Tag Archives: Psychological Fitness

How (and Why) to Develop a Self-Care Plan

Self Care Graphic_Facebook

Sailors know that no military operation is undertaken without significant planning. Personal duties like a permanent change of station or even trips to the store are often accompanied by detailed checklists, too. However, planning to prioritize self-care may be a new idea. We think that self-care will just “happen,” but it’s easy to let your personal needs fall to the bottom of the list. Self-care is an important part of wellness that deserves the same thoughtfulness as any other important event. Building a self-care plan can help make sure we take care of ourselves, so we can take care of the mission and of others.

What Is a Self-Care Plan?

A self-care plan is a customizable tool and preventative measure to help you identify what you value and need as part of your daily life (maintenance self-care) and the strategies you can use if you face increased stress or a crisis (emergency self-care). There is no “one-size-fits-all,” but the plan should represent a commitment to attending to your physical, psychological and emotional health in ways that are meaningful to you. An effective self-care plan helps you take the guesswork out of how to direct your energy in positive ways.

How to Create a Self-Care Plan

When you begin writing your plan, you’ll need to do a little self-reflection. Think about the ways that you currently cope with stress in your life, and whether those ways are positive or negative. A self-care plan can include abstaining from negative behaviors, like overspending or overusing alcohol, as well as developing new and more productive strategies. Think about the things in your life that bring you joy and increase your well-being. Make a list of those positive activities. Come up with a reasonable amount of time per week that you’re able to dedicate to those activities, and then block that time off on your calendar in advance. Some activities may be easy to incorporate into your daily routine, like a walk with your dog. Some activities may fit in better on a weekly or monthly basis, like a manicure or massage. Find what’s right for you, and then make it a priority.

What to Consider

Customize your self-care plan to meet your needs, but also make sure you aren’t neglecting any part of your total wellness. A good self-care plan should include practices or activities related to a variety of health areas.

Physical – These are all the things that involve taking care of your physical health, like nutrition, preventive medical care and good sleep practices. Learn how to get a great workout without equipment in this blog post about minimalist fitness workouts designed for Sailors. Yoga offers a complete mind and body workout, and this article can help you start a yoga practice. If you turn to sugary foods as a coping mechanism, you can learn about the effects of sugar on your body and mind here. For tips on creating a sleep-friendly environment to recharge your resilience, check out this article.

Psychological – There are many ways to nurture your mind and mental health. This article from the Real Warriors Campaign describes stress reduction techniques that can help, especially for people in high-stress occupations. Information on specific breathing, meditation and relaxation tips can also be found here. Achieving work-life balance is an important part of psychological wellness, and this article offers help on finding that balance in the Navy.

Social/Relationships – Time alone is important, but relationships are one of the principles of resilience. Whether it’s relationships with friends, a spouse or other family members, or professional relationships and community ties, connectedness can have significant positive effects on a person’s well-being. Learn techniques on how to strengthen connections, whether in person or at a distance, here.

Self-care can be challenging to adopt or maintain, often due to demands on time, energy or putting the needs of others before your own. As you implement your plan, keep track of how you’re doing. Tracking your progress over time will help you understand and recognize your habits, successes and any difficulties you may not have originally anticipated. Remember, you can revise your plan as needed! Being there for others starts with being there for yourself. 1 Small ACT can make a difference and help you be there for every Sailor, every day.

The Gratitude Board: 1 Small ACT for Cultivating Active Gratitude

Small ACT Selfie_Gratitude

It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day to-do lists, calendars and routines, or to be lasered in on achieving goals, setting new ones and looking forward to the future. While these are all important aspects of maintaining psychological health, it’s also beneficial to push pause and be present in the moment. Taking time to appreciate the people in your life, the things you have and what you have accomplished – practicing gratitude – is an important step in maintaining psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing.

What Is Gratitude and Why Is It Important?

According to Harvard Health, gratitude is “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.” When people actively practice gratitude, they are deliberately and consciously acknowledging the goodness in their lives, recognizing the source of that goodness and connecting positively to something outside themselves as individuals. Gratitude has a wide array of benefits, including greater optimism and happiness, increased positive emotions and alertness, improved physical and behavioral health, increased resilience and healthier relationships. Gratitude also serves as a protective factor against toxic, negative emotions such as envy, resentment and regret. It’s important to note that practicing gratitude does not mean that our lives are perfect or that we don’t face challenges, adversity and barriers.  Rather, it means that when people take stock and assess their lives holistically, they can embrace goodness more intentionally and enjoy the far-reaching impacts of an optimistic outlook.

So how can we cultivate more gratitude? One simple way is to create a gratitude board.

Make Your Own Appreciation Station

A gratitude board is a great way to reinforce positive emotions because it is a visible, physical reminder that can be seen whenever you come and go from your spaces. To get started, grab some kind of board – like a marker, cork or chalk board – sticky notes, scrap paper or notecards; some writing instruments; and something to hold your items to the board. Take some time to reflect on the things, people, experiences and/or events you are grateful for, and write them down. Be as creative as you want, and feel free to invite friends, family members, shipmates or anyone you share common space with to join in. If it’s a group board, see what others are grateful for; their posts might spark more ideas about gratitude and serve as personal inspiration.

One Week Check-In

After a week of constructing your gratitude board, check in to see how you (and your group if you are using that approach) have accumulated positive reflections, ideas, relationships, accomplishments and generosity. Use your one-week inputs as inspiration for maintaining and operating your board throughout the coming months and year.

Gratitude as Self-Care

Investing in our psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing doesn’t have to be time-consuming or costly, and we don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving or the holidays to express what we’re thankful for. Devoting a moment each day to reflect on what we’re grateful for is 1 Small ACT of self-care we can do to take care of our body and mind so that we can be there for others and make positive contributions to our personal and professional relationships. Remember, Every Sailor, Every Day starts with you.

For additional self-care tips for Sailors and families, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Mental Health Month: Finding Work-Life Balance in the Navy

Concept of harmony and balance. Balance stones against the sea.

May is Mental Health Month and cultivating a healthy work-life balance is key to navigating the stress of Navy life. The idea of work-life balance may seem at odds with the duties of a U.S. Navy Sailor.  When the Navy calls, Sailors answer. Unpredictable schedules, lengthy hours and assignments away from home are some of the many challenges Sailors face. However, there are ways to optimize your own work-life balance, no matter what your job in the Navy.

The Effects of Chronic Stress

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key to reducing stress and preventing burnout. When professional demands prevent you from taking time for yourself, you’re at risk of living in a state of chronic stress, and that can have major impact on your mental and physical health. A 2015 study by the British Heart Foundation found that chronic stress led to less-than-optimal health choices, including poor diets, lack of exercise and excessive drinking and smoking among millions of workers. The National Institute of Mental Health also cites digestive symptoms, headaches, sleeplessness and sadness as other potential consequences of ongoing stress.

Top Tips for Work-Life Balance

So with all these consequences at risk, how can you improve work-life balance? We’ve gathered some of the top tips, including some tips that are specifically for families and for leaders.

For Everyone:

  • Prioritize and set manageable goals. When we have goals in place, and we are able to complete them, it helps us have a sense of accomplishment and control. Setting priorities every day can help you gain clarity on what really matters. Be realistic about your workload and deadlines and communicate if you need help. Don’t forget to set personal goals as well!  Choose one personal goal and consistently take one small step towards that goal – it can help you balance work demands if you are working towards something for yourself at the same time.
  • Cut yourself some slack. You’re allowed to be human and to make mistakes. Sometimes, everything won’t get done as quickly as you’d like it. It happens to everyone. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and be kind to yourself. Ask for help and be forgiving of yourself and others.

For Sailors with Families:

  • Don’t take your work home. If possible, leave your work at work. Turn off e-mail notifications when you can – in fact, ditch the phone as much as possible. Set boundaries around what you will and won’t be available for during off duty hours and stick to them.
  • Nurture your personal network. There are a million ways to stay connected these days, so take advantage of them when you’re away from home. Whether communicating in person or electronically, give those closest to you the undivided attention they deserve. Ask questions about their days, and really listen to their answers.

For Leaders:

If you’re in a leadership role, you can help others to create a healthy work-life balance by modeling one yourself. In addition to the tips above, here are some ways to impact the way your team navigates stress and competing priorities.

  • Listen to your team. Meet with your team to discuss deadlines, workloads and overtime hours. You may not be able to change mission demands, but you can find common ground with those around you about meeting those demands. Try to set realistic expectations with your team, and listen if they are struggling under workloads that could lead to burnout. Be sure to regularly ask for feedback, and practice active listening skills when you receive it.  Focusing closely on your team’s responses will help build trust within your team, so they will be more likely to provide honest, thoughtful feedback.
  • Send them home when you can. Some days will require your whole team for long hours. Most days won’t. When possible, send people home early from time to time. You can expect them to give 100% when you really need them if you try to get them home when it counts most.

Additional Resources

The Navy Operational Stress Control (OSC) Program promotes an understanding of stress, awareness of support resources, and provides practical stress navigation tools to help build resilience of Sailors, families, and commands. OSC Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) deploy to provide face-to-face training to assist Sailors and their families with navigating stress. Learn more about these courses here.

The Navy Fleet and Family Support Program offers resources and training to support service members and their families for the physical, emotional, interpersonal and logistical demands of military life. Learn more about their programs and services here.

Military OneSource has information on specialty consultations and a variety of resources to assist with the unique challenges faced by service members and their families. Learn more on their website here.

Taking Care of Yourself During PCS Season

PCS blog Image - April 2019

The summer moving season means many different stresses on military members and their families. Accessing or continuing to receive mental health services during the change of station shouldn’t be one of them. As we enter PCS season, consider these tips to help minimize stress when navigating your next move while maintaining your mental health care.

Family Members

There are many free mental health resources available to help family members. Your Primary Care Manager (PCM) is always a good place to start. If you’re not sure who your PCM is, or if you’re between PCMs due to a move, you can use the Tricare tool to find a Military Treatment Facility (MTF) near you.

For remote help, Military OneSource offers military members and their spouses up to 12 free sessions of non-medical mental health assistance through telephone, online or face-to-face counseling. You can also live chat with Military OneSource 24 hours a day.

Immediate help is also available through a variety of avenues including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Give an Hour and the Real Warriors Live Chat feature. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a confidential service from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides trained crisis workers who can connect you with crisis counseling and mental health referrals. Give an Hour provides free mental health care to active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members, veterans and their families. They Real Warriors Campaign Live Chat offers service members, veterans and their families guidance and resources through trained health resource consultants who are ready to talk, listen and provide support.

Service Members

In addition to the resources listed above, service members can also access a wide variety of mental health services throughout the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) process.

If you’re already receiving mental health care through an MTF, ask your provider or clinic manager to connect you with the clinic at your new duty station.  Your current provider can offer a warm handoff to your new provider, which will smooth the transition from one provider to another. 

InTransition is a free and confidential coaching program provided through the Department of Defense Psychological Health Center of Excellence. InTransition offers specialized coaching and assistance to servicemembers and veterans who need care when relocating, returning from deployment or transitioning off our active duty.

The Moving Forward online course and mobile app from the Department of Veterans Affairs teaches skills to help servicemembers and veterans overcome stressful problems. The course is free and requires no registration information.

Finally, help is always available through the Military Crisis Line. The Military Crisis Line, text-messaging service, and online chat provide free support for all Service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve, and all Veterans, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting to 838255.

More resources can be found on the Navy Suicide Prevention Branch website, including information on the “Every Sailor, Every Day” campaign.

Is it SAD or the Winter Blues?

Sad smiley emoticon face drawn on snow covered glass

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.