Tag Archives: stress

Recognizing Risk and Reaching out to a Friend on Social Media

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Recognizing risk is an essential component of suicide prevention. Human communication has changed over time and social media is now one of the most common means of interacting with friends, family and people with similar interests. Aside from enabling people to stay connected during deployments or after long distance moves, social media platforms have become channels for expressing thoughts, opinions and emotions. Sometimes, signs of suicide risk are displayed, but people may not know how to recognize them. Understanding how to spot content that may indicate risk is an important first step that can enable early intervention. Here are a few ways to identify signs that your friend is in distress on social media:

  • Joking about dying or feeling no reason to live. Naturally, any posts directly indicating a desire to die or otherwise cause self-harm are warning signs of immediate danger. But sometimes these posts may be masked by sarcasm, a casual tone or even disguised as jokes. Just because there’s an “LOL” or emoji in the post, doesn’t mean that the person is playing around. Often these statements are subtle ways of asking for help and are opportunities for others to reach out, show concern and get help.
  • Expressing hopelessness, feeling trapped or other intense emotions. Posts that discuss feeling stuck in a situation that won’t get better, or experiencing unbearable pain, guilt, shame or intense rage can be signs that someone needs help. IS PATH WARM is an acronym developed by the American Association for Suicidology for recognizing suicide warning signs. By familiarizing yourself with these signs, it may be easier to detect them in social media content.
  • Patterns or changes in the type of content posted. Posts describing destructive behaviors such as abusing substances or alcohol, driving recklessly, buying weapons, or engaging in unsafe sexual behaviors can also be signs that someone is at risk. Each year, Navy Suicide Prevention Branch conducts cross disciplinary case reviews and examines the publicly available social media posts of all Sailors who died by suicide. Many of those posts included more frequent images or discussion of excessive alcohol use in social settings and/or alone, communicating about a bad break-up, a career setback, or a strained relationship with a shipmate or supervisor leading up to the Sailor’s death. Posts about personal stressors such as social isolation, significant health issues, loss of a job or home, or deaths of loved ones were also common.

When you notice something that exhibits suicide risk in a friend or family member’s social media postings, ACT:

  • Reach out and ask direct questions, such as “are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  • Show that you care by listening without judgment and offering hope. Be there.
  • Help your friend connect with a support system immediately. Notify the social media platform’s safety team (see below). Encourage your friend to contact the Military Crisis Line (call 800-273-TALK and Press 1 or text 838255), reach out to a chaplain or call 911 if you know the person’s location. Stay in contact with your friend throughout their treatment to promote a healthy recovery.

The top social media platforms have safety teams that enable concerned users to report content that indicates potential risk of suicide or self-harm, and may even provide the concerned user with additional tools to communicate with the person. Each platform has different response times and resources. To learn more about social media safety teams, visit the following pages:

Many people do not know how to approach discussions about suicide or they feel that it can be too sad of an issue to talk about. In reality, constructive conversations about suicide prevention as well as general psychological health and wellness are among the most helpful ways to break down barriers. When having conversations about suicide prevention, always:

  • Convey a positive and hopeful narrative;
  • Emphasize the importance of seeking help from qualified counselors or mental health professionals; and
  • Avoid using terms like “commit suicide” that can be perceived as judgmental by those who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or have lost others to suicide.

If you are not sure how to talk about suicide or what words to use, the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s new 1 Small ACT Toolkit provides helpful tips. Additionally, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Framework for Successful Messaging and Blogging On Suicide provide additional tips on how to talk about suicide safely. This year, the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign has partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s #BeThe1To campaign to promote five action steps for talking to someone who may be suicidal. Learn more about how these evidence-based five steps can help by visiting http://www.bethe1to.com/bethe1to-steps-evidence/. You can also promote the five steps using Every Sailor, Every Day’s customized graphics, available here: http://www.bethe1to.com/join/.

Veteran Helps Advance Conversation on Lethal Means Safety

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As veteran Jay Zimmerman notes, a service member’s firearm is “almost like another appendage.” Zimmerman understands military culture and has a love for firearms, stemming from frequent hunting trips with his grandfather while growing up in the Appalachian region. Today he’s advocating for service members and veterans to practice lethal means safety when it comes to firearms and dealing with prolonged stress or psychological health concerns. Lethal means safety–keeping highly-lethal methods of suicide out of reach or less accessible during times of particularly high stress–is an important part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent suicide.

Zimmerman served in multiple combat zones as a former Army medic and his service weapon was essential to his and his comrades’ safety. But after navigating psychological health challenges and losing a good friend and fellow soldier to suicide, he reached a crisis point. His relationship with his wife, with whom he reconnected during the heat of his crisis, drove him toward the decision to seek help. He now champions the impact that taking simple precautions has had on his life, like storing his guns safely so that he can’t make any “rash decisions” when he hits a rough patch. In a recent National Public Radio story, Zimmerman explains that he stores his guns disassembled and separately from ammunition. He’s also made a special arrangement with friends “if things get really bad” so that they can hold onto his weapons until he feels like it’s safe to reclaim them.

For service members, transitions, relationship issues and career or personal setbacks can lead to increased stress and increased suicide risk. In addition to taking the precautions Jay Zimmerman champions, both active and reserve Sailors can work with their commanding officers and health professionals to arrange safe storage of their personal firearms during high-risk periods, per NAVADMIN 263/14.

Zimmerman is now a peer counselor at a local VA medical center and has connected with a meaningful purpose. He travels to speaking engagements and conferences across the country sharing his personal story and encouraging service members and vets to practice lethal means safety when they’re not feeling like themselves. He also coaches therapists and clinical providers on how to productively discuss these precautions with patients.

Zimmerman recognizes the perceptions that may influence a service member’s decision to voluntarily store their personal firearms or practice safety at home (such as using a gun lock). He notes that many are worried that they’ll “lose the gun that [they] carry pretty much all the time” if they opt for voluntary storage. But he emphasizes that this isn’t the case and illustrates how this personal decision can be both empowering and life-saving. His decisions to seek help and protect himself have led to him living a fulfilling life supporting other veterans.

Firearms are the most commonly used means of suicide across military and civilian populations, due in large part to easy access and high-lethality. 1 Small ACT, such as securing your firearm with a gun lock or arranging for temporary safe storage, can save a life. Check out the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s new lethal means safety graphics and posters here. Stay tuned for additional products addressing other ways to practice lethal means safety, such as proper disposal of unused medications.

Fueling Your Body and Mind with Food

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The relationship between food and health is complex. The foods we eat have a chemical effect on the brain and impact how we feel. Eating processed foods—from nutritional supplements like protein powders to combo meals from your favorite drive-thru—can keep your body from accessing the beneficial nutrients it needs to help you feel and perform your best. Why is this? Many of the essential and naturally occurring nutrients are stripped, altered or replaced during processing. This includes fiber, phytonutrients and other healthy compounds.

Current studies show that a balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein promotes optimal health and better mood. These whole foods are made of vitamins and minerals that are broken down during digestion, making them available for the body to use as energy and for essential processes like cellular repair. When essential components are missing, we experience a decline in energy, alertness and mood.

Supplement vs. Whole Food

Supplements typically use artificial or synthetic vitamins and minerals, which may not offer the same benefits as whole foods. The human body is designed to recognize natural and whole ingredients, so it isn’t able to utilize the man-made vitamins and minerals as effectively.

Many supplements isolate particular nutrients and leave out essentials that the body would otherwise use if the food was consumed in its natural form. Take whey protein powder supplements for example. While this milk-based protein produces a rapid increase in amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair, casein protein can also help prevent muscle breakdown (which in turn, supports growth). Where do both whey and casein naturally occur? In milk! In general, service members consume enough protein through their food and don’t actually need to supplement their protein intake.

Comfort Food vs. Whole Food

Our mood often influences what we eat, but what we eat can also influence our mood. Consider these scenarios:

  • Two Sailors are experiencing similar stressors. They’re in the midst of preparing for permanent change of station (PCS) moves that are causing a lot of strain in their households and on their wallets. At work, they’re both hit with short-fused tasks that their current supervisors are keeping close watch on, in addition to the other things they have to get done.
  • When Sailor A gets home, tired and frustrated, he reaches for cookies, potato chips and a soda and heads to the couch. He starts to get his mind off of everything, but about 20 minutes later he’s back to feeling drained and irritated.
  • When Sailor B gets home, tired and frustrated, he goes for some leftover grilled chicken and vegetables in the refrigerator and a glass of water. His problems don’t go away after he eats, but he’s able to regroup and shift focus to the things he can get done at home to support the move without feeling angry or annoyed.

Why the different outcomes? The comfort foods Sailor A went for are highly processed, high in added sugar and fat, and low in nutrients. While they may have an emotional appeal (especially if they were his go-to comforts as children) those effects wore off quickly. The vitamins and nutrients he needed to rebalance his mood, such as serotonin, were missing or less effective because they were in a man-made form that wasn’t as accessible to his body. This emotional rollercoaster can increase feelings of anxiety, depression and fatigue, causing the craving cycle to begin again. Sailor B got the benefits of serotonin, boosting his mood and giving him the energy to do something productive. Not only did he get his mind off of his day, but he’ll sleep better and be more focused and alert.

How to make changes

Eating healthy or healthier doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Here are a few ways to make the switch to whole or less processed foods:

  • Re-think fast food. For a quick and healthy meal, opt for a rotisserie chicken at your local grocery store, a salad and fresh fruit.
  • Shop the perimeter of your grocery store for fresh meats and produce. Most frozen food is good too; just skip items with gravies and sauces. Living in the barracks? Check out these tips to eat healthy while saving time, space and money.
  • Swap out your sugary snack stash for your favorite fresh fruits and vegetables; the original comfort foods. Pair them with 10-15 nuts or a tablespoon peanut butter or other healthy spread.
  • If going for a processed food (something that comes in a bag, box, container or package), aim for five ingredients or less. Watch out for high-fructose corn syrup and other hidden sugars.

Talk to your Health Promotions Office or Registered Dietitians (RD/N) office for more information and resources.

LT Pamela Gregory, OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian with nine years’ experience in counseling a wide variety of clientele on nutrition and health-related diseases/ topics. LT Gregory uses a functional nutrition approach to assist clients in their treatment phase.

References:

  1. (2015, Aug. 31). Is Whey Protein the way to go? Retrieved Jun. 21, 2017, from http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/hprc-articles/is-whey-protein-helpful-to-optimize-performance.
  2. (2014, Jan. 2 ). Can Food Affect Your Mood. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2017, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/02/food-affects-mood.aspx
  3. (2012, Jan. 1) Journal of Food Science, 77 PP R11-R24.
  4. (1999). Impact of Processing on Food Safety. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 459 PP 99-106.

Supporting Your Shipmate’s PCS Move

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Like any transition, permanent change of station (PCS) moves can be exciting, frustrating and stressful all at once. Recently, Navy announced that Sailors and their families can continue to expect shortened lead times for PCS moves through the end of the fiscal year: approximately two months or less.  This unpredictability can make the transition more challenging than usual, which is why it’s more important than ever to be there for your shipmates. Here’s what you can do:

During the “waiting period:”

The stress of not knowing can start to spill over into other areas of your shipmate’s life and lead them to feel overwhelmed or powerless. Small acts can help your shipmate regain predictability and controllability even without the firm details. Offer to help them get a head start on the things that they can tackle now, such as packing out of season clothing or taking inventory of rented household goods to expedite the return process. Even while waiting on official orders it’s a good idea to suggest that your shipmate reach out to their new command to connect with their sponsor as soon as possible. If their sponsor hasn’t yet been identified, offer to link your buddy with someone who’s navigated a short-notice move before and can share some helpful hints. Emotions can run high during any move and at times your shipmate may feel as if they’re the only one who’s going through this stress. Connecting with and learning from others who have been there can make the reality seem less daunting, along with practicing a few strategies to think positively.

Once orders are in-hand:

Ask what you can do, whether it’s packing or lending an ear. If your shipmate seems to have it all under control, it’s still important to pay attention to even the smallest signs of distress. Perhaps you’re already aware of relationship and/or family issues, financial strain, uncertainty about the new job, or other issues. These situations can intensify when facing major changes and may worsen if left unchecked. Encourage your shipmate to speak with someone who can help them work through things, such as a chaplain, leader or BeThere peer support counselor. Getting support early is vital to ensuring that stressors don’t turn into crises, especially when starting a new chapter in life.

During the move:

Stay connected so that your shipmate doesn’t lose the protection that a sense of community provides. Be sure to exchange updated contact information, ask about plans (travel dates, pit stops, arrival dates, etc.) and check in often. When you check in with your shipmate, nudge them to get adequate rest (seven to eight hours, supplementing deficits with brief naps), eat balanced even when on the go (fruits, veggies, lean protein and water), and take breaks to enjoy the journey.

If you notice signs of distress:

Leaving a familiar environment—especially quickly—can disrupt daily routines and social networks, increasing the likelihood of risky decision-making. If you are concerned about your shipmate, ACT immediately. You can call the Military Crisis Line on behalf of your shipmate to get them connected to services in their area.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to others to help connect the dots, such as your shipmate’s receiving command or a family member to help facilitate the intervention process if a potentially serious situation is evolving.

Staying connected not only helps to restore predictability and controllability; it promotes trust, strengthens Relationships and helps your shipmate find Meaning in challenges. It’s about being there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

5 Small ACTs to Help You Chill Out

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Whether it’s strain and pressure within your unit as you work long hours to prepare for deployment, a disagreement with your spouse over something trivial that boils over, or a seemingly innocent debate with a friend that goes the wrong way, we can all expect to be blindsided by heated moments. Your reactions come quickly and before you know it, your heart is racing, your face is red and you’re saying the first thing that comes to mind (and that thing may not necessarily help the situation).

While disagreement and tension are normal and can even contribute to strengthening relationships, they can surely leave their mark if not carefully addressed. Unchecked anger and unresolved issues can fester, impacting the individuals directly involved, other colleagues or family members, and the mission at-hand. By taking a moment to be proactive, you can help to keep the pot from boiling over by exploring strategies to defuse intense situations.

Just in time for warmer weather and Mental Health Month, here are 5 Small ACTs to help you chill out:

Push Pause. The moment you see potential for a situation or conversation to escalate, call a time out. A lengthy explanation isn’t needed; just step back and offer to address things once all parties involved have had a chance to clear their heads and approach the problem calmly. Even if it’s just five minutes, creating some space between yourself and the issue can help you get a grasp on how you feel, what’s truly important and how you can work with others to move forward.

Breathe. This simple act is often taken for granted, but is an important first step in trying to get your emotional and physiological responses in check when the tension is rising. Taking a deep breath (two to three second inhale and exhale) can help to induce calm in the midst of calamity. If you have a few moments to yourself and can find a quiet space, try this Quick Fix Breathing Exercise or check out the exercises on the National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s Breathe2Relax app.

Laugh. Laughter can help thwart the release of stress hormones, kick-starting the production of hormones that are responsible for positively balancing your mood and promoting relaxation. Look at a funny GIF, head to your favorite blog or talk to someone who knows how to bring a smile to your face. A quick laugh can help you change the channel if you’re focused on a negative situation and enable you to approach a solution with a smile :).

Hit the gym, the track or the trails. You may find that your most productive days in the gym or your best run happen when you need to vent some frustration. Building exercise into your daily routine can help to burn negativity and rewire your brain after tense times. Whether it’s a run with a friend or mentor, weightlifting, interval training or yoga, turn to your favorite fitness regimen to maximize the mood-boost.

Communicate. If your situation involves conflict with another person, addressing it directly can lead to finding some common ground and getting things back on track sooner. Staying silent may only feed your emotions, leading to continued drama. When talking it out, try to use a neutral tone, make eye contact and explain how you perceived the issue or what led to the misunderstanding from your perspective. State that you would like to find a resolution that works for all parties involved (which may include compromising), and then actively listen to the other person or people involved. Instead of listening with the intent to dispute, make a point or interrupt, actually hear and process what the person is saying to you. Then restate it back in your own words to ensure that you have an understanding. Clarify whenever necessary and allow for natural silence, even when it may feel awkward. This will enable you to respond appropriately and meaningfully, minimizing the potential for a heated exchange. Other forms of communication may help you chill out by expressing your feelings, including journaling or speaking with a neutral person, such as a peer support advocate.

Before you land in your next heated moment, take some time to acknowledge what actions, words, topics or gestures are most likely to provoke you. Then note how you may react when these buttons are pushed. Taking this honest look at yourself proactively can help you keep off-the-cuff reactions at bay, enabling you to navigate issues calmly, learn from them and move forward. You may not be able to control others’ behavior or external situations, but with a little prep you can control your responses to them.

BONUS: Anger affecting your daily life? Check out this article from our partners at Real Warriors to help you identify your signs of anger and learn to navigate them in a healthy way. For more information on the Real Warriors campaign, visit www.realwarriors.net.