Tag Archives: Meaning

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.

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!

Staying Connected While Apart: A Spotlight

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Staying connected to your family during deployment in the Navy can be highly challenging, emotionally draining, and stressful. This is something that Chief Petty Officer Shanna Todd came to understand very quickly.

“As great as deployments can be, it is time lost from your family,” Todd said in a related Navy.mil story.” As a father or mother, it’s extremely hard especially to see the effect that it has on the children.” However, during her 11 years in the Navy and numerous deployments, Todd has created small yet meaningful ways to stay connected to her husband, daughter Marissa (age 9) and son Sylar (age 2). Todd has learned how to make deployments successful for both herself and her family. So much so that she is even the pre-deployment coordinator aboard assault ship USS Makin Island.

Chief Todd’s perseverance allowed her to not only give 100% of her focus to a job that she loves in service to a country she loves, but lets her also stay involved in her family’s day-to-day lives while overseas so that “they know she is always thinking of them.”

While it is hard to be separated from your children, Todd knows that they are proud of her. She exercises elements of the Principles of Resilience (Predictability, Controllability, Relationships, Trust and Meaning) by reminding herself of her purpose and Meaning as both a mom and a Sailor which helps her be stronger in both roles.

She fostered Relationships she has with her family while overseas by leaving her daughter “little notes that she finds in her lunch box at school. They’re just little encouraging notes that she can read throughout the day and know [her mom is] thinking about her.” And even though upon returning home to her infant son, Todd felt like stranger to him, she overcame this distressing obstacle by placing Trust in the relationship that her maternal bond would persevere, and sure enough her and her son were inseparable within just a few days.

Upon deploying this past September for the entirety of the holiday season, Todd alleviated potential future stress by applying Predictability and buying her children presents months in advance of Christmas that she could feel good about picking out and wrapping herself. She also utilized Controllability by leaving a checklist for her husband, Mark, and mother-in-law, Margie with details of “all the children’s events, important dates and times, and of course a comprehensive list of items which need to be purchased.” Todd could both help support Mark and Margie in parenting her children while deployed and also feel connected to her kid’s daily activities.

Small yet meaningful acts like these “bridge the gap between you and your family back home” Todd explained to first time deploying Sailors, “[your family’s] know that [you’re] going away to go help people who need it, and they know that [you’re] still with them in some sense” too.

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.

Celebrate Friendsgiving

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Traveling to relatives’ houses and gathering around the dinner table to give thanks and celebrate what we’re grateful for is an iconic American tradition. However, while congregating with family to watch the parade, cheer on a football team or cook the turkey can be fun and rewarding, celebrating Thanksgiving can also bring about an increased level of stress and anxiety. Travel costs, such as airfare, gas and possible hotel stays, can be expensive and pile up quickly. Traffic snarls can be stressful and plentiful. Work and leave schedules can be hectic and inflexible. This year, AAA has predicted the most Thanksgiving travel since 2007 with almost 49 million Americans expected to travel between November 23rd and November 27th – of which 43.5 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles.

If you are celebrating Thanksgiving apart from loved ones this year – whether due to deployment, temporary duty status, relocation, travel costs, work schedules or other circumstances – you can still enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving by celebrating “Friendsgiving.” Friendsgiving is a celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday among friends, and can fill a void for those unable to spend the holiday with family. Celebrating Friendsgiving can also help de-stress the Thanksgiving holiday and promote relaxation while still reaping the benefits of shared mealtimes. Gathering around the table to enjoy meals with shipmates, friends and/or family helps to foster community and promote connectedness and belongingness—protective factors against suicide and the negative effects of stress.

Whether it’s your first or fifteenth year spending the holiday with friends instead of family, here are a few tips to get you started hosting a great Friendsgiving:

  • Plan Ahead. The most celebrated meal of the year shouldn’t also be the most stressful and nerve-racking. Exercise Predictability, one of the Principles of Resilience, by making a plan, and use Controllability to determine what’s most important so that you’re not adding too much to your proverbial plate. Decide what you will provide for the meal and ask shipmates or friends to bring a dish so that you’re each contributing to the meal’s success. Challenge each other to try a new recipe or offer alternatives for those who may not be able to contribute a dish (paper goods, setup and clean-up duty, etc.). Check out some of Guard Your Health’s Class I Recipes for inspiration.
  • Break Tradition to Make Tradition. Let Friendsgiving be the start of a new tradition for you and your shipmates, during the holidays and throughout the year. It’s not just about a meal—you can go around the table and each share something that you’re grateful for, reflect on a positive experience or offer some encouragement for the days ahead. This not only helps to connect with Meaning, but it also helps to reduce stress, anxiety and stay focused on the positive.
  • Play a game. Bring a board game, break out a deck of cards, look up a group game app or play a quick game of football. Play is an important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of adult life. Engaging in play improves relationships, fosters connections with others and fuels emotional well-being.

Know that you are not alone. A national survey found that 42% of 25-34 year olds and 37% of 18 to 24 year olds planned to spend the holiday with friends last year in 2015 and that number is expected to increase. Last year, more than 75,000 Friendsgiving Facebook events  were created in November and mentions of “Friendsgiving” on the money transfer app Venmo doubled. More and more people are holding an annual Friendsgiving for the same reasons many families do Thanksgiving: to maintain relationship bonds amid the hectic pace of the year. It’s about being there for Every Sailor, Every Day.