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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Last week we focused on being a gratitude-seeker this holiday season. This week’s tip is to focus on the positive. Optimistic Warfighters who “see the glass half-full” are less impacted by warzone stress, experience fewer mental health issues, and exhibit better health and resilience overall. The Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) defines optimism as “a set of beliefs that helps to focus your attention and behavior on the opportunities and possibilities of life.” Everyone falls victim to negative or “the grass is greener” thinking at times, but negative thoughts create more negative thoughts. Learn to stay realistically positive. Optimistic thoughts are contagious too, so you’ll be passing on positivity! The Comprehensive Soldier & Family Fitness program calls focusing on the positive a “hunt for the good stuff.”
You can learn optimism in a variety of ways, such as focusing on what’s positive and possible, taking advantage of opportunities that arise, and developing realistic expectations about outcomes. DCoE has specific suggestions on how to accomplish realistic optimism. And for more Mind Tactics to promote resilience, check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience section.
Check your money assumptions
Continuing our series on keeping the happy in the holidays this year, this week’s tip is to check your money assumptions. Finances can be strained during the holidays. This is not just an emotional problem, but how you think about money can affect you emotionally. Do you find yourself thinking, “I must give my family as good a Christmas as I had as a kid” or “I should be able to buy my kids whatever they want”? The fact is, you may like things to be different, but must or should they? Get rid of words such as “must” or “should” and focus instead on thoughts such as “What can I afford?” and “Are there ways I can make the holidays special without spending a lot of money?” Then notice how you feel without the constraints of what you must or should do. Instead, give yourself permission to give your family the holiday you can afford this year.
Happy Thanksgiving! In HPRC’s series on “Keeping the Happy in the Holidays,” this week we focus on being a gratitude-seeker. Gratitude is a state of mind that that can be hard to foster in our busy lives, particularly during the holidays. This holiday season set some time aside for gratitude.
The Defense Centers of Excellence suggests some tips for cultivating this skill, including:
• Spend two minutes a day thinking about what you are grateful for,
• Write five things daily in a gratitude journal
• Look for things to be grateful for in your everyday life.
For more ideas on fostering happiness, check out HPRC’s section on Mental Resilience.
HPRC’s series on staying happy over the holidays started last week (read the first BLUF here). This week, try experimenting with your expectations in order to sail through the holidays with a smile.
If you have visions of the holidays being a certain way—with lots of fun, togetherness, love, joy, and no discord—you may feel disappointed when the reality turns out to be something else. It’s natural to feel this way, but take stock of how your expectations perhaps contributed to your disappointment. Try experimenting with different ways of looking at things. For example, think about what’s behind your holiday expectations. Is it really a happier holiday when you spend more money? Can the entire holidays be filled with fun? Can you get along with everyone all the time? Are your expectations realistic?
Afterdeployment.org describes how to foster realistic thinking and have a clearer lens to the world by focusing on what is probable instead of wasting time thinking about things that are unlikely. In other words, focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. This can be particularly helpful for your relationships.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, but for many the expectations around the season leave them feeling depressed, lacking in motivation, feeling family friction more acutely, and on top of all of that, vulnerable to overeating. Now’s the time to shift your thinking to stay happy this holiday season. Check back every week as we present tips on how you can do this for yourself.
Tip #1: Shift your thinking to decrease stress
Realistically, it’s unlikely you can make holiday stress just go away, but you can change your response to that stress. Noticing your thoughts and emotional reactions can empower you to experience different, less-charged reactions, resulting in more positive thoughts and actions. Learn about the common thinking traps that you can get stuck in and how to reframe them. Noticing and then shifting your thinking can have a big impact on what you feel—try it out and see for yourself.
For more ideas, check out HPRC’s section on Mental Resilience.
Being able to be close and sexual are key aspects of intimate relationships. Warfighters struggling with PTSD, TBI, or other combat injuries may be surprised to find that injuries can impact their ability to have sex, derive pleasure from sex, or be intimate by connecting emotionally with their partner. Or conversely there might be too much emphasis on sex (engaging in or talking about it inappropriately).
To learn more, check out these two fact sheets from the Uniformed Services University: “Reintegration and Intimacy: The Impact of PTSD and Other Invisible Injuries“ and “Physical Injury and Intimacy: Managing Relationship Challenges and Changes.” Both include suggestions for how to improve intimacy.
Do you ever feel that you and your partner talk about the same issues over and over again? You’re not alone: Only 30% or so of the problems couples struggle with can actually be solved, leading to discussions that keep coming up about the other 70%. Solving the issues that can be solved is great, but learning how to interact in a positive manner about the “perpetual problems” is a good skill in any relationship.
One way to do this is to go through a structured problem-solving strategy such as this:
- Specifically state the issue.
- Briefly state why the issue is important.
- Brainstorm and discuss possible solutions to the issue.
- Have everyone involved agree on a realistic “solution”—even if it’s just a game plan for how each person is going to respond about the topic.
- Pick a specific amount of time to try the solution.
- Then give the solution a try.
Remember, the “solution” doesn’t have to mean a resolution to the problem; it can just be about new ways to approach the issue. For example, if you fight over one of you being late frequently, discuss ahead of time how you each would like the other person to respond. Maybe the latecomer needs to call or text if running late, or the punctual person calls ahead to find out if the other will be on time. And maybe you need to set a window of time rather than something exact.
November 11th is Veterans Day. HPRC would like to take this moment to thank each and every one of our Veterans and their family members who have so selflessly served our country. The VA describes Veteran’s Day as “a celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
Thank you to our Vets!
HPRC wishes you a very Happy Halloween! Halloween can be a fun family holiday, with costumes, trick-or-treating, parties, and food. But before you jump all in, review some safety tips to keep this holiday fun and safe! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights some tips: Don’t trick or treat alone or stop at dark houses and do wear reflective tape, examine all candy for evidence of tampering, avoid homemade treats, and use a flashlight. Visit the CDC website to read the full article.
When you find yourself in an argument with a loved one, it’s important to be able to move on afterwards without being burdened by negative feelings. But sometimes the negativity can hang on after the argument itself is over, and can make interacting with the other person difficult. It’s important to work out those negative feelings so that they don’t fester and wreak more havoc in your relationships.
Here’s how: When you find yourself in the middle of an argument, take a time-out before you become too worked up. It’s easier to shake off negativity at this stage. Stay levelheaded enough to stop the argument, walk away, focus on something else, and make yourself focus on positive thoughts about yourself, something else, or your loved one. While you are doing this, also engage in some stress-management techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation; you can learn about them in the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website. By refocusing your thoughts and letting go of stress in your body, you’re more likely to feel calmer, slow your heart rate, and be less reactive to the other person. Once you’re calmer, you’ll probably find it easier to interact more positively with the other person and do or say things that can enhance your relationship.
For more ideas on strengthening your relationships, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section or this article on “Basic Training for Couples Communication.” And for more information on handling stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.