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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Think of stress as a balance scale. All the situations you find stressful are heaped up on one side. How you deal with them is on the other side. The trick is learning to balance the two sides (or even better, having your coping resources outweigh the causes of your stress).
Everyone feels overloaded at times, when stress seems too much to handle. This can be compounded with multiple family demands—from finances, children’s needs, managing work and family demands, and fostering your relationships. Here are two suggestions to help you find balance:
- Find out what practical needs are causing your stress and come up with possible ways to address them using HPRC's problem-solving tips. For example, you know that you need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but you and your partner seem to manage only five hours or so. So discuss possible solutions with your partner. For example, set a bedtime and stick to it no matter what chores aren’t done; put the kids to bed at an earlier time; create a wind-down routine 30 minutes before bedtime in order to get that eight hours—and stick to it! Then pick one of these possible solutions, try it out for a week, and then re-assess. If it doesn’t work, pick another; or if it does work, maybe tweak it a little to make it even better.
- Once you have plans to deal with the sources of your stress, then you can focus on managing your stressful feelings. There’s no need to continue feeling stressed out while you put your plan into action. Try some of the “behavioral strategies” in HPRC’s Managing Emotions that you can do anywhere with minimum fuss, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or other relaxation strategies. You can even teach them your children and do them together as a family. Learn how in “Calming & Grounding Activities” from the FOCUS Family Resiliency Training Manual, which describes several shared activities.
And check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section for resources that are geared more for you as an individual.
The American Psychological Association (APA) wants to know how stressed out Americans are. Every year since 2007, they’ve conducted a yearly “Stress in America” survey in which they analyze trends about stress and its associated symptoms and behaviors across a range of people living in the U.S. In August 2013, they focused on 1,018 teens (ages 13-17).
A recent report of this information about teens and stress showed that the stats are staggering. Teens from the general population (civilian and military) exceed healthy levels of stress, mirroring the trends in the U.S. among adults. Stress affects sleep, exercise, and eating. Teens tend to get 7.4 hours of sleep on school nights, while the recommended amount is around nine or more hours according to the National Sleep Foundation, and between nine and 10 hours according to the National Institutes of Health. One in five teens exercises less than once a week or not at all. And 23% of teens report that they’ve skipped at least one meal in the past month due to stress.
Parents’ deployments are extremely challenging for children and teens, so military teens often have to deal with additional stressors. Consider this:
- When a parent deploys for 19 months or more, kids’ achievement scores are lower than peers’ scores.
- Teachers and counselors say that parental deployment can cause stress at home, often leading to more problems at school (such as incomplete homework, skipping school, or a less-engaged parent).
- Kids’ resiliency can be impacted when a parent is away, and parents/teachers/counselors sometimes feel that helpful resources can be hard to navigate.
What can you and your teens do to combat their stress?
- Watch for signs of stress, and actively use stress-management techniques. You can also find children-centered techniques in these HPRC resources. Recognize that stress-management skills are important to develop whether you are a Warfighter, family member, or civilian.
- Military parents can alert teachers and counselors when a parent is deployed and enlist whatever support is available.
- Parents’ well-being impacts their teens’ well-being. Be sure to take care of yourself by eating right (individually or with your family), exercising, and managing your own stress.
- Bolster resiliency skills, both in times of stress and in times of calm. You can learn how with practical tips in "Building Family Resilience."
A lot of money-saving challenges have been sprouting up all over the web. These savings challenges may seem like one-size-fits-all easy-savings plans, but can they really help Warfighters save money?
As for most for financial questions, the answer is “it depends.” For some, using one of these challenges can be a fun, easy way to set aside additional savings, but for others it could be a futile attempt ending in frustration. Problems arise when the lofty savings goals touted by such plans just don’t fit your lifestyle.
So what then? Should you give up and do nothing? No! Have a savings goal, but make sure it’s one tailored to your own financial abilities. Start with an understanding of what you can save, and be realistic about your savings goals and how they can fit into your life. If $200 a month is too much, then don’t aim to save $2400 by the end of the year.
If you decide you can save $1400 a year, that averages out to be $26.50 per week, or about the cost of two pizzas. Maybe you can save more some weeks than others. If so, then just keep track of what you’ve saved. As long as you average about $115 per month, you can reach your goal of $1400 by the end of the year. If you start to see that your goal was too ambitious, don’t be afraid to adjust it instead of being disappointed at the end of the year or, worse, giving up.
For more information, visit Military OneSource’s “How to Save” web page.
Deployment can be a challenge for couples, but it can also be a time of potential growth for a relationship. Questions invariably arise such as, “How much should I share with my partner? How often can we talk?” Some couples easily develop a dynamic that works for them; for others, the feeling of closeness is hard to hold on to when one partner is far away. Whether it’s your first deployment or you’re a seasoned veteran, here are some tips you can add to your deployment arsenal:
- Balance talk of "everyday" things with more-intimate conversations about deeper feelings and meaning.
- When there’s a lull in communication, whether it’s a day or a few weeks (due to mission requirements), think about creative ways to stay feeling connected such as journaling, burning video-diary messages on a DVD, or writing cards or letters.
- Communicate marriage-related emotions that come up during deployment; don’t put them off for later.
- If you’ve been through deployments before, think and talk about what worked for each of you and what you would like to do next time. Sometimes couples want the same things, but more often each person has different or even opposing wants. When this happens, it’s a good time to practice problem solving to find compromises that address each person’s desires as much as possible.
- Take good care of yourself and use your favorite stress-management techniques. Stress can increase the likelihood of getting into fights with your loved ones!
- Finally, don’t forget to weave appreciation for your partner into your conversations; read "Thankful for you?" to learn why appreciation is important for couples.
But most important: Figure out what works best for you. For more ideas on strengthening relationships check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section.
There are so many parts to being successful in theater that it can be tough to pinpoint what contributes to success. But research has established one part—cohesiveness—that does help Warfighter performance. In fact, cohesiveness—a group’s ability to remain united while pursuing its goals and objectives—is an important piece of the puzzle for any successful group, whether we’re talking about sports teams, squads, platoons, or other kinds.
Cohesiveness can be social (among people who like each other) or task-focused (among people who work well together) or both. In groups such as athletic teams, connecting with a task focus is far more important for performance than connecting socially. Connecting through a task focus is clearly important for Warfighters too, but the stakes are higher: Warfighters often put their lives—not the outcome of a game—in each other’s hands. And cohesiveness has other benefits, such as helping with job satisfaction and overall well-being.
In order to build and maintain team/unit cohesion, experts suggest the following:
- Use influence effectively—for collective gain, not individual gain.
- Communicate clearly—give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines, and offer praise.
- Minimize conflict between unit members.
- Build trust within the unit and with leadership by showing interest and concern for one another.
- Establish a positive command climate that supports teamwork yet allows for each member’s independence.
- Have a shared sense of responsibility for the overall welfare of everyone in the unit and the team as a whole.
- Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
- Focus on the strengths of the group, not just its problems and challenges.
- Build resilience at the individual and group level.
Warfighters and leaders can shape norms—both formally through policy and informally through practice—so that units/groups stick together on multiple levels. For more information on building relationships visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain, and for more information about Total Force Fitness check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
More than likely you’ve learned some great and helpful relationship skills through the years to keep your relationships strong. It can often be helpful to add some more to your tool belt to keep things going well (or to get them back on track). Check out HPRC’s “Keeping Strong Family Relationships for Military Life” for some strategies.
The wounds of war also affect the family members of injured or ill Warfighters. The job of caregiving often falls to a family member, and while it can be a rewarding job, it can also be stressful. Taking time for yourself is important. You run the risk of burnout when your attention is directed solely towards others without time to recharge. Below are tips to help you find balance in taking care of both your loved one and yourself.
- View caregiving as if it were a team sport, not a solo one. Get other people to share the responsibilities.
- Encourage independence by supporting your loved one to do as much as possible for him/herself.
- Take a pro-active and positive perspective.
- Have a take-charge attitude for problems, and then reframe those problems into challenges.
- Avoid tunnel vision; find a balance between taking care of your injured loved one and taking care of yourself and others in the family.
- Create a care plan for yourself that includes fun time, down time, and relaxation methods. For some ideas, check out the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website.
- Seek professional help when needed.
For more information, read this handout on “Coping with Caregiver Challenges,“ which addresses common caregiver challenges such as stress and symptoms such as headaches and then suggests ideas for coping. Other strategies include keeping yourself healthy with exercise, rest, and eating well. For more ideas, check out the Traumatic Brain Injury website’s “Stress Busters” section. Building your stress-management skills can be a big help. Finally, assess yourself regularly to check on your well-being (to prevent burnout) can also be helpful. You can find assessments for caregiver stress at Afterdeployment.org (online) and Traumatic Brain Injury (for download).
How we interpret events or interactions has a big impact on how we react to them. We all fall victim to “thinking traps” from time to time, and HPRC’s recent article identifies common traps and suggests strategies for dealing with them. Your personal relationships are particularly prone to thinking traps that can lead you to draw false conclusions. For example, let’s say you’ve been married for some time now and recently find yourself thinking your partner doesn’t love you any more because she/he no longer says so.
One way to address this kind of thinking trap is to ask yourself—or have a friend ask you—questions that make you think about the reasoning or evidence behind what you’re thinking. Some examples are:
- What specifically makes you think that he/she doesn’t love you any more?
- What did he/she do in the past that made you feel loved?
- Are there any other possible explanations that might explain your partner’s behavior, such as job stress, an ailing parent, children acting out, or recent return from deployment?
- When you think back to the beginning of your relationship, how could you tell he/she loved you? Was it something (s)he said? Or what (s)he did?
- Has your behavior toward him/her changed recently?
Such questions can get you to start thinking logically by taking a close look at what’s behind what you’re thinking—the real evidence and surroundings of the situation. Sometimes it can help you gain perspective to write down the answers to these questions. Once you’ve gone through this self-questioning process, it’s possible you’ll find a different interpretation of your partner’s behavior. Maybe you were just caught up in a thinking trap.
For more ideas on strengthening your relationship, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section. And for specific strategies on changing your relationship dynamic, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategy on Couples Communication.
As we’ve highlighted before, pets bring special benefits to their humans. But is there a “logical” explanation for why the human-animal connection is so rewarding? Some scientists think that physical contact with your pet (especially a dog)—such as stroking or holding the animal on your lap—as well as having a relationship with that animal (that is, knowing and caring for the pet) are two components that make the owner-pet relationship therapeutic. It appears that these can lead to an increase in a “feel-good” hormone (oxytocin) in humans. (Check out last week’s post to learn about oxytocin and its impact on human relationships.) As little as five minutes of stroking a dog can result in a measurable increase in oxytocin levels. While it works for most people with any animal, the effect is stronger if the animal is one’s own pet. In fact, the closer the relationship (including affectionate behavior), the more oxytocin is released. Researchers caution, though, that this effect doesn’t work in those who don’t like animals, a finding that needs more research.
Wanting some holistic strategies to enhance your performance? Check out the “One Shot One Kill (OSOK) Performance Enhancement Program” that shows Warfighters how to set up and manage their own performance-enhancement system. OSOK is designed not only to enhance performance but also to jumpstart Warfighter resilience. It builds on the skills that Warfighters already possess and then teaches new ones as needed.
There are two ways you can use OSOK: as an individual through “OSOK Solo” and as a unit/group through “OSOK-IP Unit.” Both highlight “10 Rules of Engagement” and provide seven core modules: Controlled Response, Mind Tactics, Performance-Based Nutrition, Primal Fitness, Purpose, Code, and Recharge. OSOK also provides self-assessment forms so you can track your progress over time.
For other performance-enhancement programs and information about holistic (total) fitness, check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.