Tag Archives: stress

5 Ideas to Boost Your Mental Resilience

Conversations around psychological, mental and emotional health are evolving. While stigma still exists in some communities when it comes to discussing mental health, we all play a role in reducing these barriers. Starting open discussions with yourself and others about your thoughts and emotions is important during the COVID-19 crisis and can help make you more resilient.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and resulted in approximately 48,000 deaths in 2018. However, suicide is preventable. Talking openly about suicide without fear or shame is helpful and encourages help-seeking behavior and effective intervention.

While individuals of all backgrounds and identities may grapple with addressing or improving their mental health, men are featured as a potentially  vulnerable group due to their lower instances of help-seeking behavior. Men die at a higher rate by suicide than women.  One study notes: “too often many men do not talk about feeling down, sad, or depressed, and might not mention emotional or behavioral difficulties at all … although asking for help is difficult for many people, it is well documented that men tend to be reluctant to seek help in various contexts, including help for mental health concerns.”

Since June is Men’s Health Month, we want to highlight opportunities to support men – and everyone – in increasing their mental immunity:

Get enough sleep and rest. Sleep helps us process our experiences and recharge our mind and bodies for what’s ahead. Review common myths around sleep and ways to improve your sleep habits from Real Warriors. It’s okay to feel tired and to take time to rest. Pausing on a task or something you are working on is not a sign of giving up. Although it may seem like there are not enough hours in the day, taking short, 15-minute microbreaks may help you feel more focused and energized.

Grow and nurture your support network. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center outlines how “positive and supportive social relationships and community connections can help buffer the effects of risk factors in people’s lives.” Asking for help is a sign of strength, and building strong social ties leads to a happier and more fulfilled life. Instead of worrying about something, talk it out with a trusted friend or family member. Leaning on others when you need support does not detract from your personal strength – it just helps grow it.

Prioritize self-care. Self-care isn’t limited to cucumber face masks – it means different things to everyone and can be viewed through the lens of several health aspects. Self-care can be physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual or social, whether that means taking time to go for a relaxing bike ride, journaling your thoughts or reading a great book. Learn more about opportunities for self-care from the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s fact sheet on Psychological Toughness.

Role model positive behaviors and actions. Once you’ve developed a few healthy habits or found things that help you unwind, share them with others. Finding opportunities to informally mentor or provide advice to others may help you feel more refreshed. It’s okay to not have all of the answers and to ask questions.

Stay open to change. Several things in life look different over time, and we’re often faced with periods of uncertainty. You may not be able to control every aspect of your life, but you can control your response. Recognize and reflect on the good parts of the day and feel empowered to address adversity by responding more mindfully. When a stressful event occurs, take a moment to stop, regroup and ask yourself how you choose to respond. Focusing on putting energy into what you can control instead of putting energy to things outside of your control can help you feel more grounded.

If you or someone in your network is having a hard time, connect with resources that can help, like the Military Crisis Line. Call 24/7: 1-800-273-8255, press 1, text 838255 or chat.

Reframing Stress to Help You Grow

Stress takes on many forms and looks different for everyone. Recognizing and addressing your stressors before they escalate to distress is important. Even understanding the physical signs of stress unique to you (e.g., muscle tension, upset stomach) helps your mind feel more empowered to transform anxious thoughts to more relaxed feelings.

According to the American Institute of Stress, stress can produce both positive and negative impacts on individuals physically, emotionally or mentally. The Cleveland Clinic mentions how stress that progresses to distress may lead to headaches, elevated blood pressure, problems sleeping and a heightened sense of anxiousness. Sometimes, intrusive thoughts or memories lead to heightened anxiety. Addressing feelings when you feel them is important, even if that means trying new behavioral techniques or taking a break to help you stay healthy.

Eustress, also commonly referred to as “good stress,” may actually help you learn new skills, navigate major life changes and determine how to effectively address new roles and responsibilities. Too much eustress is not good, but when experienced in manageable moments, it can improve our well-being. Successfully overcoming smaller stressors helps build resilience and equips you with the tools to address other concerns. Positive thinking often goes hand-in-hand with eustress and may help you view perceived barriers as opportunities to grow rather than challenges that feel overwhelming or cumbersome. Setting reasonable expectations, giving yourself daily affirmations or expressing gratitude may also help boost your outlook.

The Navy Suicide Prevention Program’s Stress Navigation Plan contains actionable strategies for how to recognize and respond to stress. Thinking more positively is made easier once you’ve set healthy habits. Consider these ideas from the American Heart Association:

AMA

For more ideas on how to understand your stressors and refocus your stress, try completing activities from this worksheet from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

SAIL Referrals Decreasing during COVID-19

SAIL_logo (002)Last month, there was a significant decrease in the SAIL referral rate. There is concern that commands are not submitting referrals due to the COVID-19 crisis. Now more than ever, the Navy Suicide Prevention Program is encouraging commands and Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPCs) to continue submitting SAIL referrals following instances of suicide-related behaviors (SRBs). SAIL services are critical during this crisis and commands must continue to submit referrals. Due to COVID-19 operations, caring contacts have transitioned from in-person contacts to telephonic contacts, but SAIL Case Managers are still standing by to assist Sailors.

Sailors sometimes do not speak up about their feelings of hopelessness or emotional distress prior to an SRB because they fear judgement and other negative perceptions. The Navy created the SAIL Program to provide a support network that assists Sailors in navigating resources. Participation in SAIL initiates a series of caring contacts during the first 90 days after an SRB to ensure the Sailor has ongoing resources and support. SAIL is not therapy and does not replace therapy or the care the Sailor may receive from medical and chaplains. It is risk assessment, safety planning and a link to all the additional resources that Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) offers to support our Sailors.

The SAIL Program launches into action when a command notifies their SPC when an SRB occurs. The SPC then contacts the Navy Suicide Prevention Program, which forwards the Sailor’s information to Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC). CNIC contacts the appropriate FFSC Case Manager, who first reaches out to the command, and then reaches out to the Sailor to offer SAIL. SAIL case managers help Sailors understand, choose and engage with resources they need. Sailors are empowered to strengthen their coping skills throughout the process.

Although risk factors associated with SRBs do not cause or predict suicide, several relate to social connection:

  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Loss of relationship or significant personal loss
  • Feeling like a burden to others, helplessness

If you hold a leadership position, be sure to actively listen to your Sailors with the intent to understand, not just respond. After someone experiences an SRB, one of the most important things they need is support. Support from leadership is critical at this time. Remaining transparent with others in discussing thoughts of suicide or other forms of self-harm openly promotes help-seeking behavior. Facilitating positive and ongoing dialogue around stress helps empower proactive self-care.

Psychological health is just as critical to readiness as physical health. Feeling connected to others can help reduce the isolation of suicidal thoughts, which often stem from a desire to stop intense pain rather than a desire to die. Leaders at all levels of the Navy contribute to their shipmates’ understanding of resources and command climate. Whether you’re a deckplate leader, front-line supervisor or commander, investing in relationships with your team through mentorship and other forms of social connection helps create an environment where all Sailors feel heard and valued. We all play a part in creating a supportive environment where those who need help have the courage to seek help and feel heard.

To learn more about the SAIL Program and access additional resources for leaders, visit this website.

If you or someone you know is in need of immediate assistance, the Military Crisis Line is available 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255 (Option 1), text 838255 or visit http://www.militarycrisisline.net for free and confidential support.

How to Get Started Journaling

MINDFULNESS hand-lettered sketch notes in notepad on wooden desk with cup of coffee and pens

As we’re in the month of New Year’s resolutions, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the past and the opportunities for growth that lie ahead.  If one of your goals is to live more mindfully and empathetically this year, consider committing to regular journaling.  While journaling is not a one-size-fits-all solution to following your full self-care plan, journaling can have several benefits for your psychological, emotional and relationship health.  Recording your thoughts and feelings is often useful when navigating stressful experiences, revisiting interpersonal dynamics and reflecting on your evolving activities and perspectives.

According to the University of Rochester’s Medical Center, journaling can advance your well-being by:  “helping you prioritize problems, fears and concerns, tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them and providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.”  Jumpstart your journaling with these tips:

Carve out time.  Like forming any other healthy habit, devoting time and energy to journaling will help establish the practice as a routine part of your schedule.  Picking a specific time of day devoted to journaling may also help solidify the norm.  Whether its daily, twice a week or a few times a month, consider making a goal about the frequency of creating your entries that effectively fits in to your calendar.

Let go of ideas of what you “should” write.  You may be thinking – what is worth recording?  How do I get all of my thoughts out on a page?  What details should I include or leave out?  By eliminating any parameters, you’ll be able to think more about journaling with a stream-of-consciousness mindset.  This could lead to increased self-discovery and a more representative picture of what’s on your mind and your types of responses to different situations.  There’s no correct or incorrect way to journal, and how you document different experiences is completely up to your preference.

Get inspired if you feel stuck.  While journaling and other forms of self-reflection may create an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability, there are several accessible resources and frameworks to leverage as prompts or inspiration.  Your entries could focus on highlighting items such as:  one positive thing you did for someone over the course of a day, an affirmation to yourself, or one memorable expression of gratitude from your week. Finding prompts online that resonate with you can help you progress and lead to new ideas.  If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick list of prompts that can help you process and write about something going on in your life:

  • What’s on my mind?
  • How should I have reacted in hindsight?
  • How are things different now?
  • What would I say to a younger version of myself?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • Who helped me?

Choose the right format for you.  Journaling is often associated with physically writing down thoughts and feelings via a pen and paper.  If picking out a new notebook isn’t something that gets you motivated, consider exploring different digital apps that offer online spaces for journaling.  You could devote a specific section of your planner or calendar tool for journal notes and entries.  If you prefer to learn and communicate more visually, you could opt to include forms of artistic expression to complement or substitute entries (e.g., photo collages, graphics, paintings).

For more ideas on how to live mindfully this year, check out these other articles from our blog:

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.