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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment

Lavender and stress reduction

Filed under: Anxiety, Lavender, Stress
Your sense of smell causes a variety of emotional responses. Can certain smells help you feel better?

Your sense of smell is a powerful tool when it comes to how you interact with your environment. Certain smells can alert you to danger or caution, while others can invoke feelings of relaxation or alertness. Lavender, in particular, might help reduce stress and anxiety.

The general properties of lavender oil are antibacterial, antifungal, sedative, and antidepressant among other things. While its pleasant smell might not physiologically change your stress response (that is, affect things such as cortisol, a stress hormone), it might just make you feel better. People have reported feeling less depressed and more relaxed when they inhale the scent of lavender. While this can be helpful for general anxiety, it might not be as helpful if your anxiety levels get too high.

Some also have reported that smelling lavender before bedtime helped them fall asleep more easily, wake less during the night, and feel less daytime fatigue. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try taking some deep breaths—and maybe have some lavender nearby to help. It comes in different forms such as essential oils, incense, Epsom salts, and whole herb. Find which one works best for you.

For more information about lavender, read the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health's web page. Visit HPRC’s Stress Management Strategies section to learn more about coping with stress too.

Posted 09 May 2017

Methods for suppressing your menstrual cycle

Women can safely and effectively suppress their periods, which can be useful when they’re deployed in austere environments. Learn more.

Women can successfully and safely suppress menstruation over a period of time by using certain oral or injectable contraceptives continuously or with some intrauterine devices (IUD) or implants. They now have more menstrual cycles (over a longer span of years) than in previous times due to changes in nutrition, physical activity, childbearing, and breastfeeding patterns. Now many women, particularly those who are deployed, want to suppress menstruation because it can be inconvenient, burdensome, and even unhygienic in austere environments. As more women are deployed to combat zones, it’s important to be aware of all available options when it comes to reproductive health, especially menstruation suppression. Read more...

How you can help prevent TBI

Learn how to prevent traumatic brain injury (TBI) by implementing safety precautions.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a condition that can result from experiencing a blow or a jolt to the head, but education and proper safety precautions can prevent many of these injuries. TBI can range from mild concussion to a more serious and debilitating condition. Every year, thousands of Warfighters and veterans are diagnosed with TBI. You might expect that TBI happens mostly during deployments because of combat exposure, but almost 80% of TBIs occur in non-deployed settings, where most could be prevented.

Here are 3 tips that can help prevent TBI:

  • Put on a helmet. Whether you’re headed outside on your motorcycle, taking a springtime bicycle ride with your children, or looking to climb your next big rock, make sure everyone straps on a helmet. The helmet should be a well-maintained, approved safety device suitable for the activity and should fit properly. Helmet fact sheets are available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
  • Drive safely. Motor vehicle and motorcycle collisions account for most Warfighter TBIs. Always wear a seatbelt, and secure children in appropriate safety or booster seats. Don’t drive when you’re under the influence of drugs, alcohol, medication, or lack of sleep. Talk with your teens (and anyone else who will listen) about the dangers of distracted driving.
  • Prevent falls. Examine your environment at home and work, and identify possible safety risks that could contribute to falls and injuries. Clutter, wet or slippery surfaces, and the absence of safety features such as handrails along stairs can increase your chances of injury.

Education and an ounce of prevention are valuable to prevent injuries and TBI. To learn more about preventing, recognizing, and treating TBI, visit “A Head for the Future,” a Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center Initiative, or HPRC’s TBI resource section.

How to plan your family meetings

Family meetings can build cohesion and improve communication with your loved ones. Learn how to get started!

Family meetings help streamline communication and increase closeness with your loved ones. Use these times to get together, discuss important topics, and listen to each other. These meetings can be helpful if you need to talk about an upcoming problem or situation your family is facing. Your family also can discuss upcoming events, decide on any preventative actions you’ll take, and agree on how you’ll manage things. In addition, the meetings can clear up confusion and ensure everyone understands expectations and action plans.

During family meetings, you might talk about house rules, upcoming family vacations, or changes to your family structure. Or you might settle ongoing disputes between siblings. Invite all family members to participate and gently encourage them to come, but don’t demand attendance. Establish a productive meeting space and consider the following tips to make sure your family meetings are effective.

  • Set a specific time and location. The time should work for everyone, and the location should be convenient and conducive to good conversations.
  • Establish an agenda. Ask family members in advance what they’d like to cover during the meeting. As you identify topics for discussion, remember your agenda will drive the length of your meeting. Hold shorter meetings—about 10–20 minutes—when younger kids are present too.
  • Get everyone involved. All members should take on a role, even little kids. Decide who will be the leader, note taker, and timekeeper. Rotate responsibilities at each meeting.
  • Take turns talking and listening. Set some guidelines for how the meeting will run, including how everyone will communicate. Speak one at a time, use “I” statements, and practice good listening skills.
  • Encourage participation. Ask for everyone’s opinions and ideas when problem-solving or brainstorming. Enabling all family members’ voices to be heard helps build cohesion in your family unit.
  • Write down your plan of action. Once your family decides how you’ll work towards achieving your joint goal, write things down and post the information where everyone can see it.

Family meetings are successful when kids learn effective problem-solving skills and everyone in the family feels heard. Get your loved ones together for your first family meeting this week!

Posted 13 March 2017

Create a productive space for family meetings

Filed under: Communication, Family
Optimize your family meeting time by creating a positive space to share thoughts, feelings, and concerns.

Family meetings are important for maintaining communication and cohesive relationships with your loved ones. The environment in which you hold these meetings is just as important as what you talk about. Creating a safe, comfortable, and productive space will help your family get the most out of your meeting times. Just like office meetings, everyone should pay attention, stay involved, feel included, and be respectful too. Before you call your next family meeting, consider these tips to set up a productive meeting space.

  • Minimize distractions and ban devices. While some people think they’re good at multitasking, research suggests otherwise. So, turn the TV and other devices off. That includes phones, tablets, and video games. This will help ensure that everyone is focused on the issues at hand.
  • Set a comfortable room temperature. A room that’s too hot or too cold can be a distraction. And it can take away from the focus of your meeting.
  • Make sure everyone has eaten. It’s difficult to focus when your stomach is growling. Hold family meetings after mealtimes or eat snacks beforehand, so your loved ones don’t get hungry when it’s time to talk.
  • Set up effective seating arrangements. Make sure that everyone has “a seat at the table.” Everyone should be visible—not sitting off in a corner or behind other family members. This will help ensure that people are engaged and involved in your conversations.

It might take a few tries to figure out the best environment for your family meetings. Still, be flexible and open to trying new things to get the most out of your time together.

Prevent “text neck”

There’s a healthier way to read this article on your mobile device.

Are you reading this article on your smartphone or tablet? Look up for a moment and observe those nearby, staring at their phones. Most people look down at their phones while reading or texting. So, what’s the problem? This posture can be a major pain in the neck—literally. Doctors and researchers are calling it “text neck,” and this poor posture is causing early wear and tear to your spine.

The human head weighs about 10–12 pounds, so looking straight ahead doesn’t add any strain to your spine. But, as you tilt your head forward, the weight of your head begins to increase the strain on your neck and spine. Even a slight, 15-degree angle increases the weight on your spine by about 27 pounds. Looking down at 60 degrees? That’s about 60 pounds. Think about it this way: That’s like carrying a couple of 30-pound ammo cans around your neck for several hours a day.

To limit your risk of text neck, look down at your device with your eyes, not your head. Better yet, hold your device up to eye level. Be aware of your posture and try adding daily exercises that strengthen your back, neck, and shoulders too.

Create healthy team environments

Learn how creating healthy team environments can foster performance, well-being, and morale.

Healthy environments create high-performing teams, which makes a big difference in how productive and fulfilled Warfighters feel on a daily basis. Winning teams don’t happen by chance. As leaders, parents, and partners, there are a few ways you can work toward building strong, cohesive, and effective teams at home or in uniform.

One of the most basic building blocks of good teams is a sense of trust and dependability among its members. High-quality connections with others at work and home can be cultivated by creating forums for open, honest, and assertive communication (about both the positive and negative). Encourage transparency and frequent communication about issues that impact daily operations. And remember that communication styles vary from person to person.

Although teams and families operate in units, find ways to identify and support individual strengths and attributes. Individual traits can help build or break down a team. Be proactive about getting to know what each person brings to the table and provide opportunities for them to utilize their strengths.

Create uniform standards of respect among teammates and family members to help boost healthy team environments too. When you identify negative dynamics within your group, openly address them and hold everyone accountable to the same expectations. Be on the lookout for group aggression and hazing. Although some people believe that these behaviors can lead to increased group identification, they actually can tear down morale and cohesion.

The teams that work within our Armed Forces are constantly in a state of flux. Crafting healthy team environments can create stability and security amid an ever-changing military landscape.

Oral health matters

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Learn how to take care of your teeth, gums, and mouth during deployment.

Poor oral health adversely affects readiness and could cost you your career, but it’s something you can prevent. Despite advances in dental care and hygiene, deployed service members are still at risk of trench mouth—technically referred to as necrotizing periodontal disease (NPD). This condition can lead to painful ulcers, spontaneous gum bleeding, and a foul taste in your mouth.

The good news is there are things you can do to reduce your risk of trench mouth. Learn how to be proactive and prevent NPD. And schedule regular visits to your dentist when possible. 

  • Poor hygiene.
    • You might have little to no time for oral hygiene when you’re deployed, which can cause you to fall out of your normal routine of brushing and flossing.
    • Solution: Pack a few travel-size tubes of toothpaste, dental floss, and a travel toothbrush in your kit, and establish a routine as quickly as possible.
  • Tobacco use.
    • Using tobacco products can lead to gum disease by reducing blood flow to your gums, which can lead to tooth loss and mouth infections.
    • Solution: It’s never too late to quit. Check out these great tips to become tobacco-free.
  • Poor nutrition.
    • Eating right can be challenging in the field. But not eating enough food or the right foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that reduce your ability to fight oral infections.
    • Solution: Although MREs can’t replicate the tastes of a home-cooked meal, they’re nutritionally balanced to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Eat a variety of MREs and as many of the components as you can to make sure you get all the nutrients they provide.
  • Stress.
    • Too much stress can adversely affect your performance and overall health, including dental health. Stress can cause dry mouth and sore, inflamed gums.
    • Solution: Check out HPRC’s Stress Management section for ways to manage your stress. While activities like yoga, meditation, or journaling are very calming, try exercise, reading, or playing card games to help reduce stress too.

“Screen time” impacts dream time

Your “screen time” might be impacting your sleep. Learn how to reduce the harmful effects of blue light and technology.

Time spent with smartphones, tablets, and computers can impact your ability to get healthy sleep. The primary culprit is exposure to blue light that’s emitted from all electronic devices. Using them at night can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm and suppress the secretion of melatonin, a powerful sleep hormone. When your eyes are exposed to artificial light, you might feel more awake when you should be getting ready to wind down. Try these tips to minimize the impact of blue light:

  • Set a “2-hour” rule. Turn off handheld devices and televisions at least 2 hours before bedtime. And dim the lights at home. Try to avoid lying in bed and scrolling social media and email before bedtime too. If you happen to read something stress-inducing or upsetting, your day might end on a negative note. Try reading a book, journaling, or reflecting on something you feel grateful for instead.
  • Block the blue. If you can’t avoid electronic devices before bed, some tools can help offset blue-light exposure. Many mobile devices come equipped with blue-light reducing functions already installed. You also can purchase blue-light blocking glasses with amber lenses. Or download software that adjusts the light on your screen, depending on the time of day and your location.
  • Use light wisely. Not all light exposure is bad. Head outside into real sunlight, especially when it’s early, so you can sleep better at night. Leverage blue-light exposure appropriately during the day, if possible. It can boost your energy and readiness, increase alertness, and enhance cognitive function and mood.

Screens and devices are unavoidable. Still, they’re often an important part of daily life. Understanding their effects on sleep can help you choose how and when to make best use of technology. To learn more about blue-light exposure, visit the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) web page.

Winter-workout tips

Make sure you’re prepared for exercising in the cold weather. Learn more.

It can be extra challenging to get outdoors and exercise in the winter. But don’t let cold temperatures freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to help you “weather” the winter weather!

  • Dress in layers. Choose synthetic materials such as polyester or polypropylene that stay close to the skin. Avoid cotton since it soaks up sweat! You always can remove layers as you get warmer.
  • Warm up. Take a few minutes and do a dynamic warm up before you head outdoors. This will help warm up your muscles and body, so it might feel like less of a shock when you step outside.
  • Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather. Chemical heat warmers also can help keep your hands and feet warm.
  • Check the forecast. Wind chill, snow, and rain can make your body more vulnerable to the outside temperatures. Plan an indoor workout when the wind chill is extreme (negative numbers) or the temperature drops below 0°F. You’re at risk of hypothermia and frostbite if you’re not properly prepared.
  • Be visible. With fewer hours of sunlight in the winter months, you might be walking or running when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Wear reflective gear or a headlamp to stay visible to oncoming traffic.
  • Apply sunblock. You can still get sunburned in the winter, so don’t forget the sunscreen!
  • Stay hydrated. When exercising in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to indicate hydration since you usually don’t feel as thirsty in cold temperatures. You need to stay just as hydrated in cold weather as you do when it’s hot outside.
  • Ask your doctor. Certain symptoms might worsen in cold weather if you have asthma, heart issues, or Raynaud’s disease (when specific body parts feel numb due to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.
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