Tag Archives: relaxation

How Stress Impacts Your Heart Health

heart-health-blog-image

Heart disease refers to numerous problems which are often related to plaque build-up in the heart’s arteries (atherosclerosis)[1]. There are a variety of risk factors for heart disease, some of which may be out of your control, such as genetics and age. Other risk factors – such as lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet or unchecked stress – can be minimized through lifestyle changes. That’s good news considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.

Stress is a natural reaction; it is the body’s way of coping with a perceived threat. As part of the ‘fight or flight’ response, stress signals the body to produce more energy by elevating the heart rate, increasing production of LDL cholesterol and blood glucose. This response should subside when the perceived threat (stressor) is no longer present. However, when we’re unable to unwind or are exposed to stress for a prolonged amount of time, the short and long term effects can be damaging. Stress can lead to poor eating choices, missed workouts and a lack of sleep. Without action, this combination of factors may lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

According to the 2013 Fleet and Marine Corps Health Risk Assessment, only 12 percent of active duty Navy respondents and 13 percent of active duty Marine respondents indicated that they experienced work stress. However, those numbers increased as time away from home station increased. To help navigate stress, follow these tips:

Not all risk factors can be avoided, but exercising Controllability when it comes to navigating stress and making lifestyle choices can reduce risk. Small acts can help you do your part to protect your heart, improve your health and enhance your military readiness.

February is Heart Health Month. The Every Sailor, Every Day campaign thanks Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center for providing the above information, which can be found in their fact sheets “Heart Health: Risk Factors and Lifestyle Choices” and “Help your Heart, Help your Life” located in the February HPW Toolbox.

 

[1] What is Cardiovascular Disease? (2017, January 10). Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp#.WJns3dXR_9c

Self-Managing Psychological Health Concerns: Work with a Provider for Maximum Benefit

40th CAB goes to the qualification ranges

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog post provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. More information and tools are available at www.realwarriors.net.

Military service can be challenging at times. These challenges can lead to psychological health concerns such as feeling anxiety, worry, sadness, or having trouble sleeping. It is common for service members to try to manage concerns like these on their own. While you may be trying to self-manage already, remember that you can benefit from the support and advice of your health care provider. It is important to seek care from your provider if:

If you decide to self-manage, talk with your health care provider about the following techniques that can help during the process.

Create a Self-Management Plan

Creating a self-management plan with your health care provider can help you stay organized and on track. Try these tips as you self-manage:

  • Educate yourself about symptoms using trusted sources, such as from your health care provider or a symptom checker from Make the Connection.
  • Visit your health care provider on a regular basis to make sure you are making progress.
  • Set realistic expectations of when your concerns may improve.
  • Keep track of your progress and results.
  • Reach out to those who may have had similar concerns, such as attending a support group.
  • Share your plan with loved ones so they can help support your goals.

Learn to Self-Manage Your Concerns

Your provider may offer several techniques to help you manage your concerns. Research shows that the self-management techniques below support your psychological health and improve your well-being. Talk with a provider to see which of these may work best for you:

Mobile apps can be great tools for helping you self-manage. Use apps to support care and track and share health information with your health care provider. For example, the Breathe2Relax app uses proven breathing exercises to relieve stress and improve your mood. The Mindfulness Coach app provides you with tools and guided exercises to help you practice mindfulness. For a list of more apps, take a look at the Defense Department’s Telehealth and Technology (T2) website.

Self-managing is not a solution for everyone nor every situation, and that is okay. You can also reach out to your local TRICARE facilityor Veterans Affairs medical center. Treatment will depend on your specific concerns, location and insurance type.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a psychological health crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1. For more support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center at 866-966-1020 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants 24/7, 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

 

Breathing, Meditation and Relaxation Techniques

Man at the sunrise

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog post provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. More information and tools are available at www.realwarriors.net.

Staying fit requires more than physical strength – it requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on the mind, body and spirit working together. Whether you are preparing to deploy, are currently deployed or are reintegrating, it’s important to consider how mind and body practices like breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques can assist you in staying resilient or coping with invisible wounds. Mind and body skills are part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative health practices that focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body and behavior, in order to use the mind to strengthen physical functioning and promote health.[1] CAM and integrative health are a diverse group of medical and non-medical health care practices that are not considered to be part of conventional medicine, or clinical care practiced by a health provider.[1] Note, CAM and integrative health practices are not currently covered under TRICARE military health care plans. For more information on TRICARE coverage, visit TRICARE Covered Services online.

Used on their own or as a supplement to your provider’s clinical care, mind and body practices may reduce the severity of combat stress, relax your mind, assist in your recovery, build resilience and help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Practice Breathing Exercises to Relax

Breathing exercises, a fundamental component of mind and body practices, have been proven to activate the body’s relaxation response. Additionally, breathing exercises can help control the body’s reaction to stress by balancing its “fight or flight” response and relaxation response.[2] Incorporating breathing exercises such as the one below into your daily routine can improve physiological factors like blood pressure, heart rate and muscle relaxation, which in turn may help you manage anxiety, improve concentration, sleep sounder or improve your immune system.[3]

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s Breathe2Relax mobile app can help you manage stress through proven diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Breathe2Relax can be used as a stand-alone stress reduction tool or it can be used in tandem with clinical care, as directed by your healthcare provider. The app is available for Apple iOS and Android operating systems. To download the app, search for “Breathe2Relax” in the App Store for iOS and in the Android Market from your smart mobile device.

To practice breathing on your own, sit in a comfortable position and be sure to inhale and exhale evenly and slowly. An alternate nostril breathing exercise is a good technique to start with because it brings balance to both sides of the brain and control the body’s reaction to stress:[4]

  • Close off your right nostril by placing the thumb of your right hand on your right nostril
  • Inhale through your left nostril
  • Close off your left nostril with the ring finger of your right hand
  • Remove the thumb and exhale through your right nostril
  • Inhale through your right nostril
  • Close off your right nostril with your thumb
  • Exhale through your left nostril
  • Inhale through your left nostril
  • Continue alternating five to 10 times

For more information on breathing exercises, download the Controlled Breathing Techniques fact sheet on our website and try incorporating breathing exercises into your daily routine.

Calm Your Mind with Meditation

Meditation is a technique that restores calm and inner peace and produces a deep state of relaxation by focusing attention. It is not yet fully known what changes occur in the body during meditation or whether or how they influence health, but research is ongoing. Meditation can be effective for building resilience and easing anxiety, depression or reintegration stress. Some forms of meditation instruct the practitioner to become mindful of thoughts, feelings and sensations and to observe them in a nonjudgmental way. Most types of meditation have four elements in common:[5]

  • A quiet location. Meditation is usually practiced in a quiet place with as few distractions as possible. This can be particularly helpful for beginners.
  • A specific, comfortable posture. Depending on the type being practiced, meditation can be done while sitting, lying down, standing, walking or in other positions.
  • A focus of attention. Focusing your attention is usually part of meditation. For example, you might focus on a mantra (a chosen word or set of words), an object, the sensations of breathing or whatever topic or thought is dominant in your consciousness.
  • An open attitude. Having an open attitude during meditation means letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them. If your attention goes to a distracting or wandering thought, no need to suppress those thoughts. Instead, gently return your attention back to focus.

If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, check with your nearest military facility to inquire if they offer a meditation course. An increasing number of facilities offer meditation courses – and some offer a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You can also talk to your health care provider about meditation resources in your community. For information on choosing a CAM practitioner or program, check out the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s tips for selecting a CAM practitioner.

Relax Through Yoga

For a review and comparative summary of popular mind-body techniques, read “Mind-Body Skills for Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System” by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The term “yoga” means to “unite” and typically involves a combination of exercise, breathing and meditation. Research indicates that benefits of yoga may include lowered blood pressure, reduced stress response, increased strength, flexibility endurance, immune response and improved concentration, among other benefits.[6] Yoga is an important part of the Specialized Care Program at Defense Department’s Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC), which is designed to treat patients with deployment-related stress and PTSD. Before enrolling in a yoga class at the DHCC or at another military facility, you should consult with your healthcare provider to confirm yoga is suitable for you. For service members coping with trauma, a yoga class which focuses on trauma-sensitive meditation may be more appropriate than a more traditional class.[6]

For those who wish to practice yoga at home, DHCC recommends a program called iRest, which offers voice-guided sessions on meditation and deep relaxation.[6] Visit iRest’s military webpage to listen to a free download (short practice) of iRest Yoga Nidra or view a 15-minute introductory video of guided meditations for warriors.

Additional Resources

 

Sources

1 “What is CAM?” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

2 Mahoney, Louise. “Reduce Stress with 10 Minutes of Chair Yoga,” [PPT 889KB] Department of Veterans Affairs War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

3 Carnes, Robin. “Holistic Therapies Help Manage Stress At Home,” Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

4 “Controlled Breathing Techniques,” [PDF 77KB] Department of Veterans Affairs War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

5 “Meditation: An Introduction,” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014.

6 Carnes, Robin. “Yoga and Yoga Nidra Meditation at the Deployment Health Clinical Center’s Specialized Care Program,” [PDF 1.1MB] Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2014

Mind Trips


This week’s cartoon features Air Force spouse and military cartoonist Julie Negron, creator of JennySpouse.com

Do you ever daydream? Just floating along on the memories of a fun experience with family or friends? Or maybe dreaming about an upcoming vacation, anticipating the feel of the warm sand and salt spray?

Because we live in a society where left-brain logic is considered the gold standard, daydreaming has gotten a bad rep. But research increasingly reveals that daydreaming, and especially controlled daydreaming or what’s called “guided imagery”, reduces stress, improves performance, increases creativity, and fosters recovery from even some of the most serious medical conditions.

Like any skill, using this technique to navigate stress needs to be practiced regularly. How do you do that? Find a comfortable and relatively quiet place, though it doesn’t have to be totally silent. (Think back to a time you caught yourself daydreaming; very likely other people were present and you may have been sitting at your desk at work.)

1. Take a few deep slow breaths. Breathe in to the count of four, hold for the count of four, and slowly breathe out to the count of four, or whatever count works best for you. Repeat 4-8 times or until you begin to feel your body relax a bit.

2. Do a body scan and choose to let go in tense muscle areas. Pay particular attention to your neck and shoulders where we tend to hold the most tension.

3. Think of a place or situation where you feel relaxed and content. That could be listening to conversation with friends or it could be a beach, mountain trail, or by a babbling brook. Focus on all the senses. What does it smell like? How does the air feel? What sounds do you hear? What small details do you see? Like an artist, fill in as many details as you can.

Even a few minutes can rejuvenate you and improve your ability to tackle the tasks at hand. Can’t get away to the Bahamas today? Take a mind trip there instead!

For more information about relaxation and guided imagery, visit these sites:

Navy Knowledge online https://wwwa.nko.navy.mil/portal/operationstresscontrol/operationalstresscontrol

Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/relaxation-technique/SR00007

Web MD http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/tc/guided-imagery-topic-overview

About the blogger:

Leanne Braddock is a Licensed Marital and Family Therapist and the Clinical Program Analyst for the Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program. She played a key role in the development of OSC. Leanne is a retired Commander Human Resource Officer, was a Navy “junior”, Navy wife, and now a Navy Mom. Her son is a Surface Warfare Officer.

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