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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
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.
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.
Think about your feelings of connection in an intimate relationship, or the last time you were physically intimate with your loved one, and how you felt afterwards. Did you feel a flood of happiness, a feeling of closeness, or a sense of bonding? There is actually a physical reason behind some of these sensations: the hormone oxytocin.
Your body releases oxytocin into your blood and brain in response to sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth, as well as everyday behaviors such as touching and stroking—usually in trusting relationships. Oxytocin promotes social bonds; that is, it makes you feel “close” (emotionally) to another person, and it makes you feel good. Specifically, it increases eye contact, your ability to remember faces, and feelings of trust, generosity, and empathy. Other benefits of oxytocin include reduced aggression and stress and increased bonding, especially maternal bonding after birth. In fact, oxytocin is so effective at making you feel good and loving that it’s often called the “love hormone” or the “cuddle drug.”
With Valentine’s Day approaching this week, many of you have love on your brains. So now you can think about it from a deeper perspective: how oxytocin plays a role in your love life.
HPRC recently posted an article with questions that parents of deploying Warfighters need to ask, but families of National Guard and Reserve Warfighters have additional challenges when their Warfighter deploys (such as being away from support at installations, financial changes, and shifts in childcare). It can help to think through some of these challenges and come up with a game plan ahead of time. Here are some examples to start with:
- Who needs to know about the upcoming deployment? (Teachers, doctors…)
- What’s the plan in case of an emergency (either stateside or while deployed)?
- Will the childcare arrangements need to shift during deployment? (This is especially important for single parents.)
- Will family income be reduced? Who will manage finances during this time?
- How will family members keep in touch with the deployed Warfighter? Does everyone in the family agree, or are there individual preferences? (For example, your oldest child may prefer to Skype rather than write letters.)
- Are there any military support organizations those at home can use for extra support?
- Will any holidays or birthdays be missed during the deployment? If so, maybe something special can be done ahead of time and saved for the specific day.
For more information on resources for before, during, and after deployment, check out the “Deployment“ section of HPRC’s website.
The stress of deployment can linger when you return home and resume (or start new) work responsibilities and relationships. Sometimes it can be difficult to know how much to share about recent deployment experiences in the work environment, particularly if your coworkers are not or have not been in the military. Some may ask a lot of questions and others may steer clear of the subject entirely. This can create an interesting dynamic in your work relationships. Afterdeployment.org emphasizes that discussing your experience is a decision that’s completely up to you. So think ahead of time about how much (if any) you want to share, and be cautious about whom you choose to share with initially.
Afterdeployment.org also describes some common problems that can affect performance in the workplace. For example, combat experiences sometimes can impact your sleep quality, making it difficult to be at your peak at work. Other possible issues include inappropriate anger in response to people or situations and feeling uneasy and unable to let one’s guard down in a crowded office or worksite. This Work Adjustment factsheet provides more information and tips that can help with common issues, and another on Informal Relationships at work for more information.
Building family resilience is a process that lasts a lifetime, but it can be immensely rewarding. But what is resilience and how can military families in particular build it? HPRC has a resource called “Building Family Resilience” that can give you answers to these questions. The article covers military-specific stressors for families—including how deployment and reintegration impact family relationships, war-related physical and mental health conditions, and individual stress responses and risky behaviors in family members, both adults and children. It also highlights three key resilience-building skills—mind-body, cognitive-behavioral, and communication—and highlights resources to build resilience. Check it out.
For more information on building family resilience, check out the Family Resilience section of HPRC’s website.