Tag Archives: navigate stress

Relationship Goals: Strengthen Connections this Summer

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It’s summer—also known as “PCS” season! Moving is stressful. Saying goodbye to old friends is tough and the process of moving can put a strain on our existing connections. When you arrive in a new place, it can take time to build new friendships, too.  However, relationships play an invaluable role in our lives and are one of the Principles of Resilience. All of our connections with others—from romantic and family relationships, to friendships and professional interactions—can shape our outlook, feelings of belongingness and ability to navigate stress. To keep your relationships strong and promote cohesion in your unit, family or community, consider these tips:

Be a good listener. Relationships are built on trust and support. Mutual understanding is important and can only be achieved through active listening. This is especially true during conflict resolution, when the listener is likely to be formulating a response rather than hearing what the speaker is saying. Focus your attention first on what the speaker is saying to you. Then, repeat what you think they’ve expressed in your own words. This opens the dialogue and allows the speaker to determine whether or not he or she feels understood, which can minimize emotionally charged responses and promote understanding. Check out the Human Performance Resource Center’s tips on active listening for more information.

Stay connected, even when apart. “Make new friends and keep the old” may be a nursery rhyme, but preserving relationships should be a priority no matter how old you are. If your buddy transfers to a new command, make an effort to regularly reach out to him or her throughout the transition phase and maintain that frequency in the future. It can be tough arriving to a new duty station, so a reminder that he or she still has friends in their corner can brighten rough days by preserving a sense of belonging. You can also strengthen your family and romantic relationships while navigating the separations that accompany Navy life. Start a book club with your partner and/or children, where you each read the same book and schedule time to “discuss” it through email or social media. Just pulled into a scenic port? Grab a photo of your loved one and snap a picture of it in a cool setting so that you can all “experience” the place together. Explore ways to stay involved in daily life as well, such as video chat sessions to help with homework or a virtual date with your partner. Find more tips on connecting during deployment here.

Communicate through the good and the bad. There is always an opportunity to foster a positive connection. When a shipmate does a good job, offer specific praise explaining what he or she did well. Acknowledging successes, big or small, can be motivating and build cohesion and trust. Conversely, when there is room for improvement, offer direct yet constructive feedback to help steer things in the right direction. Outright criticism can breakdown communication and result in diminished quality of the task at hand, as well as in your relationship.

Take the time to invest in your relationships. Lean on your shipmates for support, schedule time to speak with your leaders and confide in your family members. Having a strong support network can help you stay grounded and carry you through life’s challenges. Nurturing your relationships can help take the stress out of whatever is coming next.

For additional tips and resources to help you navigate transitions and other stressors, like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook and NavStress on Twitter..

 

 

Is it SAD or the Winter Blues?

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If you find yourself feeling down during the coldest months of the year, you’re not alone. Whether on a ship or working shore duty, it can be challenging for Sailors to get outside and reap the benefits of natural sunlight, especially in winter.

Many people face the “winter blues” – a generally mild sadness that’s usually linked to something specific, like stressful holidays or reminders of absent friends or loved ones. The winter blues are unpleasant but usually short-term in duration. More severe sadness that sticks around longer may indicate that you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and not just the winter blues.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about five percent of Americans suffer from SAD, a form of depression that can last 40 percent of the year and is usually most severe in January and February in the U.S. SAD is a clinical disorder that must be diagnosed by a professional.

SAD, like other forms of depression, can be debilitating, with symptoms that may affect every aspect of daily life. Some common symptoms include fatigue, mood swings and changes in appetite. The effects of SAD are typically seen in the winter months when there is less sunlight (though this may vary with geographic location) and symptoms usually improve with the arrival of spring. Whether it’s SAD or the more-common winter blues, there are steps you can take to help yourself and your shipmates.

Why Winter?

We all have an internal biological or circadian clock. This 24-hour “master clock” uses cues in your surroundings to help keep you awake and to help you sleep. Our circadian clocks are highly sensitive to changes in light and dark. When days are shorter and nights are longer, the body’s internal rhythm can be altered, and lead to changes in two specific chemicals, melatonin and serotonin.

At night, a gland in the brain produces and releases melatonin, a chemical that helps you sleep. Changes in season and sunlight can disrupt the normal levels of melatonin, contributing to disrupted sleep patterns and mood changes. Serotonin is a brain chemical affecting mood, and reduced sunlight can cause serotonin levels to plummet.

Lack of direct exposure to sunlight can also lead to deficiencies in Vitamin D. Strong associations have been found between vitamin D deficiency and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Many who are Vitamin D deficient don’t know it,” said CAPT Tara Smith, Ph.D., clinical psychologist assigned to OPNAV N171. “it’s very hard to get outside the skin of the ship and feel the sun on your face underway, and even in Iraq you’re completely covered. Although it’s a sunny 135 degrees, you’re not getting any sun on your skin.” Being Vitamin D deficient can contribute to sadness, especially in winter.

Beating the Blues

There are several treatments used to help those suffering from seasonal mood changes. For SAD, these can include talk therapy, light treatments, vitamin regimens or medications. Although symptoms of the winter blues usually improve with the change of season there are a few ways you can help your body adjust:

  • Optimize your sleep. Fatigue can affect mood, performance, memory and judgement. Aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, preferably at the same time each day. If you can’t get that amount of uninterrupted sleep, compensating with a nap has proven benefits. Crew Endurance, developed by Naval Postgraduate School with collaboration from Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program, offers practical tips, research and operational tools for promoting adequate rest.
  • Choose foods that help to balance your mood. Studies indicate people who suffer from SAD may have lower levels of serotonin in the winter months. A balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein can provide a natural source of serotonin. Try a breakfast of steel cut oatmeal, bananas and eggs for a mood-balancing boost. Check out this post for additional tips.
  • Go for a workout outdoors. It may be chilly, but exercising outdoors when possible during daytime hours can help you soak up some Vitamin D even when it’s not particularly sunny. Plus, physical activity improves your mood, helps you sleep, increases endurance and helps you navigate stress. 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.

When to Seek Help

It’s important to recognize that SAD is a serious condition and is characterized by the same symptoms as other forms of depression. Signs may include a sustained feeling of depression that occurs most days and most of every day, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, low energy and feelings of sluggishness, hopelessness or agitation. Sometimes, symptoms may start off mild and progress in severity over time. Symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency can mimic SAD, but also include issues like joint pain. If you suspect a Vitamin D deficiency, a simple visit to your Primary Care Manager (PCM) for a blood test can determine your levels, Smith said.

No one has to try and navigate seasonal depression or SAD alone. Reach out to a mental health provider at your command, installation or nearest military treatment facility, or seek confidential non-medical counseling from Military OneSource. If you feel hopeless or are thinking of suicide, get immediate help through the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.

For more information on psychological health and navigating stress, like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @NavStress on Twitter. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

#BeThere For The Holidays

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According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, it is a commonly-held misconception that suicides increase over the holidays. This is not the case. However, the holidays are an ideal time to strengthen your connections with shipmates and loved ones – a protective factor against suicide. Whether catching up via phone, social media or at a holiday gathering, pay attention to the subtle signs that may indicate someone is having difficulty navigating stress. Those signs may include expressing feelings of hopelessness or burdensomeness, increased substance use, withdrawal from usual activities and sudden mood changes. Even if it seems like they’re joking or being casual, if something seems out of the norm trust your gut and ACT (Ask Care Treat).

ACT is Navy’s call-to-action to encourage early intervention when a Sailor is experiencing difficulty navigating stress or may be at risk for suicide. All Sailors and members of the Navy community should be able to recognize the risk factors and warning signs that indicate a potential suicidal crisis, and should feel confident in their ability to ACT:

  • Ask – Ask directly: are you thinking of killing yourself?
  • Care – Listen without judgment. Show that you care.
  • Treat – Get the Sailor immediate assistance. Escort him or her to the nearest chaplain, trusted leader or medical professional for treatment.

Annual case reviews consistently reveal missed opportunities to “connect the dots” when a Sailor is experiencing the negative effects of stress, psychological health concerns or exhibiting uncharacteristic behavior. Active communication and ongoing dialogue about stress, psychological health and suicide can motivate positive action and open the door for help.

While the holiday season may be a busy time, remember that 1 Small ACT can make a difference. In addition to knowing the signs and when to intervene, encourage Sailors to get ahead of stress by practicing self-care this season, like eating a balanced diet, making time for exercise and getting adequate sleep. Like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @NavStress on Twitter for healthy holiday tips from the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

Think You Need Equipment to Exercise? Think again!

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Editor’s Note: In honor of Navy Fitness Month, LCDR Heath Clifford of the Navy Physical Readiness Program has provided Every Sailor, Every Day with the second installment of how to exercise with limited space and gym equipment. Learn how to work out on a time, space and equipment “budget” and check out the newest minimalist fitness workouts below!

It has been well documented that one of the best ways to alleviate stress is through exercise.  Sailors face many challenges in balancing family life with the Navy’s current operational tempo.  In this crunch for time, all too often physical fitness is placed on the back burner.  Combine the lack of time and limits of space and equipment, Sailors find it difficult to maintain an adequate level of fitness especially during periods of deployment, causing stress levels to soar.  Utilizing input from over 750 Sailors, in 2009 Navy Subject Matter Experts worked closely with Athletes’ Performance Institute (API) to develop a program that would combat these barriers.

What is Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System?

The Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System (NOFFS) is designed to provide the Navy with a “world class” training resource for fleet Sailors.  Using the latest sports science methodologies, NOFFS combines both human performance and injury prevention strategies, resulting in safer training while yielding positive human performance outcomes.  The exercises used in the NOFFS system are designed to replicate the activities Sailors conduct in their operational duties: lifting, pushing, pulling and carrying.

The NOFFS contains four specialized series tailored for use on submarines, surface ships, large decks, and for group physical training.  Designed specifically for real-world space and equipment limitations, these four categories provide Sailors three different levels of exercises that are based on current fitness and capability and can be used safely without supervision or direction.

A Pentagon of Parts.

The training session will consist of 5 training components:

  1. Pillar Preparation: consists of your hips, torso and shoulders and represents the foundation for all your movement.  “Pillar Prep” primes these critical muscles to prepare your body for the work ahead- helping to protect you from injury and boost your performance during your training session.
  2. Movement Preparation: lengthen, strengthen, and stabilize your body.  “Movement Prep” consists of a series of active and dynamic stretches to help you to move.
  3. Strength: strengthen the movements needed to perform on an operational platform.  Close attention must be payed to the quality of your movement.  Select a resistance that you feel challenged with for the number of reps prescribed (body weight to bands).
  4. Cardiovascular Fitness: boost your endurance, leg strength and speed through a variety of interval training options.  The movements in this component are designed to target and develop your energy systems while efficiently burning calories.
  5. Recovery: a critical component to any training program, recovery brings balance back to your body, helping to relieve tension and the associated aches and pains while enhancing your body’s response to the training.

Break a Sweat!

The following is a challenging total body workout from the Surface Ship Series to be utilized in a confined space environment with limited equipment.  All 5 training components are addressed in this workout.

NOFFS SUFACE SHIP SERIES – LEVEL 1

Pillar Preparation (1 circuit/6 reps)

  1. Pillar Bridge (hold 30 seconds)
  2. Glute Bridge (hold 30 second)
  3. Y’s – Deck
  4. 90/90 Stretch

Movement Preparation (1 circuit/4 reps)

  1. Mini Band – External Rotation
  2. Reverse Lunge, Elbow to Instep – Kneeling
  3. Lateral Squat – Alternating
  4. Knee Hug – In Place
  5. Drop Lunge
  6. Inverted Hamstring w/ Support

Strength

Circuit 1 (x2/8 reps):
1.       Glute Bridge (reps)
2.       Push Up (Standard)
3.       Squat w/Mini Band
4.       Y’s – Bent Over (Bands)
Circuit 2 (x1/8 reps)
1.       Lateral Squat – Low Alternating
2.       Overhead Press – ½ Kneeling (bands)
3.       Lateral Pillar Bridge (30 sec hold/each side)
4.       Straight Leg Lowering – Alternating

Cardiovascular Fitness:  Perform each movement for 15 seconds and immediately transition into the next movement for the duration of the circuit. Rest 90 seconds between circuits, then repeat the circuit.

  1. Reverse Lunge – Alternating
  2. Pillar Bridge w/Arm Lift
  3. Lateral Lunge – alternating
  4. Forward Lunge, Elbow to Instep – w/Rotation
  5. Plank Running
  6. Single Leg Balance – Alphabet
  7. Split Squat – Alt. 5 sec Holds
  8. Drop Lunge – Alternating

Recovery (no equipment needed):  Hold each stretch for 2 seconds while exhaling, then relax back to the start position and continue for 10 reps each.  DO NOT BOUNCE through the end range of the stretch.

  1. Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch
  2. Knee Hug – Supine
  3. Leg Cradle – Supine
  4. Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch – ½ kneeling
  5. Triceps Stretch
  6. 90/90 w/Arm Sweep

Learn More:

NOFFS continues to grow in popularity fleet-wide. CFLs are being taught introductory courses within the 5-day initial certification course and can also receive short course certification through the CFL 2-day seminars.  For more information on the complete NOFFS Series, including exercises videos, visit https://www.navyfitness.org/fitness/noffs-training or download the NOFFS app online.

About the Blogger:

LCDR Heath Clifford, OPNAV N17 CFL Program Manager, is a certified Aerospace Physiologist by the Aerospace Medical Association with 14 years’ experience as a Naval Aerospace/Operational Physiologist with expertise in Exercise Physiology and Water Survival Training as well.  He is an avid swimmer and outdoor enthusiast and believes that nutrition, sleep, and fitness are the foundations of mission readiness and operational success.

Stress Reduction Techniques for High-Stress Operations

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Real Warriors Campaign. To learn more, visit www.realwarriors.net.

Any role in the military can be stressful. However, for those like special operators, explosive ordinance technicians, submariners, aviators and others, stress is a significant part of the job. The extreme stress faced by these warriors, and others, can lead to psychological health concerns.

Recent research focusing on special operations forces (SOF) highlights the risks faced by service members working in any high-stress role. Heavy physical, mental and emotional strain can lead to psychological health concerns. These can include depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder.

It is important for all warriors to learn stress-management techniques. Stress can cause anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, irritability, heavy drinking or other concerns. If you experience any of these symptoms, or have other concerns, talk to a health care provider now. Your provider can address your concerns and help you develop a stress-management plan. Getting care early helps you stay mission ready. It also avoids new or worsening symptoms.

The Effects of Stress on SOF

SOF personnel are an example of service members supporting high-stress operations. The nature of their work is sensitive, and they make frequent deployments, often on short notice. They have strong resilience skills because of SOF selection screenings and their follow-on training. However, they aren’t immune to the effects of high-stress operations. In one survey about twice as many members of SOF units reported symptoms associated with PTSD when compared to members of conventional units.

Others, like drone pilots, face similar stressors. Executing critical missions, dealing with life-and-death decisions and safeguarding classified information all adds up. That makes robust skills for managing stress crucial if you’re in these types of roles.

Skills That Aid Job Performance Under High Stress

The ability to perform under high stress is critical to mission readiness. Service members, like special operators, use stress inoculation training to stay focused and effective when the going gets tough. This type of training teaches you skills to manage stress responses at critical times by:

  • Controlling emotions. Reduce negative thinking and fear. This avoids distracting thoughts during a critical mission.
  • Calming physical reactions to stress. Use regular, slow breathing from your diaphragm and progressive muscle relaxation. This reduces your heart rate and anxiety.
  • Training with repetition. Repeat tasks that require a consistent response until you can do them on autopilot.
  • Visualizing tasks. Envision successfully using your skills in action right before you need them.
  • Learning prioritization. Order tasks to deal with information overload and manage multiple high-priority assignments at the same time.
  • Building team skills. Communicate, give constructive feedback, coordinate group efforts and ask for help when needed.

Additional skills woven into service-specific trainings for high-stress operations include:

  • Goal-setting
  • Persistence
  • Situational awareness
  • Attentional conditioning
  • Muscle control

Stress Reduction Techniques

All warriors with high-stress jobs can benefit from basic stress-reduction techniques. To reduce stress:

  • Exercise regularly. Cardio and strength training reduce stress levels and keep you mission ready.
  • Get good sleep. Poor sleep or not enough sleep has a significant negative impact on wellbeing.
  • Eat healthy. A good diet helps keep your body and mind in shape.
  • Participate in relaxing activities. Breathing-based meditation and yoga, for example, can improve symptoms and reduce anxiety.
  • Stay connected. The support of friends and family improves psychological health when facing stress.

Remember, reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources: