Tag Archives: Stress Navigation Plan

Five Small ACTs to Strengthen your Mental Health

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Promoting mental health involves a combination of strategies supporting psychological, emotional and social well-being. While mental health is often discussed in relation to mental illness, it is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.” [1]

In honor of Mental Health Month (May), try incorporating these five small ACTs into your daily routine to build strength from the inside out:

  1. Practice self-care.
    Whether you’re navigating life’s daily stressors or are working through ongoing challenges, self-care is an important mental health tool. Journal writing is a self-care technique that can help you relieve stress, find meaning during adversity, and process thoughts and emotions in a healthy manner. To build this habit, seek a quiet place and aim to write for a few minutes at the same time each day (set a reminder on your smart phone if you need a nudge). Pick a format that’s most accessible and comfortable for you, such as a notebook or computer. If you’re ready to go but feel a bit of writer’s block coming on, try starting with phrases like “I am most grateful for…” or “I believe in myself because…” to get you going. Our partners at the Real Warriors Campaign have more tips on journaling and other self-care tools, such as practicing mindfulness.
  1. Fuel with nature’s best.
    When it comes to optimizing physical or mental health, the benefits of drinking water are a “no-brainer.” Moderate dehydration can elevate cortisol levels (one of the body’s fight or flight hormones) leading to feelings of anxiousness and stress. Just a two percent decrease in weight due to fluid loss has been shown to impair both mental and physical performance, including memory function [2]. The Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System recommends drinking at least 0.5 to one fluid ounce of water per pound of body weight daily to promote physical and mental performance. Be sure to pair your H2O with nutrient-packed fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Research shows that people with diets high in whole foods have a lower risk of depression than those who consume mostly processed food [3]. For more tips on fueling with your physical and mental health in mind, click here.
  1. Maintain a physical fitness regimen that you enjoy.
    What can you do to improve your mood, get better sleep, increase endurance, navigate stress, boost energy and stay mission (and PFA) ready? Exercise. Physical activity has been proven to do all of the above, in addition to potentially reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boosting cognitive function [4]. 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. The objective is to find a physical activity you enjoy that strengthens your body and mind! Aim for a minimum of two hours and thirty minutes of moderate physical activity per week, strength training all major muscle groups. Short on time or space? Try this workout.
  1. Have a plan to navigate stress—and put it in ACTion.
    Challenges are inevitable, and sometimes determining where you can turn for help can be a challenge in itself. A Stress Navigation Plan can help you identify your physical, emotional and social reactions to stress; note helpful coping strategies; and determine who and where your resources are before you need them. Your plan is a reminder that no matter the situation, you don’t have to navigate it alone. Personalize your Stress Navigation Plan today and keep it in a safe, easily accessible place. Key resources such as the Military Crisis Line, Military OneSource and Navy Chaplain Care are already populated in the plan for your convenience.
  2. Practice kindness, 1 Small ACT at a time.
    Performing a kind act stimulates “emotional warmth,” which promotes release of oxytocin in the brain [5]. Whether you volunteer to be an on-call designated driver for your shipmates, tell a loved one how much they mean to you, or simply hold the door for someone, you’re contributing to your own feelings of connectedness, purpose and belonging. These are important aspects of social and emotional well-being that build mental health. 1 Small ACT not only makes a difference to others—it makes a difference to you.

While you’re working these small ACTs into your daily routine, don’t forget to find the funny in life. Laughter can help thwart the release of stress hormones, trigger production of feel-good hormones and promote relaxation. Just don’t take it as far as Jonesy (pictured above, courtesy Julie Negron)!

For more small ACTs to strengthen your mental health this month and throughout the year, follow Operational Stress Control on Facebook and Twitter at @NavStress.

 References:

[1] Mental Health Basics. (2013). Retrieved April 2, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics.htm

[2] Department of the Navy, Morale, Welfare and Recreation. (n.d.). Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System. Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://www.navyfitness.org/_uploads/docs/NOFFS_Nutrition.pdf

[3] Akbaraly, T. N., Brunner, E. J., Ferrie, J. E., Marmot, M. G., Kivimaki, M., & Singh-Manoux, A. (2009). Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 195(5), 408-413. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.108.058925

[4] Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106.

[5] Acts of Kindness can make you Happier. Retrieved March 01, 2016 from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/new/articles/2013/01/24/acts-of-kindness-can-make-you-happier

Stress Awareness Month: Know Your Zone

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Operational stress is the process of responding to the challenges of Navy life, as well as the direct and indirect challenges associated with Navy operations—and Sailors aren’t the only ones who feel its effects! Frequent moves, lengthy deployments, reintegration and tough missions—coupled with the daily churn of home life—can lead to operational stress for the entire family. Some stress is good; helping us better respond to challenges, build resilience and promote family togetherness. However, exposure to prolonged or extreme stress can negatively impact health, performance and relationships.

April is National Stress Awareness Month and there’s no better time for you and your family to check in with each other— and yourselves. The Operational Stress Control (OSC) program’s Stress Continuum Model can help Sailors, families and commands identify stress reactions and guide appropriate action based on four color-coded zones: Green (Ready), Yellow ( Reacting), Orange (Injured) and Red (Ill).

The Green Zone represents readiness and personal well-being. While you may not be stress free, if you’re feeling on top of things, are functioning optimally and have an overall positive attitude, you’re likely in the Green. While you’re here:

The Yellow Zone represents normal, expected and predictable reactions to temporary and mild distress. While it may sound ideal to want to “stay in the Green,” at any given time in your life you will oscillate between Green and Yellow—and that’s how you build resilience. Yellow Zone stress reactions are like a tree branch bending in the wind—still capable of springing back in place when the wind calms. While you may experience some changes to daily function, including trouble sleeping and reduced concentration, serious and persistent dysfunction do not characterize Yellow Zone stress. To return to the Green:

  • Practice self-care, such as active relaxation, exercise and “saying no” to overloading yourself with activities that may contribute to stress;
  • Talk with your spouse, partner or friends. Having a Stress Navigation Plan can help you readily identify who you can turn to when facing challenges; and
  • Explore resources available through your local Fleet & Family Support Center and/or Military OneSource.

The Orange Zone indicates injury resulting from severe or prolonged exposure to stress. Social withdrawal; inability to enjoy daily activities; and intense or uncontrollable guilt, shame or emotion may characterize an Orange Zone stress injury. Think of it like the tree branch breaking because it was bent beyond its limits by the wind. While stress injuries usually heal over time, if left untreated, they may progress into more serious physical and/or psychological health impacts. To promote recovery:

  • Seek guidance from medical professionals or confidential support from a Navy chaplain. The Military Crisis Line also offers 24/7 confidential support for military family members. Dial 1-800-273-TALK (Option 1), text 838255 from your mobile device or visit militarycrisisline.net;
  • Communicate with your spouse, partner or a family member to harness support and promote emotional safety; and
  • Practice self-care as outlined above. Set goals to get back to the Green.

Severe distress that persists or worsens and leads to a loss of function characterizes the Red Zone. While only a medical or psychological health professional can diagnose a Red Zone illness, it is important to recognize what steps to take to get appropriate care. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength.

  • If danger is imminent, contact 911.
  • Seek medical treatment. Ask a trusted friend or family member to accompany you.
  • Follow the treatment plan outlined by your provider.

Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program has tools and resources to help you navigate stress and build resilience during and beyond the rigors of military life. Follow OSC online for daily tips, tricks and small acts to help you and your family stay in or get back to the Green.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/navstress
Twitter: www.twitter.com/navstress
Website: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/osc/Pages/default.aspx

 

Leading By Example: Small ACTs can Make a Difference in Your Life, too

1SA BlogWhile September—Suicide Prevention Month—may be over, our work to promote healthy stress navigation and proactive support continues 365 days a year. We introduced the “1 Small ACT” message to encourage simple ways to make a difference to every Sailor, every day. That commitment starts at the individual level through leading by example and taking care of your own physical and psychological health. Here are a few Small ACTs to help you build a journey toward personal wellness:

  • Personalize Your Stress Navigation Plan. Just as you would program a sober buddy’s number in your phone to avoid getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, you should take a moment to proactively identify who you’d reach out to and what you will do when you encounter stress and adversity. Take a moment to fill out your Stress Navigation Plan (available here) to help you list your practices for safely navigating stress, and store it in an easily accessible place so that you can be more prepared during life’s inevitable stressful moments. Encourage your shipmates and family to develop their plan as well.
  • Build up to a regular fitness regimen to combat stress. Not getting in your recommended two hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per week? Stop creating excuses and take small steps to build healthy habits. To help you get fit from the inside out, try breaking up your physical activity on busy days. Even a 20 minute run around your building or the deck, or a few sets of lunges each hour in your workspace, can increase endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters that play a vital role in navigating stress.
  • Swap one “junk food” item with one healthy choice each day. It’s not just about your waistline. Without proper nutrition, your brain cannot adequately communicate with the rest of your body, which can lead to changes in mood. Choosing one healthy swap per day gives you an opportunity to discover whole foods that still satisfy your craving, and may progress to bigger long-term changes. If you’re a burger lover, try using salmon instead of ground beef. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon can help keep cortisol and adrenaline levels in check, helping to keep you calm after a stressful event.
  • Give thanks. Expressions of gratitude have been linked to greater goal achievement, improved physical health and even an improved ability to navigate memories of traumatic events. Try giving three sincere compliments or reminders of appreciation each day. We feel our best when we help others feel their best as well. After a few days, you may notice that others seem more motivated and connected, and you may feel the same.

The simple possibilities are endless. Whether you decide to make a conscious effort to get more sleep, communicate better with your family, be a more approachable leader or speak with a chaplain to help work through challenges, your actions can motivate your shipmates. When it comes to breaking down the barriers that may prevent others from taking steps toward better health, the Small ACTs we take can have a ripple effect. Check out more creative ways Sailors and members of the Navy community are choosing to support themselves and others in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery. Post your 1 Small ACT today—submissions will be accepted through Aug. 31, 2016!

Reprogram Your Drinking Habits to Promote Health, Well-being and Safety

April brings several key areas of focus for the Navy to the forefront, and among those topics is alcohol awareness. Alcohol misuse can affect all aspects of our lives—from health and well-being, to social connections, physical and emotional safety, and mission readiness. As we kick off National Alcohol Awareness Month, here are a few suggestions to help you and your shipmates adopt or maintain healthy drinking habits and promote healthy decision making.

Don’t rely on alcohol to reduce your stress. When encountering stress, if we’re unable to respond adaptively while our bodies are in “fight or flight” mode, the likelihood that we’ll make potentially unhealthy choices to ease that tension increases. Having a drink or two to unwind after a stressful day may seem harmless, but this habit is actually working against you and can lead to long-term physical and psychological health effects, including addictive or destructive behavior. Instead of immediately reaching for a drink, try turning to healthy habits. If you’re more likely to make a “pit stop” on the way home from work, head to the gym instead. Endorphins released during exercise can actually improve your mood—a true happy hour! If trying to de-stress with alcohol has become a common practice for you, it’s probably time to self-refer for assistance. Talk to your Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA), chaplain, doctor, or command leadership about where to get help.

Empower yourself to thrive during adversity. To help you explore and identify your resources for making healthy decisions during stressful times, take a moment to fill out your Stress Navigation Plan, available on www.suicide.navy.mil. This simple proactive tool helps you think about your current practices for navigating stress while you’re still emotionally and physically healthy. In the process, you may be able to identify more positive coping strategies than what you currently turn to, avoiding potentially destructive behavior like alcohol abuse.

Exercise controllability and plan ahead. As the winter weather is giving way to warmer temperatures, social calendars will start to fill with cookouts and parties. While you’re making your party plans, make plans for a safe ride home your priority by ensuring that a shipmate, friend or family member will be your designated driver. Designated drivers need to completely abstain from drinking—buzzed driving is drunk driving too. Programming the number to a local taxi service in your mobile phone is always a good backup plan. Controllability is one of the Principles of Resilience, helping you make proactive choices and minimize potential for stress or negative outcomes.

Respect. Protect. Empower. April also marks Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Approximately half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by perpetrator, victim or both, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Staying alert, engaged and looking out for your shipmates can not only prevent alcohol abuse, but can prevent sexual assault as well. If you recognize a potentially negative situation, you have the power to speak up and intervene before an incident occurs. Protecting our people protects our mission.

For more information on how you can encourage responsible drinking, visit www.nadap.navy.mil. For additional stress navigation tips to support every Sailor, every day, visit navstress.wordpress.com.

What’s Your Plan to Navigate Stress?

As the days get longer and warmer and summer excitement begins, safety will be a critical focus—from preventing mishaps in swimming pools and outdoor grilling dangers, to preventing fatigued driving during summer road trips. Naval Safety Center’s “Live to Play, Play to Live” campaign is in full-swing, with severalsnp Navy programs engaging to ensure that the entire community enjoys the next 101 days of summer safely and responsibly.

While planning for physical safety helps minimize risk for yourself and those around you, emotional safety and wellbeing is an equally important part of the equation to keep you healthy and mission-ready. We may not know when we’ll encounter adversity, but by identifying positive resources that we can turn to during life’s inevitable challenges we can help prepare ourselves for the unexpected, minimizing the risk of those challenges developing into crises. Just as you would program a sober buddy’s number in your phone to avoid getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, you should take a moment to proactively identify who you’d reach out to and what you will do when you encounter stress and adversity.

To help you explore and identify your resources for making healthy decisions during stressful times, take a moment to fill out your Stress Navigation Plan, downloadable on the Navy Suicide Prevention website here. This simple proactive tool helps you think about your current practices for navigating stress—from a tough day on the job, to financial setbacks or relationship issues—while you’re still emotionally healthy. In the process, you may come up with more positive ways to navigate stress than what you currently turn to and will have the names and numbers of those you trust when you need to talk things through. By writing your resources and practices down now, you’ll be more prepared during stressful situations and are empowering yourself to make positive choices to thrive during adversity, not just survive.

While you’re encouraged to share your Stress Navigation Plan with your closest friends, family or those who are listed in it, your plan doesn’t have to be shared with anyone. Keep it in a safe place (wallet, desk, glove compartment in your car) so that you can easily access it when the need arises. You can even take a picture of your plan and store it in your mobile phone, or save the phone numbers in your contacts list. This is a simple commitment to yourself to navigate stress safely and to remind yourself that seeking help—whether through a friend, peer, leader or professional resource—can help you emerge from adversity stronger and more resilient than before. Be sure to update your plan every few months so that you’re not just ready for stress during the 101 days of summer, but all year long.