Tag Archives: mental health month

5 Small ACTs to Help You Chill Out

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Whether it’s strain and pressure within your unit as you work long hours to prepare for deployment, a disagreement with your spouse over something trivial that boils over, or a seemingly innocent debate with a friend that goes the wrong way, we can all expect to be blindsided by heated moments. Your reactions come quickly and before you know it, your heart is racing, your face is red and you’re saying the first thing that comes to mind (and that thing may not necessarily help the situation).

While disagreement and tension are normal and can even contribute to strengthening relationships, they can surely leave their mark if not carefully addressed. Unchecked anger and unresolved issues can fester, impacting the individuals directly involved, other colleagues or family members, and the mission at-hand. By taking a moment to be proactive, you can help to keep the pot from boiling over by exploring strategies to defuse intense situations.

Just in time for warmer weather and Mental Health Month, here are 5 Small ACTs to help you chill out:

Push Pause. The moment you see potential for a situation or conversation to escalate, call a time out. A lengthy explanation isn’t needed; just step back and offer to address things once all parties involved have had a chance to clear their heads and approach the problem calmly. Even if it’s just five minutes, creating some space between yourself and the issue can help you get a grasp on how you feel, what’s truly important and how you can work with others to move forward.

Breathe. This simple act is often taken for granted, but is an important first step in trying to get your emotional and physiological responses in check when the tension is rising. Taking a deep breath (two to three second inhale and exhale) can help to induce calm in the midst of calamity. If you have a few moments to yourself and can find a quiet space, try this Quick Fix Breathing Exercise or check out the exercises on the National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s Breathe2Relax app.

Laugh. Laughter can help thwart the release of stress hormones, kick-starting the production of hormones that are responsible for positively balancing your mood and promoting relaxation. Look at a funny GIF, head to your favorite blog or talk to someone who knows how to bring a smile to your face. A quick laugh can help you change the channel if you’re focused on a negative situation and enable you to approach a solution with a smile :).

Hit the gym, the track or the trails. You may find that your most productive days in the gym or your best run happen when you need to vent some frustration. Building exercise into your daily routine can help to burn negativity and rewire your brain after tense times. Whether it’s a run with a friend or mentor, weightlifting, interval training or yoga, turn to your favorite fitness regimen to maximize the mood-boost.

Communicate. If your situation involves conflict with another person, addressing it directly can lead to finding some common ground and getting things back on track sooner. Staying silent may only feed your emotions, leading to continued drama. When talking it out, try to use a neutral tone, make eye contact and explain how you perceived the issue or what led to the misunderstanding from your perspective. State that you would like to find a resolution that works for all parties involved (which may include compromising), and then actively listen to the other person or people involved. Instead of listening with the intent to dispute, make a point or interrupt, actually hear and process what the person is saying to you. Then restate it back in your own words to ensure that you have an understanding. Clarify whenever necessary and allow for natural silence, even when it may feel awkward. This will enable you to respond appropriately and meaningfully, minimizing the potential for a heated exchange. Other forms of communication may help you chill out by expressing your feelings, including journaling or speaking with a neutral person, such as a peer support advocate.

Before you land in your next heated moment, take some time to acknowledge what actions, words, topics or gestures are most likely to provoke you. Then note how you may react when these buttons are pushed. Taking this honest look at yourself proactively can help you keep off-the-cuff reactions at bay, enabling you to navigate issues calmly, learn from them and move forward. You may not be able to control others’ behavior or external situations, but with a little prep you can control your responses to them.

BONUS: Anger affecting your daily life? Check out this article from our partners at Real Warriors to help you identify your signs of anger and learn to navigate them in a healthy way. For more information on the Real Warriors campaign, visit www.realwarriors.net.

Five Small ACTs to Strengthen your Mental Health

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Promoting mental health involves a combination of strategies supporting psychological, emotional and social well-being. While mental health is often discussed in relation to mental illness, it is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.” [1]

In honor of Mental Health Month (May), try incorporating these five small ACTs into your daily routine to build strength from the inside out:

  1. Practice self-care.
    Whether you’re navigating life’s daily stressors or are working through ongoing challenges, self-care is an important mental health tool. Journal writing is a self-care technique that can help you relieve stress, find meaning during adversity, and process thoughts and emotions in a healthy manner. To build this habit, seek a quiet place and aim to write for a few minutes at the same time each day (set a reminder on your smart phone if you need a nudge). Pick a format that’s most accessible and comfortable for you, such as a notebook or computer. If you’re ready to go but feel a bit of writer’s block coming on, try starting with phrases like “I am most grateful for…” or “I believe in myself because…” to get you going. Our partners at the Real Warriors Campaign have more tips on journaling and other self-care tools, such as practicing mindfulness.
  1. Fuel with nature’s best.
    When it comes to optimizing physical or mental health, the benefits of drinking water are a “no-brainer.” Moderate dehydration can elevate cortisol levels (one of the body’s fight or flight hormones) leading to feelings of anxiousness and stress. Just a two percent decrease in weight due to fluid loss has been shown to impair both mental and physical performance, including memory function [2]. The Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System recommends drinking at least 0.5 to one fluid ounce of water per pound of body weight daily to promote physical and mental performance. Be sure to pair your H2O with nutrient-packed fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Research shows that people with diets high in whole foods have a lower risk of depression than those who consume mostly processed food [3]. For more tips on fueling with your physical and mental health in mind, click here.
  1. Maintain a physical fitness regimen that you enjoy.
    What can you do to improve your mood, get better sleep, increase endurance, navigate stress, boost energy and stay mission (and PFA) ready? Exercise. Physical activity has been proven to do all of the above, in addition to potentially reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boosting cognitive function [4]. Round up a few shipmates and go for a run around the flight-deck, try a group fitness class on your installation, sweat it out on the yoga mat or get fit with interval training. The objective is to find a physical activity you enjoy that strengthens your body and mind! Aim for a minimum of two hours and thirty minutes of moderate physical activity per week, strength training all major muscle groups. Short on time or space? Try this workout.
  1. Have a plan to navigate stress—and put it in ACTion.
    Challenges are inevitable, and sometimes determining where you can turn for help can be a challenge in itself. A Stress Navigation Plan can help you identify your physical, emotional and social reactions to stress; note helpful coping strategies; and determine who and where your resources are before you need them. Your plan is a reminder that no matter the situation, you don’t have to navigate it alone. Personalize your Stress Navigation Plan today and keep it in a safe, easily accessible place. Key resources such as the Military Crisis Line, Military OneSource and Navy Chaplain Care are already populated in the plan for your convenience.
  2. Practice kindness, 1 Small ACT at a time.
    Performing a kind act stimulates “emotional warmth,” which promotes release of oxytocin in the brain [5]. Whether you volunteer to be an on-call designated driver for your shipmates, tell a loved one how much they mean to you, or simply hold the door for someone, you’re contributing to your own feelings of connectedness, purpose and belonging. These are important aspects of social and emotional well-being that build mental health. 1 Small ACT not only makes a difference to others—it makes a difference to you.

While you’re working these small ACTs into your daily routine, don’t forget to find the funny in life. Laughter can help thwart the release of stress hormones, trigger production of feel-good hormones and promote relaxation. Just don’t take it as far as Jonesy (pictured above, courtesy Julie Negron)!

For more small ACTs to strengthen your mental health this month and throughout the year, follow Operational Stress Control on Facebook and Twitter at @NavStress.

 References:

[1] Mental Health Basics. (2013). Retrieved April 2, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics.htm

[2] Department of the Navy, Morale, Welfare and Recreation. (n.d.). Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System. Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://www.navyfitness.org/_uploads/docs/NOFFS_Nutrition.pdf

[3] Akbaraly, T. N., Brunner, E. J., Ferrie, J. E., Marmot, M. G., Kivimaki, M., & Singh-Manoux, A. (2009). Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 195(5), 408-413. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.108.058925

[4] Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106.

[5] Acts of Kindness can make you Happier. Retrieved March 01, 2016 from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/new/articles/2013/01/24/acts-of-kindness-can-make-you-happier

B4Stage4: Getting Proactive about Your Mental Health and Well-being

Mental Health Month BlogWhile you may try to push through a cold or flu, you probably recognize that something isn’t right after the first series of sneezes, aches or other symptoms. And when those symptoms persist, you’re likely to seek resources to help you get well again. Even with chronic health conditions like cancer or heart disease, advancements in health technology, awareness and education have made seeking treatment a “no brainer.” We now have tools for early detection and screening, making prevention more accessible than ever by helping to motivate adoption of healthier lifestyle habits. We’re better able to recognize when something isn’t right and are always encouraged to seek care early, not waiting years to get necessary treatment. We do what we can to address our health concerns before they reach the acute phase—stage 4.

Each May, we recognize Mental Health Month, or Mental Health Awareness Month, to foster understanding of the relationship between physical and psychological well-being and expand the dialogue surrounding mental health. This year’s theme is “B4Stage4.” Mental Health America (the organization that has led Mental Health Month for over 40 years) chose this message to emphasize the importance of promoting good overall health, as well as recognizing and treating mental health concerns early—just as we would with physical health concerns.

Mental health is influenced by a variety of factors—from emotional, psychological and social well-being, to our environments and physical health behaviors—impacting how we navigate stress and make choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research indicates that good mental health is associated with overall positive health outcomes[1]. Despite these facts, many early signs of mental health concerns like mood changes or fluctuations in ability to function at work or home, go unrecognized. Even upon recognition, research indicates that an average of ten years passes before these symptoms are acknowledged and addressed—valuable time that could otherwise be used to change or save a life.

Mental health conditions don’t just impact certain groups—they can impact anyone. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, one in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year, and 50% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition during their lifetime[2]. That’s why it’s increasingly important to educate one another about signs, resources, and prevention, making sure that we’re keeping health—both mental and physical—in the forefront of conversation.

Take this month as an opportunity to engage your shipmates or family members on the many resources available to promote mental health, intervene when symptoms are present and prevent “stage 4” crises. Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) and Mental Health America have a myriad of tools to help educate and motivate action, and we’ll be sharing additional tips throughout the month on Facebook and Twitter. Remember, health isn’t merely the absence of a particular disease or disorder, and we must take conscious and active steps to maintain it. There is an unbreakable link between a healthy mind and overall wellness, adding truth to the old cliché “you only look as good as you feel.”

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental Health Basics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics.htm

[2] Substance Use and Mental Health Estimates from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Overview and Findings. Retrieved from http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/NSDUH14-0904/NSDUH14-0904.pdf

Upcoming Webinar to Recognize Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Month

Recognizing and understanding the factors that place Sailors and Marines at risk for suicide and communicating with one another to connect the dots and take 120604-N-KS651-015action play important roles in suicide prevention and intervention efforts, from the deckplate to leadership levels. The Department of the Navy recognizes September as Suicide Prevention Month, and in 2014, the theme for this observance is “Every Sailor, Every Day.” This month serves as a launch pad to promote suicide prevention resources, continuous engagement in suicide prevention efforts, and overall psychological and emotional well-being throughout the year.

In observance of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Month, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s Health Promotion and Wellness Department will co-host a webinar with Navy Suicide Prevention Branch (OPNAV N171). Learn more from psychological health experts about the public health approach to suicide prevention. OPNAV N171 will discuss strategies for enhancing your command’s suicide prevention program as well as evidence-based suicide prevention tools.

Participate in the upcoming webinar on September 15, 2014 from 1200-1300 ET. To view the webinar on the day of the event, click on or copy and paste the following link:

https://connect.dco.dod.mil/r5gqvevou2a/

The webinar is intended for command suicide prevention coordinators, transient personnel unit staff, chaplains, first responders, primary care and behavioral health providers, and Navy and Marine Corps health professionals and health educators who can share their resources with the Sailors, Marines, and beneficiaries they support. The webinar is designated for Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES) to receive up to 1 Category 1 CECH. To register, visit http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmcphc/health-promotion/Pages/webinars.aspx.

Minding Your Health

Each May, America observes Mental Health Month, or National Mental Health Awareness Month, to promote understanding of the physical and psychological benefits associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Health isn’t merely the absence of a particular disease or disorder, and it’s not just a physical state. There is an unbreakable link between a healthy mind and overall wellness, adding truth to the old cliché “you only look as good as you feel.” The theme of this year’s Mental Health Month is “Minding Your Health,” encouraging everyone to assess their daily habits and coping strategies to take steps toward a healthy lifestyle.

A 2012 American Psychological Association report found that nearly seven in 10 Americans experience physical symptoms of stress including anger, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, and disrupted sleeping habits. Additionally, the report states that while 60% of Americans have attempted to reduce their stress, only 37% believe they did so successfully. That’s where the benefits of healthy and active living come into play. Physical activity, proper nutrition, social connectedness, adequate sleep and responsible choices regarding alcohol use not only yield physical benefits, but can help promote recovery from stress and prevent it from leading to more serious conditions.

Stress is linked to a multitude of chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and more. Exercise is one way to help beat the effects of stress while promoting long-term physical and mental health. Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed by your increasing workload or agitated after long hours on the job, getting physically active can boost your mood and energy-level while improving overall wellness. Aerobic exercise, continuous and intense activity that stimulates oxygen intake and blood circulation, helps counter the effects of stress on your mind and body. Next time you’ve had a tough day, go for a run around the deck with a few shipmates, or ride your bike around base. The sense of calm and decrease in tension you may feel is the result of your body regulating stress hormones and releasing endorphins (natural stress-busters), enabled by the increased circulation from your aerobic adventure. Weight training (a form of anaerobic exercise) builds muscular strength and bone density, and boosts metabolism. By adding it to your regimen, you’re promoting long-term health—combatting obesity, heart disease and more—while building physical strength and a stronger mind.

Though exercise can help you unwind during stressful times, make it a daily habit to maximize mental and physical health benefits. You don’t need an elaborate gym to get active! Check out the latest tips from Navy Physical Readiness and the Active Living resources from Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center. Making small changes to your routines, like a short workout during lunchtime, will get you on the right track to stay mentally and physically fit.