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
All successful athletes have routines: bouncing the ball three times and pausing before shooting a free throw, having a warm-up routine before every game, or chanting together in a group to get pumped before a game starts. As elite athletes, Warfighters also engage in routine activities to get into a mindset for success: cleaning their weapon the exact same way every time, having a pre-combat check prior to engagement, or putting their gear on in a certain order every day. Likewise, all successful families have routines. Spending time doing fun family activities, chores, or other quality time (like mealtime) together creates stability within the family and opportunities to connect. In fact, these findings have prompted researchers to assert, “Families who play together stay together.” Research has shown that couples who spend their leisure time together are less likely to divorce or separate. For military families, being apart (for deployment or training) can make it more difficult to maintain family routines, but it makes it even more important. Research has found that it is important for children to maintain a consistent routine while a parent is deployed. Some families mark a calendar, have special bedtime routines, or write in a diary while their family member is deployed. It’s equally important that deployed spouses and/or parents develop routines that keep them connected to their families at home. All of these strategies build family strength and closeness, both on the home front and during the heightened stress of separation.
For more strategies to help build family resilience, see the Family & Relationships section of HPRC's website.
Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMH) is a medical model being instituted in the military medical community that will impact how military families access and receive medical care. In this new model, every patient will be assigned a Primary Care Manager (a physician or other medical professional) who will ensure continuity of care and services 24/7. Other benefits include having a consistent relationship with one care provider as well as team-based medical care. Patients who use PCMHs have been found to have better outcomes than those who use a traditional medical model.
PCMHs will be used by 100% of all services by 2016, and patients will be encouraged to seek all care through their Primary Care Manager (called PCMs). Additionally, each service is now using PCMHs with different names: Family Health Operations (AF), Medical Home Port (Navy), and Army Medical Home (Army).
Couple dynamics can be a significant resource for individuals when positive and emotionally supportive. For example, in a study of civilian families under economic distress, a key buffering factor to feeling distress was spouses who were emotionally supportive to each other. In contrast, couples with similar external financial stressors who had relationships low in emotional support reported greater feelings of distress (Conger & Conger, 2002). Therefore, how the couple interacts with each other is an important factor that can either buffer or enhance feelings of distress.
Conger, R., & Conger, K. (2002). Resilience in midwestern families: Selected findings from the first decade of a prospective, longitudinal study. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 361-373.
Communicating well is extremely important for family well-being. Being able to speak clearly, listen well, show a range of emotional expression while being respectful and showing regard for family members’ are all aspects of good communication. You can help foster positive family communication by appreciating your loved ones verbally on a daily basis.
Walsh, F. (2006). Strengthening family resilience. NewYork, NY: Guilford.
Walsh, F. (2003). Family resilience: A framework for clinical practice. Family Process, 42(1),1-18.
Walsh, F. (2007). Traumatic loss and major disasters: Strengthening family and community resilience. Family Process, 46(2).
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.