Tag Archives: relationship health

Self-Care for Those Supporting Others

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If you’ve ever provided support to a loved one when they are facing a crisis, challenge, traumatic or stressful event, you may know how difficult it can be to maintain your own emotional and mental health. While practicing self-care is important throughout life’s ups and downs, it is especially critical to remember when supporting others during trying times. Whether you’re helping a friend that has a mental health challenge or a family member dealing with substance misuse, maintaining your self-care plan is critical to ensuring your own well-being.

Although it may feel selfish or unwarranted to practice personal self-care when a loved one is facing challenges, continuing to make healthy choices will ultimately empower you to better take care of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights how “taking care of your emotional health during an emergency will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family. Self-care during an emergency will help your long-term healing.”

Here are a few ways to take care of yourself when supporting a loved one:

Stay close to your routine. A huge part of self-care is upholding your established schedule. Eat healthy meals, get a full night of sleep and exercise when you can. Focus on work and family responsibilities one task at a time.

Talk to someone. Tap in to your own support network to bolster your relationship health when caring for others. The National Institutes of Health’s Social Wellness Toolkit offers several checklists for how to build healthy relationships during a variety of situations. Even though it may feel uncomfortable to ask for individual help while a loved one is suffering, connecting with others will help you stay sharp and motivated. Go to an event, plan a meal with family or video chat with a trusted friend.

Let go of negative feelings. If you have decision-making power over a loved one’s stressful or traumatic event, try to reframe your perspective in order to protect your own health. Caregiver.org recommends the following: “Change ‘guilt’ to ‘regret.’ Guilt is you did something wrong, regret is that you are in a difficult situation and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, but they are not wrong.” Keep in mind that the situation your loved one is facing is likely temporary. Recognizing small positive moments on a daily basis is also a useful way to maintain a more resilient headspace.

Dedicate time for full-on relaxation. You may feel like you’re tied to your phone to receive the latest updates on a loved one’s challenges, and then even more pressure to relay updates to other friends and family. When your attention is concentrated on helping someone, allot specific times to put your digital devices away and redirect your focus to a relaxing activity. Consider journaling, reading a book, going for a walk or doing a deep breathing exercise to meditate. Try to take regular breaks, even if you can only step away for a few minutes throughout the day to unwind.

Remove the noise. Consider unsubscribing to social media and email push notifications on your phone to allow for more space to focus on what’s most important to you. Reducing the amount of unnecessary information coming your way may help you feel less overwhelmed when supporting a loved one. Pressing pause on your news consumption can also help you clear your mind. Minimize any pressure you may be putting on yourself to respond quickly to outside friends and family that may not know what you or your loved one is going through.

Understand your role and its limits. As much as you may think that caring for or supporting your loved one falls on your shoulders, you will likely not be able to solve all of their problems alone. Ask people in your support network for resources and nudge your loved one to consider meeting with a mental health specialist or other relevant medical provider if necessary. Setting boundaries and fostering a wider support network for your friend or family member will help you navigate your own stressors and create some potentially needed distance from the situation.

For a full list of mental health hotlines and other resources, review this article.

Resources for Establishing Healthy Relationships and Boundaries

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Healthy relationships are built on fundamental tenants of respect, honesty, support and equality.  The beginning of the year is a great time to check in on your interpersonal relationships with your friends, family and peers to set healthy boundaries.  Recognizing and responding to unhealthy behaviors in your interpersonal relationships is critical to your emotional and relationship health.  January marks National Stalking Awareness Month, a time to educate yourself and others about stalking.

Recognized as a crime in all 50 states, the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women defines stalking as “engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress.”  In 2015, The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that nearly 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men were victims of stalking.

Stalking can be difficult to recognize, especially when the entertainment industry often romanticizes persistence in relationships as a form of flattery.  The National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource center outlines the following behaviors of stalkers:

  • Repeatedly call you, including hang-ups.
  • Follow you and show up wherever you are.
  • Send unwanted gifts, letters, texts, or e-mails.
  • Damage your home, car, or other property.
  • Monitor your phone calls or computer use.
  • Use technology, like hidden cameras or global positioning systems (GPS), to track where you go.
  • Drive by or hang out at your home, school, or work.
  • Threaten to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets.
  • Find out about you by using public records or on-line search services, hiring investigators, going through your garbage, or contacting friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers.
  • Other actions that control, track, or frighten you.

To learn more about stalking and other unhealthy relationship behaviors, visit the following resources:

If you or someone you know needs help, utilize the following hotlines:

  • National Center for Victims of Crime: 1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846)
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline:  1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

Digital Safety: Considerations for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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Advances in digital technology have fundamentally transformed the way we communicate. From messaging friends on social media platforms, to using online dating websites, to tracking our exercise with mobile apps, to answering calls via wearable devices, we can now connect with our close friends, family, loved ones and larger community faster than ever. Digital tools constantly collect information about our interactions, and those closest to us are often involved in shaping our digital interactions.

While increasing our ease of connectivity to our partners is often an advantage, many people do not understand what digital abuse is and are not able to recognize the signs of digital abuse between partners. October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as Richard McKeon, Ph.D., chief of the suicide prevention branch at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out: “survivors of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide multiple times, and cases of murder suicide are most likely to occur in the context of abuse.” Although physical violence is more commonly linked to domestic violence, digital platforms and software are also now leveraged as mechanisms to transmit abuse. Using abusive language and intimidating partners – whether publicly or privately online – can be just as devastating as an act of physical violence. By controlling a partner’s digital life, an abuser may find it an effective way to exercise control over someone’s physical, financial and emotional well-being.

Here are a few considerations to make digital safety a priority for yourself, your friends and your family in relationships:

Increase your awareness of the information collected by digital tools. Several mobile apps and websites automatically default to settings that track your location. Digital stalking can be made even easier with GPS, with social media platforms’ location tags often leaving a digital trail. Protect yourself and others by remaining aware of who has access to what devices, apps and accounts. Reset your passwords and contact information associated with your account on a routine basis for added security.

Recognize and understand the reach of digital tools. The Internet gives individuals a much broader platform to broadcast photos, screenshots of texts and documents that could potentially harm someone’s personal or professional life. Abusive partners can use public shaming or humiliation to distort the truth.

Take note of any abrupt changes in a friend or family member’s online behavior. If it seems like someone’s posts, comments or replies have changed in content or frequency, ask them directly about the changes you’ve observed. Their partner may be imposing limits on who they can contact and what they can post. Connect those in your community with digital and in-person resources and let them know you are there for them.

While digital abuse is common among young people who are frequently using technology at high rates, it is important to know that anyone can be a victim of digital abuse. In addition to local resources, national resources for domestic violence victim assistance and support include:

  • For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.
  • Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) which can be reached through the RAINN Hotline at 1-800-865-HOPE or through its website at http://www.rainn.org/

Connectedness: Relationships Strengthen Resilience

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How connected are you? Many people value their self-reliance – the ability to solve and manage problems on their own. While self-reliance and grit are important qualities, relationships are one of the key principles of resilience.

What is Connectedness?

In its Suicide Prevention Strategic Direction published in 2011, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines connectedness as “the degree to which a person or group is socially close, interrelated, or shares resources with other persons or groups.” Connectedness can include relationships with friends, a spouse or other family members, as well as professional relationships and community ties. No matter what type of relationship is involved, the connection created can have significant positive effects on a person’s well-being. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Network (2019), “positive and supportive social relationships and community connections can help buffer the effects of risk factors in people’s lives.”

Is There a Connectedness Crisis?

In today’s world, it appears like we are more connected than ever – at least with technology. Social media and mobile communication seem to make it easier to stay close to others. However, a 2018  survey by global health company Cigna of more than 20,000 U.S. adults showed increasing levels of loneliness despite the ability to stay in touch. Some of the key takeaways from the survey were:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others.
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to.
  • Only around half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family.
  • Generation Z is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

It’s important to find a balance between healthy use of social media, maintenance of in-person social connection and opportunities to create new relationships. Check out this article from the NavyNavStress blog for tips to help you reset your relationship with social media and your relationship with yourself.

Building Community Connectedness

In addition to unit cohesion and finding meaning in the mission, belonging to a social group can increase a person’s sense of personal value and feelings of connectedness with others. It also gives people access to a larger source of support. According to the CDC (2011), these effects indicate that people who belong to social groups may be more capable of healthy coping in stressful situations. Additionally, group members can notice when someone is struggling with a problem and offer support to that individual. Stronger ties to community organizations may also benefit people by providing better access to formal helping resources outside of the group itself.

A social group may be a formal organization, like a faith-based study group or a petty officer association. They can also be informal, like coworkers who grab lunch together or gym buddies who work out together a few times a week. What’s most important is that the social group is positive and supportive for its members.

For Sailors and their families, two resources to find opportunities for social connection are the Fleet and Family Support Program (FFSP) and the Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program.  FFSPs support individual and family readiness through a full array of programs and resources which help Navy families to be resilient, well-informed and adaptable to the Navy environment. MWR offers diverse programs with something to interest almost everyone, and the offerings are great opportunities to meet others who share similar interests.

Connecting with a Spouse or Significant Other

A romantic relationship is the closest form of social connectedness for many people. Conversely, the loss of a romantic partner can cause significant loneliness and stress. Navy life can be tough on romantic relationships. Unpredictable schedules, time apart and other factors can make it difficult to sustain and grow romantic partnerships. There are many resources to help, though. One of the most productive options to consider is to attend some form of counseling, and the Navy has several options for Sailors and their loved ones to reclaim their connection. Those resources include non-medical counseling through Military and Family Life Counseling, Navy Counseling, Advocacy and Prevention services  at Fleet and Family Support Centers (FFSCs); Navy chaplains and medical counseling available through a Military Treatment Facility.

Building Connection 1 Small ACT at a Time

Caring is at the heart of connectedness. When interacting with others, remember that 1 Small ACT can make a difference. Like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @NavStress on Twitter for information from the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.