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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
It’s no news that stress can take a toll on your life and can affect your relationships—which may already be under a strain from repeated deployments and combat exposure. But unmanaged stress doesn’t affect only you; it can create a ripple effect in families, which is why learning to effectively manage stress is so important. Deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery, and body scanning are just a few strategies that can help you relax, manage your stress, and help you live your life better—and everyone in the family can learn and benefit from them.
For more tips on how to manage stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Control section.
Armed Forces Day was created in 1949 to honor Americans serving in the military. In 1962 President Kennedy established it as an official holiday on the third Saturday in May. Why should Armed Forces Day get attention on a DoD human performance optimization website? As director of HPRC, I think this holiday has the potential not just to honor the Armed Forces but for the Armed Forces to do what it has done many times in the past: respond to a crisis for the United States. The Armed Forces go to war to support a political strategy, and no national strategy at the present time is more critical than the war on obesity and tobacco. DoD has chosen these as part of the National Prevention Strategy. So how do we fight this war? We the military can start by setting the example for the rest of the country by bringing into our homes the practices of physical fitness and good nutrition as well as a smoke-free environment. We can make fitness and nutrition a priority for our spouses and children. We can make fitness and nutrition family activities that can promote good health, form stronger families, and make family members happier, closer together, and more productive. The military family can be the model for the civilian community to copy—a family working together toward a common goal of health and fitness. The payoff is tremendous in the present and the future. The military can be the beginning of a movement across the country to fight and win the war on obesity and tobacco use. The HPRC website has lots of helpful information in this war on obesity and tobacco. Check out the site (www.hprconline.org) and look under Physical Fitness, Nutrition, tobacco (under Mind Tactics Performance Degraders), and Family & Relationships. There is much that can be done. Join the war on obesity and tobacco. Set an example in your community for healthy living. Oorah! Hooah!
Families are constantly confronted with problems and the need to find solutions to them. In addition to all the challenges of everyday life that civilian families go through, military families also have to cope with additional stressors specific to the military, making the ability to solve problems a crucial skill.
Individuals tend to fare better in relationships when they discuss challenges with each other and then directly act on those problems. A book by two researchers suggests the following process for making decisions:
- Specifically state the issue
- State why the issue is important
- Brainstorm and discuss possible solutions to the issue
- Decide on a realistic solution
- Pick a specific amount of time to try the solution
Give this structured process a try and see how it works for you. For more ideas about family communication and problem solving, visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships section.
Family separations in the military have the added stress of uncertainty. For that reason, couples may need to make additional effort in order to communicate well while separated. Two studies offer tips for how to handle communication during deployment.
One recent study examined communication between military husbands and their wives during deployment. Interviews with wives of deployed Warfighters revealed that couples can deal better with the stress of being separated by balancing talk of everyday things with more meaningful conversations. Couples generally seemed to benefit from keeping deployment communication similar to non-deployment communication in both planned and spontaneous discussions.
Another study examined communication during deployment, as well as PTSD after deployment, and found that the positive impact of emails, care packages, and letters depended on how happy participants were with their relationships. More emails, packages, or letters during deployment sent between happier couples was associated with lower PTSD symptoms post-deployment.
Both of these findings suggest that strong, happy relationships play an important role before, during, and after deployment. For more ideas and tips for optimizing your communication and/or relationships, visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
It’s normal for relationships to go through ups and downs, and at times it can be difficult to know whether to work through things alone or seek help from a professional. The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center's website has a list of questions to help you assess your relationship. Given your responses, they suggest whether you should see a counselor or doctor or try self-help strategies. Common issues that couples face include communication difficulties, power struggles, money conflicts, and differences in parenting styles. You'll find self-help tips in the following areas:
- Communication. Learn how to communicate more effectively with “I”-statements, perspective taking, timing, omitting distractions, and sharing issues.
- Jealousy. Learn how to handle jealousy, with tips such as focusing on the importance of the relationship, expressing your emotions, communicating, being supportive, and helping to solve problems together.
- Sex. Talk to one another about your needs so you can work together on areas where your desires are compatible.
- Money. More tips help you handle money matters such as budgeting, credit history, and credit card advice.
For additional information, you can also visit the Relationship Skills section of HPRC’s website.
An interesting program for optimizing children’s health focuses on four specific behaviors that parents and children can use for health and wellness: Let’s Go!’s "5-2-1-0".
5—Eat at least five fruits and vegetables today – more is better!
2—Cut screen time down to two hours or less a day (no screen time for under age of two).
1—Participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
0—Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead drink water and three or four servings a day of fat-free or one-percent milk.
For ideas about how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into daily meals, visit the MyPlate.gov KidsHealth website.
The 2012 Warrior Resilience Conference in March highlighted the importance of the “social domain” to Total Force Fitness. The social domain was defined as relationships in the unit, and family (immediate and extended family and friends). “Family fitness” was defined as the family’s use of physical, psychological, and spiritual resources to prepare, adapt, and grow in challenging times.
The conference was geared towards the line and focused on teaching skills and strategies that participants can instantly apply in their units and families and to bolster individual resilience. The conference highlighted skills that Warfighters and family members are already “bringing to the fight,” how to use them in new ways, and how to add new ones from a holistic perspective. Skills from military programs such as FOCUS, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, and Combat Operational Stress Control (COSC) were taught in breakout sessions along with information on family physical fitness and nutritional strategies.
HPRC is following up with many of the presenters to see if we can provide their information on the HPRC website, so keep an eye on our Family and Relationships section.
In this fifth and final week of strategies you can use to help your children and teens weather the deployment of a parent, we take a look at how you can use the experience to strengthen your family.
Week #5 tips: Honor the family strengths.
- Deployment and reintegration can be times of family strength and growth. Look at these as opportunities to practice new roles and routines that can be helpful as your family adapts to the challenges of deployment and reintegration.
- Recognize the growth of your adolescent when you return from your deployment. Many teens feel like they’ve matured during their parent’s absence and feel hurt when this goes unacknowledged. In fact, acknowledging and communicating growth and transformations for each member of the family can be a great family activity to build positive relationships.
Children grow and change over the course of a deployment, and service members can sometimes miss events and milestones. Here are some practical strategies you can keep in mind during reintegration to help your children and teenagers.
Week #4 tips: Strategies you can use during reintegration.
- When a deployed parent returns, slowly transition the roles and responsibilities of each family member at home, but don’t forget the individual needs of each person as well as the family as a whole.
- Let your children know that you love them unconditionally, but still provide clear expectations and boundaries.
- Brainstorm a list of fun activities to do as a family.
- Devote one-on-one time with each child when you return home in order to get reacquainted with your children.
- Demonstrate how to cope well with emotions. For example, children can be taught emotion management. One tool is called a “feeling thermometer.” Family members can monitor and control their feelings using the picture of a temperature thermometer to manage stress when the temperature is too high.
This week we offer some practical strategies to help you to keep the lines of communication open with your teens about deployment and post-deployment reintegration.
Week #3 tips: Maintain open communication with your teenager.
- The most important strategy to use especially with teens is to maintain open communication about concerns, emotions, and questions.
- Encourage your teens and children to speak out about their thoughts and feelings to their loved ones. It not only helps manage their emotions, but it also helps foster closer family relationships.
- Stay close to your teen or child while you are deployed using the technology they love: smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.
- Reinforce your teenager’s growing autonomy while you rebuild and maintain your relationship in new and flexible ways. Let your teen choose how much he or she wants to stay in touch; take a hint from how—and how often—they respond to you reaching out.
- You also can encourage your teens and children to create a “scrapbook” of videos, pictures, stories, and relevant events that took place while their parent was deployed so experiences can be shared during and after deployment.