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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
If you find yourself at odds with those around you more than you’d like, think about bolstering your communication skills. Communication is a key skill in all relationships, and half of this skill is knowing how to listen. “Active listening” lets your loved one, friends, and associates know that you heard them and understand their perspective. Active listening happens when the listener—you—takes part in the conversation, not just listens. Here’s how you do it:
- Repeat back to the other person the gist of what he or she just said.
- Reflect the other person’s feelings; that is, recognize out loud that you understand how he or she feels
- If you need clarification, ask for it in a gentle way.
- Show interest and curiosity in what the other person is saying.
To see what this might look like, watch this video from the Kansas National Guard about active and constructive communication. FOCUS has a handout on “Effective Communication Skills” that further describes this skill.
Have you heard of Total Force Fitness, but you aren’t sure what it is? It’s a framework for building and maintaining health, readiness, and performance in the Department of Defense. It views health, wellness, and resilience as a holistic concept that recognizes “total fitness” as a “state in which the individual, family and organization can sustain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions”—a connection between mind, body, spirit, and family/social relationships. Total fitness shifts the perspective from treatment to wellness and focuses on prevention and strengths.
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury created a slide presentation for units and groups on Total Force Fitness: A Brief Overview that describes what TFF is, its core components, and each of its eight “domains” (behavioral, social, physical, environmental, medical and dental, spiritual, nutritional, and psychological). For more in-depth reading, check out the original Military Medicine Supplement that started it all, including a scholarly chapter for each domain.
HPRC salutes Mother’s Day with special recognition of the mothers of Warfighters, mothers who are Warfighters, and Warfighters’ spouses who are mothers. HPRC works to help keep you and your Warfighter healthy, happy, and fit so that every day is Mother’s Day!
The daily grind can make it easy to forget to tell your spouse how much you appreciate him or her. This month, focus on showing your partner how much he or she means to you. There are many ways to show appreciation. One way is to write a “gratitude letter” in which you tell your partner in writing how his or her actions have affected your life in a positive way. Describe all the little things that you appreciate—from kindness toward others to making you a special dinner. Try to be specific so that he or she knows you put a lot of thought into it. And try not to expect something in return. The essence of gratitude is to give without expecting something in return.
For more ideas on fostering gratitude, read “Just the Facts: Resilience—Gratitude” from afterdeployment.org.
Good decision-making is crucial to mission success for any Warfighter. Advancements in technology can help build awareness of how people think (that is, how they remember and evaluate information) and even how they feel (recognizing “gut feelings” and what drives them). “Affective computing” and “wearable sensing” are no longer science fiction. Special bracelets or other articles of clothing can sense one’s needs in terms of exercise, diet, and sleep and can even be programmed to communicate physical or emotional needs to others. Optimal training can occur when emotions facilitate learning rather than impede it. And it doesn’t stop with training; “e-health” applications for mental health, delivered via smart phones or other small mobile devices, are promising, especially as the technology continues to advance.
One key resilience-building skill for military families is to create meaning from experiences. And as a family, you can share your understanding of challenging experiences or situations by having each family member explain his or her experience and perspective of a particular event. The event can be a specific situation or a period of time, such as the time when a family member was deployed. Together, your family can create a “picture” of the experience. Be creative! This can be with talk or with art or both.
Parents and other caregivers are essential to help children make sense of upsetting and/or challenging experiences. In addition, spouses can feel distant from each other due to their differing experiences, so creating a shared understanding can help bridge the divide. The process of creating a common understanding of a challenging event can help family members bond, understand the past better, and look to the future with more hope.
This is one of the resilience-building skills taught in the Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) program. To learn more about FOCUS (and their online resources) check out FOCUS World.
Having a resilient family isn’t something that just happens—it takes some effort. You can develop and improve your family’s resiliency by honing the skills you already have and developing new ones as needed. To give you a jump start, try doing 30 days of activities that will improve your relationships. The Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) resiliency program created a calendar of events you can do with your children that covers an entire month. Each activity teaches a skill that will strengthen your family over time. They highlight activities such as family fun nights and family meetings and teach skills such as deep breathing, goal setting, communication, and self-care. They also have many activities specifically for military families and children.
To learn other family-strengthening skills and activities, check out HPRC’s Rock Solid Families section.
The American Psychological Association just released an article suggesting that trial judges make better decisions when they do “STOP” meditations:
- Stop what you are doing
- Take a few deep breaths and focus on the experience of breathing
- Observe your thoughts, feelings, and actions
- Proceed with new awareness
Like Warfighters, judges make very important decisions that affect peoples’ lives, but judges also are not immune to impacts of stress. Like everyone else under stress, they can thoughtlessly make quick decisions based on “rules of thumb,” but because we are human biases creep in, sometimes leading to bad decisions.
So, the STOP technique can be important too for Warfighters, spouses, parents, or anyone else looking to make good decisions when it matters. STOP-ping allows you to monitor and adjust your current stress in order to make good decisions.
Think of stress as a balance scale. All the situations you find stressful are heaped up on one side. How you deal with them is on the other side. The trick is learning to balance the two sides (or even better, having your coping resources outweigh the causes of your stress).
Everyone feels overloaded at times, when stress seems too much to handle. This can be compounded with multiple family demands—from finances, children’s needs, managing work and family demands, and fostering your relationships. Here are two suggestions to help you find balance:
- Find out what practical needs are causing your stress and come up with possible ways to address them using HPRC's problem-solving tips. For example, you know that you need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but you and your partner seem to manage only five hours or so. So discuss possible solutions with your partner. For example, set a bedtime and stick to it no matter what chores aren’t done; put the kids to bed at an earlier time; create a wind-down routine 30 minutes before bedtime in order to get that eight hours—and stick to it! Then pick one of these possible solutions, try it out for a week, and then re-assess. If it doesn’t work, pick another; or if it does work, maybe tweak it a little to make it even better.
- Once you have plans to deal with the sources of your stress, then you can focus on managing your stressful feelings. There’s no need to continue feeling stressed out while you put your plan into action. Try some of the “behavioral strategies” in HPRC’s Managing Emotions that you can do anywhere with minimum fuss, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or other relaxation strategies. You can even teach them your children and do them together as a family. Learn how in “Calming & Grounding Activities” from the FOCUS Family Resiliency Training Manual, which describes several shared activities.
And check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section for resources that are geared more for you as an individual.
The American Psychological Association (APA) wants to know how stressed out Americans are. Every year since 2007, they’ve conducted a yearly “Stress in America” survey in which they analyze trends about stress and its associated symptoms and behaviors across a range of people living in the U.S. In August 2013, they focused on 1,018 teens (ages 13-17).
A recent report of this information about teens and stress showed that the stats are staggering. Teens from the general population (civilian and military) exceed healthy levels of stress, mirroring the trends in the U.S. among adults. Stress affects sleep, exercise, and eating. Teens tend to get 7.4 hours of sleep on school nights, while the recommended amount is around nine or more hours according to the National Sleep Foundation, and between nine and 10 hours according to the National Institutes of Health. One in five teens exercises less than once a week or not at all. And 23% of teens report that they’ve skipped at least one meal in the past month due to stress.
Parents’ deployments are extremely challenging for children and teens, so military teens often have to deal with additional stressors. Consider this:
- When a parent deploys for 19 months or more, kids’ achievement scores are lower than peers’ scores.
- Teachers and counselors say that parental deployment can cause stress at home, often leading to more problems at school (such as incomplete homework, skipping school, or a less-engaged parent).
- Kids’ resiliency can be impacted when a parent is away, and parents/teachers/counselors sometimes feel that helpful resources can be hard to navigate.
What can you and your teens do to combat their stress?
- Watch for signs of stress, and actively use stress-management techniques. You can also find children-centered techniques in these HPRC resources. Recognize that stress-management skills are important to develop whether you are a Warfighter, family member, or civilian.
- Military parents can alert teachers and counselors when a parent is deployed and enlist whatever support is available.
- Parents’ well-being impacts their teens’ well-being. Be sure to take care of yourself by eating right (individually or with your family), exercising, and managing your own stress.
- Bolster resiliency skills, both in times of stress and in times of calm. You can learn how with practical tips in "Building Family Resilience."