Tag Archives: Predictability

Supporting Your Shipmate’s PCS Move

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Like any transition, permanent change of station (PCS) moves can be exciting, frustrating and stressful all at once. Recently, Navy announced that Sailors and their families can continue to expect shortened lead times for PCS moves through the end of the fiscal year: approximately two months or less.  This unpredictability can make the transition more challenging than usual, which is why it’s more important than ever to be there for your shipmates. Here’s what you can do:

During the “waiting period:”

The stress of not knowing can start to spill over into other areas of your shipmate’s life and lead them to feel overwhelmed or powerless. Small acts can help your shipmate regain predictability and controllability even without the firm details. Offer to help them get a head start on the things that they can tackle now, such as packing out of season clothing or taking inventory of rented household goods to expedite the return process. Even while waiting on official orders it’s a good idea to suggest that your shipmate reach out to their new command to connect with their sponsor as soon as possible. If their sponsor hasn’t yet been identified, offer to link your buddy with someone who’s navigated a short-notice move before and can share some helpful hints. Emotions can run high during any move and at times your shipmate may feel as if they’re the only one who’s going through this stress. Connecting with and learning from others who have been there can make the reality seem less daunting, along with practicing a few strategies to think positively.

Once orders are in-hand:

Ask what you can do, whether it’s packing or lending an ear. If your shipmate seems to have it all under control, it’s still important to pay attention to even the smallest signs of distress. Perhaps you’re already aware of relationship and/or family issues, financial strain, uncertainty about the new job, or other issues. These situations can intensify when facing major changes and may worsen if left unchecked. Encourage your shipmate to speak with someone who can help them work through things, such as a chaplain, leader or BeThere peer support counselor. Getting support early is vital to ensuring that stressors don’t turn into crises, especially when starting a new chapter in life.

During the move:

Stay connected so that your shipmate doesn’t lose the protection that a sense of community provides. Be sure to exchange updated contact information, ask about plans (travel dates, pit stops, arrival dates, etc.) and check in often. When you check in with your shipmate, nudge them to get adequate rest (seven to eight hours, supplementing deficits with brief naps), eat balanced even when on the go (fruits, veggies, lean protein and water), and take breaks to enjoy the journey.

If you notice signs of distress:

Leaving a familiar environment—especially quickly—can disrupt daily routines and social networks, increasing the likelihood of risky decision-making. If you are concerned about your shipmate, ACT immediately. You can call the Military Crisis Line on behalf of your shipmate to get them connected to services in their area.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to others to help connect the dots, such as your shipmate’s receiving command or a family member to help facilitate the intervention process if a potentially serious situation is evolving.

Staying connected not only helps to restore predictability and controllability; it promotes trust, strengthens Relationships and helps your shipmate find Meaning in challenges. It’s about being there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

Don’t Let Arguments Spoil Your Holiday Meal

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Biting into bad potato salad 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.

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.

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.