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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Most military children will at some point experience stress related to being part of a military family. Fortunately, there are numerous online resources to help military kids and their parents learn important coping skills, especially for when a parent returns from a deployment. A parent can load apps such as the following on their phone and then hand it to their child:
- Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (for Apple and Android) teaches children coping skills through breathing and more,
- The Big Moving Adventure (for Apple and Android) teaches children about moving (how to pack up their toys, say goodbye to friends, etc.).
- Focus on the Go (for Apple and Android) teaches children how to manage their feelings in helpful ways.
Military Kids Connect (MKC) is a Department of Defense program aimed at improving quality of life for military children of various ages. The site helps parents, caregivers, children, and the child’s peer community to talk about issues and learn coping skills through a variety of apps (Apple, Android, and Kindle) and online tools.
HPRC’s Family Resilience “Tools, Apps, & Videos” section includes links to more programs (such as FOCUS World and Sesame Street) and apps. But don’t forget: As with any online activities, monitor your children and be vigilant against cyber threats.
If you’re in the military, you know you may have to move at almost any time, so you try to avoid accumulating things you don’t want to move with you. But whether you’re moving or not, spring is a great time to get rid of the clutter in your home.
There are many resources to help you get organized. But the hard part can be letting go of “stuff” you may be attached to emotionally. The memories pull at you, so the closets stay packed. So why get rid of things? It can save your sanity and lighten your load.
Consider a “mindful” approach to your spring cleaning. The self-compassion and non-judgment of many meditation practices can help you deal head-on with the emotional connections you may have to your stuff. This approach raises your awareness of attachment to belongings. You can see the memories, connections, love, and bonds that the items represent. And then you get to practice self-observation in the moment of letting things go.
How do you do it? Try this meditation: As you sort through items that literally weigh you down and debate whether to keep something, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this object really adding value to my life?
- Do I need this thing to remind me of a pet, friend, or special time?
- Can I accept that the object is not a substitute for a person or memory?
- Can I take a photo of it and then let it go?
- Can I imagine myself free from this object?
- Would letting it go mean I no longer care?
Only you can answer these questions for yourself. The balance between holding on and letting go is very personal. Use gentleness and compassion with yourself as you move through this exercise and practice being mindful.
All families need to spend some time together to help build strong family bonds. There is no right way or ideal amount of time. Some families like to spend all their free time together, while others may spend a bit of time together throughout the week or dedicate some family time on a consistent basis. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in other things so we spend all our time on work, bills, cleaning house, scheduled activities, or other responsibilities, and family time goes by the wayside.
Think about your own family. Do you have enough time together? What kind of time is it? Is everyone on a phone, computer, tablet, or television? Try unplugging and going outdoors, playing a board game, or getting together and giving everybody five minutes to talk about what they like about each other. You could let your children (if they’re old enough) pick what they want to do on their family day out, and then everyone else needs to come along and make the most of it. If part of your family is deployed, you should still schedule family bonding time. Some of your family time can be spent making things to send to your deployed family member or documenting your fun time with photos or videos.
Stressed just thinking about how to add in some good family time? Just make the most of what you have by focusing on each other without extra distractions!
To have a healthy, long-term romantic relationship, you might find that you need to cool it with old patterns. Use these ICED tips to make sure your relationship holds up over time.
Identity: It’s easy to lose yourself in relationships. You may feel subtle (or not-so-subtle) pressure to be more like the other person and enjoy the same activities or share the same goals. But if you give in to these pressures, you can lose track of your own identity. While it’s good to adapt some over time, you also want to keep a clear sense of your own identity. Solid relationships consist of two people with solid identities.
Calm: It can feel difficult to remain calm when fear of losing your partner pops up. While its normal to experience some concern, the key to a relationship without harmful pressure is learning to calm yourself. If you look to your partner instead to make you feel better, perhaps acting a bit “clingy,” your efforts could backfire. The pressure that your partner feels can lead him or her to feel withdrawn rather than closer. If your partner’s presence feels like a “bonus” instead of a “need,” you’re on the right track.
Engage: When you see your partner upset, slow down and engage with him or her in a way that empowers both of you. Engage with empathy and boundaries. For example, “I know you feel anxious about me going out with the boys. You make me feel a bit guilty, and I think I need to deal with that guilt, but you should cope with your feelings too. It’s important for me to keep these other friendships.”
Deal: Whether you or your partner (or both) feel uncomfortable, it’s best to cope with how you feel rather than looking for quick fixes. Dealing with discomfort is key to growing individually and together. And it’s crucial to hang on to your own identity, learn how to self-calm, and engage with your partner in a way that makes sense.
Parents are one of the most important factors in their children’s fitness. You can set the example. Children of active parents are more than twice as likely to be active than those with inactive parents. You also can help your children be active by driving them—or better yet, walking or biking with them—to and from activities, being active with them at home, cheering or supervising their play/activity, and getting the right equipment for their activities. It’s important to expose kids to different activities. Once they find something they like, they’ll stick with it. Above all, make it fun!
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge, especially when trying to juggle the demands of active-duty service, deployments, family, and life in general. Knowing that the next weigh-in is looming can be stressful and can sometimes lead to eating behaviors that spin out of control to become a life-threatening eating disorder. But even if you don’t have a classic eating disorder, you might have what is called “disordered eating.”
“Disordered eating” refers to eating foods or having eating patterns that can lead to serious nutritional consequences such as deficiencies in key nutrients and electrolytes. It can compromise a person’s strength and/or stamina and lead to more frequent illness or injury. This could happen to a Warfighter, spouse, child, or other family member.
Examples of disordered eating include emotional eating, binge eating, night eating, highly restrictive dietary patterns, and avoiding foods considered “bad.” Some individuals use over-the counter products such as weight-loss supplements or laxatives; others participate in excessive exercise as a means to control weight. What starts out as a way to lose a few pounds or tone up could become a serious problem.
If you’re wondering if you practice disordered eating, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you eat in secret?
- Are you terrified of gaining weight?
- Are you always counting calories/carbs/fat grams or some other component of food?
- Do you think your identity and self-worth depend upon your weight and body shape?
- Do you exercise a lot (maybe too much) to maintain your weight or appearance?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might have disordered eating. It’s important to get help before your problem becomes more serious than you can handle. Nutritional and emotional counseling from professionals—registered dietitians, counselors, and therapists—can help. Support from friends and family is important too. See the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for more information on disordered eating.
Roughly one in five teens is bullied at some point. It often involves hitting, pushing, or teasing, but gossip (both verbal and text) and being excluded are also forms of bullying.
The reasons for teen aggression are complex, but some school and home factors raise the chance of a teen being aggressive: rejection by peers, situations where aggression is socially acceptable, marital conflict and violence at home, feeling rejected by a parent, physical punishment by a parent, and/or parents who let their teens get away with any kind of behavior.
Since teens are still learning how to manage their emotions, aggressive behavior is a clue that they need more skills in this arena. Aggressive teens also are more likely to have problems at school that can follow them to adulthood, so it’s important to find solutions early. And of course, the victims of bullying suffer too.
Parents, schools, and communities can help stop aggressive behavior. Parents can reduce their teens’ exposure to aggression at home by controlling their own anger and outside the home by knowing where their teens are, who they’re with, and setting clear expectations for how to act when parents aren’t around. Teachers can learn to recognize aggression, communicate that it is unacceptable, and seek help/intervene. Schools can monitor areas where aggression is most likely to occur, such as playgrounds, restrooms, and hallways.
Stopbullying.gov (a website developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) offers lots of ideas for how to respond to bullying: Respond quickly and immediately to bullying behavior, find out what happened, and support the kids involved (both the bullies and those being bullied). In essence, don’t be a bystander. To learn more, visit this interactive page. The bottom line is that bullying is not acceptable, but it won’t stop unless you do something about it.
Relationships are important to total fitness—especially intimate relationships. Think back to the beginning of your relationship—was it filled with lots of passion and intensity? Does it still have those aspects?
There’s been a lot written about the different types of romantic love, and how they change over time. One theory describes two main types of love: passionate and companionate. Passionate love involves an intense feeling of longing for one another. Companionate love happens when you feel affection, tenderness, intimacy, and commitment to your partner. Couples with companionate love often also feel a deep mutual friendship, an ease of companionship and a sharing of common interests. Companionate love does not have to include being attracted to each other or sexual desire.
It’s generally thought that couples begin in passionate love and later morph into companionate love. However, research suggests that romantic love that has intensity, interest, and passion can grow and flourish in relationships over the long run. As with diet and physical fitness, moderation is key. Focus (but don’t fixate) on your partner and foster affection, intimacy (both physical and emotional), and a deep bond. It is possible to be with your partner for a long time—and still experience passion and emotional intimacy with him or her! So set the bar high and strive for it. It is not a myth!
Drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time—“binge drinking”—can lead to alcohol poisoning. It’s very serious and can even be deadly. Binge drinking involves more than four drinks for women and more than five for men over a relatively short period. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that an average of six people die from alcohol poisoning every day, with the majority being men between 35 and 64 years of age. Life-threatening signs of alcohol poisoning include seizures, not being able to wake up, fewer than eight breaths per minute, 10 seconds or more between breaths, and low body temperature. If you’re with someone who shows any of these signs, seek help immediately. That Guy, an alcohol education campaign from the Department of Defense, recommends that if you’re ever worried about someone’s alcohol intake, never let them “sleep it off.” To learn more, visit this web page from CDC on “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” Not sure how much is too much? Read HPRC’s article, “Had enough to drink?”
As your children head to college, it’s hard to know how much to let go and still support them as they tackle new challenges. It’s a major milestone for both kids and parents, and the milestone is especially relevant for Department of Defense parents (80% of whose children go to college, compared to 66% of graduating high school students in the U.S. with non-DoD parents).
During this transition, “helicopter parents” (so-called because they hover) frequently text or call, continue to make decisions for their children, and directly intervene when problems arise between their kids and other people. It makes sense to let go and give your children “space” as they transition into adulthood. After all, how else is your emerging adult supposed to learn self-reliance and financial independence? But protective parenting instincts can overcome what might otherwise make sense.
Helicopter parenting can essentially be an overdose of previously good instincts. To your kids, it can feel as though you’re trying to control how they act or feel. Even though you have good intentions, your behavior may feel intrusive to them, and it might not be obvious that “solving” your kids’ interpersonal, school, or work crises actually causes problems. In fact, helicopter parenting usually leads kids to feel less engaged with college, more anxious and depressed, and less pro-active.
Here are some tips for less-direct ways to help that also keep you grounded instead of “flying away” as a helicopter parent:
- Resist the urge to make decisions for your kid. Instead, ask open-ended questions to get him or her thinking.
- Ask your kid to set his/her own boundaries for how much he or she wants you to intrude (such as how often to text or call), and accept them!
- Encourage your kid to have direct conversations with other important people such as professors.
- Give tips on how to do things such as grocery shopping (rather than just doing it yourself).
- Avoid tracking grades; encourage your kid to set his or her own goals and sub-goals.
If you are a helicopter parent, you don’t have to change radically overnight. But make sure you talk to your kids about the changes you’re planning, and then gradually make them happen. Give your kids more power and autonomy, such that you become a trusted advisor rather than a dictator. The milestone of college isn’t a time for parents to withdraw completely, but it is a time to trust that some of what you taught your children actually sunk in.