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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: Family & Relationships

Transgender service members and veterans

Filed under: Sexuality, Transgender
DoD policy changes now enable transgender service members to openly serve. Training for commanders and other personnel in this policy’s implementation is underway. Learn more.

As of June 2016, DoD policy states that qualified service members can no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service solely for being transgender. Transgender describes someone whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior doesn’t conform to what’s typically associated with the sex he or she was assigned at birth. This policy enables transgender persons to serve the military without fear of dismissal or harassment. It also ensures transgender service members and veterans have access to medical care and a structure is in place for those to transition gender when medically necessary. In addition, DoD has produced the following policy-related guides for military personnel:

The Services will use these guides and other materials to conduct policy training for commanders, medical personnel, operating forces, and recruiters through June 2017. The handbook reinforces that harassment of any service member is inappropriate and shouldn’t be tolerated. It also states that discrimination based on gender identity is considered sex discrimination, and any concerns should be addressed through DoD’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program.

In recent years, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) also has updated its approach to working with transgendered veterans. VHA Directive 2013-003 summarizes its healthcare services for transgendered veterans. This shift at the Veterans Administration (VA) helps lessen barriers to care for transgender vets. Transgender males and females can now change their gender identifications and names in the VHA system. In addition, VHA sometimes will provide transgendered veterans with sexualizing hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. However, VHA won’t provide surgeries for those considering sexual reassignment.

Visit the National Center for Transgender Equality website for additional resources for transgender service members and veterans.

Deployment injuries, sex, and intimacy

How does a couple keep their relationship strong through separations and deployments? How can deployment-related injuries affect their sex life? Learn how spouses and partners can help.

Service members returning from deployment often have a difficult time being intimate with their partners. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), amputations, Agent Orange exposure (Vietnam era), and chronic pain all can affect sexual functioning and relationships. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans and service members with PTSD likely have at least one sexual problem. In addition, changes in sex hormones (such as thyroid-stimulating hormone, testosterone, and estrogen) might appear after a TBI, which can negatively influence sexual functioning. There also is continued encouragement for DoD and VA to communicate about sexual concerns with wounded service members and veterans. Read more...

‘Tis the season: Connect with family

Use these HPRC-approved tips to help keep the “happy” in your holidays and take care of your family and yourself, even when you can’t be together.

While the holidays often are times of joy and celebration, it can be especially hard for those serving away from home. And if you’re unable to be with your loved ones during the holidays, this time of year sometimes can leave you with mixed emotions. Still, take time and enjoy the special family members who bring goodness to your life.

HPRC offers these tips to help you take care of your loved ones and yourself this holiday season—whether you’re at home or abroad. Read more...

E-cigarette “smoke” and your partner

E-cigarettes can harm the health of users and those who breathe in the secondhand emissions. Read up on tips for addressing concerns about secondhand “smoking” with your partner.

If your partner “vapes” with nicotine or uses e-cigarettes, you might be at risk for inhaling harmful secondhand “smoke.” E-cigarettes don’t produce actual smoke, but they do produce emissions with aerosol particles that contain nicotine, glycerin, artificial flavorings, and preservatives. We don’t yet know how harmful these emissions might be. On the flip side, there also isn’t clear evidence that breathing these emissions is safe.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that vaporize liquid nicotine and other substances to be inhaled. Still underexplored, the impact of e-cigarettes on health has gained recent attention. Since e-cigarettes were not initially regulated by FDA, the ingredients in the devices were originally unlabeled. Studies suggest that in addition to nicotine, e-cigarettes sometimes include harmful chemicals that are carcinogens. Beginning in 2018, all e-cigarette packages will contain a warning label that indicates they contain nicotine, an addictive chemical.

Your partner’s e-cigarette habits can potentially impact the health of both of you. If you’re concerned about the unknown impact of e-cigarettes, have an open conversation about the topic. Consider the following tips:

  • Become knowledgeable about what’s known and unknown about e-cigarettes and nicotine before bringing up the conversation.
  • Gently bring up the topic. Start with something such as “I was wondering if we could talk about the use of e-cigarettes in the house?”
  • Mention that you’ve been reading about the health implications of e-cigarette vaping. You’ve grown concerned about how much is unknown and the potential harm.
  • Ask your partner what he or she knows about how e-cigarettes might impact one’s health.
  • Suggest coming up with a plan to minimize vaping indoors and especially around those who prefer to avoid inhaling the secondhand emissions.
  • Offer to support your partner through trying to cut back on or quit using e-cigarettes.
  • Express appreciation for supporting one another’s health.

LGB service members and unit cohesion

Filed under: LGBT, Sexuality, Teams
What impact do lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members have on unit cohesion?

When it was first announced that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) service members could openly serve in the military, some suggested unit cohesion—how teammates unite, stick together, and remain close—would suffer. Others wondered whether missions would be successful and if straight service members would be comfortable sharing bathrooms and showers with their LGB peers.

Since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2011, there’s been little evidence to suggest negative effects on unit cohesion or the military’s ability to carry out missions. Similarly, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has observed no changes in military performance or unit cohesion since it began allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in 1993. Shared dedication to a mission enhances performance and builds unit cohesion.

Since the repeal of DADT, LGB service members can serve without fear of being harassed or discharged. This enables them to fully devote their attention to their jobs. It’s possible the repeal also will help reduce rates of substance abuse and mental health struggles among LGB service members because they might no longer endure the stigma and stress from hiding their sexual orientation. In addition, straight service members report feeling comfortable working alongside their LGB teammates.

Read more about the DoD policies on sexual orientation and gender identity in HPRC’s Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy FAQs section and about sex and the military on our Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy Resources page.

Group aggression and hazing

Filed under: Aggression, Hazing, Teams
Some think group aggression and hazing are ways to improve team commitment, but these acts can be dangerous. Hazing also is punishable in the military. Learn more.

While initiation activities have long been a part of military culture, group aggression and hazing contradict the values of dignity and respect championed by the Armed Forces. Group aggression and hazing can put service members at risk of injury and impact team unity.

Aggression is behavior—including any action taken or situation created—that intends to cause harm to someone who doesn’t want to be harmed. Group aggression is the active use of violence by one group against another group. Hazing is an example of group aggression: It’s the act of forcing new team members to endure unsafe, painful, or embarrassing rituals as part of their initiation into a group. Victims experience physical and emotional abuse that goes beyond military-sanctioned ceremonies that build team commitment.

Group aggression is more common than individual aggression. It’s possible that when people feel they’re less identifiable, they’re more likely to be aggressive. For example, you blend in with your teammates and your group might collectively take the blame for any one act—which can feel less punitive then being punished on your own. In addition, aggression often provokes even more bad behavior within groups. Hazing might go unnoticed in the military partly due to its internal hierarchy that can make it hard to identify such hostile acts.

Hazing and group aggression don’t always improve cohesion, bonding, or commitment among teammates. And some victims are at risk of physical trauma, psychological abuse, and even death.

Strong teams are based on respect and dignity, where members feel supported and empowered. Team building should lead to pride in your group and integrity among its members.

Learn more about the different branch policies:

Stepmothers

A stepmother can significantly impact her stepchildren’s lives. Understanding her role in the family is an important first step.

It can be challenging to explain and understand a stepmother’s responsibilities when a new stepfamily is formed, but there are ways to support her “new” parenting role. Stepfamilies form when a child’s mother or father marries someone after his or her relationship with the child’s other parent has ended.

It’s important for stepmothers to build strong relationships with their stepchildren, but this sometimes can be tricky. A stepmother often has to strike a balance between bonding with her stepchildren while also respecting the limitations of not being a biological parent, especially when her stepchildren’s other parent remains active in their lives. Stepmothers sometimes can feel confused about what their roles should be, and this can lead to insecurity. Stepmoms also might feel they’re expected to do many household and childcare tasks even though they’re not considered parents. It can be hard for a stepmother to see her spouse’s involvement with the children—playing a role she’s unable to play—and continued contact with the children’s other parent too. And stepchildren can feel unsure about how their stepmother will fit into their lives.

Still, when stepfamilies live together at least half-time, stepmothers tend to be happier in their marriages and closer to their stepchildren. Successful stepmothers develop a parental mindset and work to define their roles in their new families. In addition, communication that focuses on strong listening skills and avoids criticism or contempt can help a stepmother and her spouse agree on her role and how they’ll support each other as parents and partners.

Adult-sibling relationships

Sibling relationships are bound to change over time, especially during adulthood. A supportive relationship with your brother or sister is good for your emotional health. Learn more.

Siblings provide companionship throughout your life if you maintain a connection, especially during your deployment. If you have a brother or sister, your relationship with your sibling(s) can be supportive and satisfying as you age.

Sibling connections are unique in that they often are your longest, enduring relationships. Sibling ties also are involuntary: You don’t get to choose your brothers or sisters. And as a child, whether or not you realized it, your siblings influenced how you socialized with others, your vocabulary, and how you managed conflict.

As you grow older, sibling relationships can change along with the life events you experience. Particularly between the ages of 18 and 25, when siblings often move away from home, the involuntary nature of the relationship shifts to one that might be worthwhile. Older siblings who move away might leave their younger siblings feeling a sense of loss in their absence, perhaps as they head off to boot camp or basic training. It’s normal for these close-knit connections to dip in early adulthood as you live on your own, start a career, and form new relationships.

Yet most sibling relationships stabilize into adulthood—and that’s good for your health! A supportive, affectionate relationship with your sibling can boost happiness and self-esteem and decrease loneliness. It can protect you from developing depression during stressful life events too.

No matter how far apart you live from your sisters or brothers, a strong sibling relationship is still possible. So, stay in touch with your siblings during your deployment and otherwise.

Military moms with postpartum depression

Military moms, like all moms, are at risk of postpartum depression after giving birth. Support and resources are available to help you cope.

Motherhood can be hard for military moms with postpartum depression (PPD), especially those who juggle a demanding career while parenting. You might wonder how you’ll manage your new parenting responsibilities with work. The good news is support is available, so you don’t have to struggle alone.

PPD affects nearly 15% of all women who give birth. While some moms might have the “baby blues” shortly after childbirth, others can experience more severe PPD that lasts much longer. You might feel worthless, lose interest in your baby, or eat and sleep too much or too little. Moms with PPD also can have memory problems, doubt their mothering skills, or lose pleasure in activities they once enjoyed.

Being a pregnant service member can be challenging too. You often have to manage long work hours throughout your pregnancy. And some expectant moms choose to keep their pregnancy-related emotions “in check,” fearing negative reactions from coworkers. Enlisted female service members also tend to be younger and have less support. Some might have unplanned pregnancies. You’re also at increased risk of PPD if you have a history of depression, marital problems, stress, or a very fussy baby.

PPD might be preventable if you know the warning signs and where to get help. There are many useful resources—including health care, breastfeeding support, and childcare—to help you cope. And check with your installation about new parent support programs and other health and wellness activities offered through Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs. Military moms now get 12 weeks of paid parental leave, so use this time to take care of your baby and yourself.

Seek military and family life counseling to improve your mental health and well-being too. And visit HPRC’s Pregnancy page to learn more about pre- and post-natal care.

Raise healthy eaters—Part 2: Age-specific tips

Part 2 of HPRC’s “healthy eater” series explores age-specific tips to get your kids to eat healthy.

Children need guidance from their parents about eating a well-balanced diet. As they grow, your interactions with them around food will change. They’ll take on more responsibility for feeding themselves too. Still, you’ll continue to influence their eating preferences through the foods you prepare and offer to them. Read on for age-specific tips to encourage your kids’ healthy eating too. And if you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to read Part 1 about general nutrition tips for helping your children learn how to be “healthy eaters” at all ages. Read more...

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