Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.
HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
The amount of the time spent sleeping is decreasing: the average amount of sleep reported for middle-aged people in the late 1050s—around eight to nine hours—has decreased in recent times to about seven or eight hours. And the number of individuals who sleep less than six hours each night has significantly increased. These changes in sleep patterns may be indicative of sleep deprivation in society at large. This is not surprising, as the modern society seems to offer twice as much work (on the job, at home, etc.) and half as much time to complete it. Consequently, we are awake for extended periods of time, thus reducing the amount of time we spend sleeping.
However, we all know that sleep is essential! Sleep is vital to restore and renew many body systems; and sleep deprivation may result in poor performance, increased sleepiness, reduced alertness, delayed response time, difficulty maintaining attention, decreased positive mood, and increased long-term health risks. Some research studies have even shown that sleep deprivation is associated with increased risk of death.
So adequate sleep is vital for everyone to optimally perform the activities of daily living. But you may wonder, “How can I determine how much sleep I need to function at my best?” Dr. Michael Bonnet, director of the Sleep Laboratory at the Dayton. Ohio, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center provides a very simple but practical test you can use to determine how much sleep you need. According to him, if you need an alarm clock to wake up, try going to bed a little earlier the following night (e.g., 15 minutes earlier). If you still need an alarm clock to wake up the next morning, push your bedtime a little earlier again (i.e., another 15 minutes). Continue doing this until you no longer need an alarm to wake up.
I actually tried this test and found out I was not the “night owl” I thought I was. It looks like I function at my best if I retire for the night a couple of hours earlier than I used to. Sleep is important! It significantly affects your performance, health, and quality of life. And it is especially important to Warfighters, who can rarely get enough when deployed. So in addition to a healthy diet and regular exercise, try to get enough sleep each night whenever your situation makes it possible.
Source: National Sleep Foundation
Social relationships are good for your physical health! According to a recent Science Daily article, relationships improve your chances of living by up to 50 percent. Recent research found that increased interaction with others is similar to avoiding behavioral health risks such as smoking, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity, and being obese. Staying connected in meaningful relationships can pay off not only for your social life, but also for your health.
Military families have created unique ways to maintain close communication through deployments and long duty times. Merolla (2010) studied military spouse communication during deployment and found that while deployed, families deal with the stress of being separated well through balancing talk of everyday things (such as routines and everyday information) with deeper more meaningful conversations. Additionally, another key finding was that though there were individual differences – with creativity among couples an asset – couples seemed to benefit from keeping deployment communication similar to nondeployment communication in both planned and spontaneous discussions (Merolla, 2010).
Merolla, A. (2010). Relational maintenance during military deployment: Perspectives of wives of deployed US Soldiers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(1), 4-26.
Being in stressful situations activates the body’s physiologic stress response, which is what allows Warfighters the ability to respond to any threat at any time. In the sports world, the stress response is associated with the adrenaline rush that pumps athletes up during competitions, and gives them the edge to win.
Unlike athletes, however, Warfighters are a select group who operate in stressful situations day in and day out. Prolonged exposure to stressful situations has been found to be harmful both physically and psychologically, unless one learns how to successfully manage one’s internal response. To that end, there are programs throughout the uniformed services that teach Warfighters combat stress management techniques. Many use a stoplight system—utlizing the colors green, yellow, and red—to teach Warfighters how to calm the stress response and bring the body back into balance, in order to give it a reprieve. Successful warfighters learn these skills and apply them in theater.
These same skills, which allow one to calm the body’s physiologic response to stress, can also be applied to other areas—most notably, in one’s relationships. The stress response triggered by external threats is the same stress response that is activated during emotionally-charged conflicts with someone you care about (although the degree of stress is different). Conflict between two people creates the same internal stress, coupled with a flood of negative emotions. The techniques learned to manage combat stress are techniques that can also help Warfighters in their personal relationships.
A recent study examined 149 couples in a 15-minute discussion about a marital conflict found that positive emotions helped couples regulate, or calm, their physiologic responses after the conversation. Interestingly, how happy the individual was with their relationship did not impact this finding. This indicates that positive emotions seem to have the ability to “undo” the physiologic arousal of conflict.
The next time you get in a fight with someone you care about, try this: stop, take yourself out of the situation, and start thinking positive thoughts—either about yourself, something else, or your partner. Notice whether you feel calmer, if your body temperature decreased, if your heart rate slowed down, and if your body moved less (we tend to move more when we are upset). You might find this to be an excellent addition not only to your combat stress strategies, but also to your positive relationship strategies.
Source: Yuan, J., McCarthy, M., Holley, S. & Levenson, R. (2010). Physiologic down-regulation and positive emotion in marital interaction. Emotion, 10(4), 467-474.
The way that parents behave under stress, and interact with their children on a daily basis, has a profound influence on a child’s resilience or the ability to bounce back from stress. Parents can improve resilience by teaching the following skills to their children:
- Spiritual: Parents can help children feel a sense of uniqueness, purpose, and perseverance by providing a spiritual foundation, framework, or belief in something bigger than just the child’s universe.
- Emotional: Parents can model and foster positive mood management; discuss feelings with them and help them learn how to deal with emotions, both positive and negative.
- Physical: Parents can practice and teach positive health habits that include healthful food choices and physical activity.
- Behavioral: Parents can model, coach, and teach positive behaviors that help foster their child’s belief that they can behave well and make positive choices.
- Cognitive: Parents can enhance a child’s self-esteem and help them develop cognitive and academic skills by monitoring and checking their homework, and promoting problem solving skills that teach them to proactively solve problems and develop independent thinking skills.
Recently, the White House announced new initiatives to support military families in four key areas: overall well-being, education and development of military children, career advancement opportunities for military spouses, and improved availability of quality childcare. Multiple agencies have partnered to support these efforts with the following goals:
- Focus on suicide trends to offer targeted preventive training and counseling to meet the mental health needs of military families;
- Offer child care resources;
- Combat homelessness;
- Expand communication across rural communities;
- Expand career opportunities for military spouses;
- Expand access to financial aid and needs of military students; and
- Expand facilities to help military families recover, integrate, and support their youth during and after deployment cycles.
Having children help out with dinner and keeping the same routine when a parent is deployed; marking a calendar with an X for every day their parent is away, and having a great support system are just a few of the strategies that the Sesame Street Workshop's program on "Preparing for Deployment" offers.
They also have age-appropriate workshops for younger children on "When Families Grieve," "Coping with Changes," and "Homecomings Family Routines."
When reuniting with your family, the “Soldier and Family Guide to Redeploying” offers tips for maintaining successful family relationships. A few of their suggestions:
- Take time to re-establish communication with each of your loved ones.
- Use romantic communication to help transition into love relations easier.
- Reinforce the good things your family has done.
- Move slowly in making adjustments.
- Discuss division of the family chores.
- Spend time alone with your spouse.
- Focus on successes and limit criticisms.
- Expect some changes in your child(ren).
- Spend relaxed time with your child.
The American Psychological Association offers communication tips for parents:
- Make yourself available to your children to talk, listen or do things together.
- Let your children know you are listening.
- Express your opinion in a way that your child can hear your message.
- Remember that children often learn how to deal with emotions, solve problems, and work through stressful situations from their parents.
Known as the Michelangelo phenomenon, partners can help sculpt each other’s best possible self and achieve goals. Through affirmation and support, couples can help each other achieve their goals. Listen to your partner and dream together while encouraging each other. Reach for the stars together!