process, but it is a necessary act of self-care that is crucial for psychological well-being and for maintaining integrity in your relationships with others. Here are some tips for setting and maintaining boundaries in your relationships:

  • Understand and acknowledge your values and your feelings. When someone engages in a certain unwanted behavior towards you, take a mental or even written note of what feelings the behavior causes, but do this when you are away from the person. Understanding and centering your own feelings and emotions over those of others is necessary for establishing boundaries. It could also be helpful to have a mentor that can help you navigate your feelings as well.
  • Make your boundaries and consequences clear. Unless you clearly communicate to the people in your life what your boundaries are, they will never know what they are or how to avoid overstepping them. Be assertive and explain the results that would accompany their disregard for your boundaries. Avoid making compromises that may still cause you to feel uncomfortable or upset.
  • Do not feel bad about setting boundaries. Remember that setting boundaries is a necessary part of a comprehensive self-care routine. Maintaining boundaries allows you to focus on your own physical, emotional and psychological health. Just as you may have regular doctor’s appointments that take precedence over other things, your own immediate needs should also come first. Saying “no” to things that may cause you undue stress should not cause guilt, and you do not have to provide an explanation of your feelings. Know your personal worth and expect others to respect you.
  • Know when your boundaries are not being respected and respond accordingly. Explore the actions of those with whom you have established boundaries, and understand your options. If someone oversteps a boundary that you have clearly set, acknowledge it. Explain that you have already communicated your boundary and that you will have to resort to the consequences. Respect your own boundaries in this situation, and do not feel pressured to give multiple chances to someone who has a clear understanding of your boundaries but still refuses to acknowledge them.

Relationships After Setting Boundaries

People may feel hurt when you establish and enforce boundaries because they realize that they will no longer be able to interact with you in ways that are only beneficial to them (and potentially damaging to you). When someone does not respect a boundary you have set, it is a sign that they may also not respect you. For some, the frustration with your boundaries may be temporary, but for others, it could be the tipping point toward the end of your relationship.

The people you should allow in your life are those who respect you and realize that maintaining boundaries is a necessary part of demonstrating that respect and maintaining their relationship with you. No matter what, adhering to your boundaries and refusing to allow negotiation is crucial. That is a part of the process of learning to prioritize and take care of yourself.

Reaching out for Help

Problems in your relationships can be difficult to deal with. If you or a shipmate are dealing with psychological health concerns or issues with a spouse, family member or children, the Fleet and Family Support Program provides support through counseling services. Be sure to follow U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook, on Twitter and our holiday hashtag #HealthyHolidays for ongoing self-care tips throughout the holiday season and into the New Year.

Controlling Your Finances Without Letting Them Control You

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The new year is here! You may feel a sense of calm and relief now that the holidays are over and you can get back into your regular routine. But perhaps your holiday spending wasn’t ideal, and you need to get back on track financially. Don’t worry! While it may take some work, fixing your finances post-holiday season isn’t an insurmountable task. “Improvement” doesn’t equal drastic changes; it could be a few small steps to help relieve some financial stress. Remembering this can help you stay on track during the process and keep your current financial situation from affecting how you see your value as a person.

People who connect their personal value with their financial state may consider a threat to their finances a huge stressor and threat to their self-worth, according to a study by Dr. Lora Park of the University of Buffalo. You’ve probably heard the phrase: “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” Achieving your definition of financial stability is important, but it won’t make other life stresses and issues disappear. A recent study by Dr. Matthew Monnot of the University of San Francisco found that human connections contribute to happiness more than money and that tying personal worth to extrinsic or external entities such as wealth can cause less satisfaction in life. A focus on intrinsic or internal needs like relationships and community can more positively impact well-being. So, while working on your relationship with your finances, work on your relationships with friends and family, too.

As you try to improve your finances after holiday spending, here are some tips from Every Sailor, Every Day campaign contributor and financial expert, Stacy Livingstone-Hoyte:

  • Be proactive about understanding your spending and how to recover. Look through receipts and other records of transactions to see what you spent, make sure your statements are accurate, and then figure out how your budget needs to change so you can recover financially, get your savings in check, and avoid additional debt. If budgeting isn’t your area of expertise, Military OneSource and MilitarySaves can help!
  • Figure out the financial balance that’s right for you. Making sure bills are paid each month and saving money for the future are important, but having some of your hard-earned money set aside for the fun stuff is good, too. When working on your budget, make reasonable room for all three. Having everything categorized can help you be prepared if unexpected expenses pop up. And don’t forget that the Blended Retirement System (BRS) is available as of January 1, 2018. If eligible and opting into BRS, consider how it may affect your finances.
  • Think ahead and look for bargains. The holiday season isn’t the only time you may find yourself buying gifts. Plan ahead for birthdays, anniversaries, and other celebrations by setting reminders a month in advance so you don’t scramble at the last minute to find a gift you hadn’t budgeted for. Also consider your relationship with the recipient, and think of non-monetary gifts that may be more meaningful. Incorporate ways to save in all of your shopping. Compare prices, use coupons, and take other steps to save on gas, groceries and other daily needs.

Following these steps and others that work for you can put you on the right track to getting your finances closer to where you want them to be.  Recovering financially after the holidays is a process, but dedication and the right mindset make it minimally stressful. Creating and maintaining a budget, determining what financial security is for you, saving daily, and realizing that money doesn’t determine your worth are key steps to making the improvements you want to see in 2018.

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!

Don’t Let Arguments Spoil Your Holiday Meal

Fingers art of of people during quarrel in New Year.

Biting into bad casserole 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.

Finding Comfort and Joy in Family Tradition

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The pressure to do things a certain way—the same way, each and every time—can be one of the most stressful parts of the holiday season, especially since Navy life brings about constant change. Yet family traditions are cherished for the memories they create, the routines that they establish and the customs that are passed on to the next generation—and for good reason. A recent research review published in The Journal of Family Psychology finds that family rituals “are powerful organizers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition.”[1] Traditions give us a sense of connectedness and continuity. They’re also associated with relationship satisfaction, stronger family bonds, and better psychological and emotional health. Still, the stress and transition pieces can leave you struggling to keep traditions going while balancing others’ expectations, navigating a deployment, or adapting to new circumstances. Here are some tips to give your traditions a boost this FITmas:

  • Know the difference between ritual and routine. Routines tend to be more systematic when it comes to planning, and, by extension, can be automatic in terms of execution. There may be a lot of work involved but not as much thought, connection or processing that occurs afterward (other than a sigh of relief). Rituals, however, are where the magic happens. Researchers have found that rituals give participants a sense of identity through active participation and emotional connection. What’s the difference? Meaning. One Navy chaplain reflected on the significance behind his family’s holiday tradition in this NavyNavStress post, noting how a humorous family custom they’ve created has brought them a sense of familiarity no matter where they live and an opportunity to create new memories. Take a moment to look at your family’s routines and identify ways that you can add meaning to create sustainable (and portable) rituals. If preparing a particular dish each year has slowly lost its significance, consider letting the younger chefs take on some of the more kid-friendly roles so that they feel a sense of contribution, learn a family recipe and have some fun.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch it up. Just because a tradition has been a part of your family’s holiday season for generations doesn’t mean your family can’t add its own spin to keep it going. If you’re deployed or separated from those who you typically enjoy your traditional holiday meal with, schedule a recipe-share. Send your family your favorite barracks-friendly recipe and pick a night that you can both prepare the dish. Take photos along the way or give them a call to hear about their experience preparing the meal with only the ingredients and tools you outlined for them. The simplicity of the meal is sure to be a conversation starter and the experience of creating something “together” can help everyone feel connected—a key ingredient for traditions new, old, or refreshed.
  • Get creative to keep it going. Elves and other holiday toys that mysteriously appear in unlikely places have become a recent tradition that’s seemingly here to stay. But there’s no need to stress if the whole family isn’t together to go searching for the mischievous holiday guest each morning. If you’re deployed, you can find your own holiday helper (such as a small Navy teddy bear) to photograph in different spaces on your ship. Save each photo and write a little story to describe your helper’s journey that day, tying in fun facts that relate to what you’re doing, your recent or upcoming port of call, etc. If you have access to email or social media, send each photo and storyline to your family. If connectivity is an issue, present the compiled photo-story to your family when you return from deployment.

Deployments and changing demands around the holidays aren’t the only things that may hamper tradition. Changes to family structure like divorce or loss of a loved one may impact them as well. Doing what you can to adapt traditions in an effort to keep them going can harness the power of healing for both children and adults alike. No matter what challenges your family may face—and no matter the size, age or geographic location(s) of your family—traditions are most impactful when everyone feels committed, is able to contribute and is actively communicating. Taking the time to sit down as a family to discuss changes, emotions and expectations can build Trust, emphasize Meaning, strengthen Relationships, promote Predictability and Controllability; each helping to build resilience this season and for holidays to come.

[1]  “A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?,” Barbara H. Fiese, Thomas J. Tomcho, Michael Douglas, Kimberly Josephs, Scott Poltrock, and Tim Baker; Syracuse University; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 16, No. 4.