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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Pain can be unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unrelenting, so even the most resilient Warfighters can be vulnerable to it. Because of pain, you may experience symptoms of anxiety or depression; your mind may even exaggerate the intensity and awfulness of pain. Socially, you might experience criticism, rejection, and negative interactions with family, spouse, or peers. Even if interactions are generally positive, you may want to withdraw from people or difficult situations
Chronic pain, which lasts longer than three months and is unresponsive to treatment, can affect quality of life for many. At least 100 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain. Unfortunately, combat and other situations make Warfighters especially susceptible to experiencing injury and pain. One study of an infantry brigade found that three months after return from Afghanistan, 44% of the soldiers reported chronic pain.
The American Psychological Association has shared evidence that relief from pain is more likely when mind and body are both treated. The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine has also indicated that continued study of non-drug approaches to pain management is a priority.
The latest trend in treating pain is the “biopsychosocial model,” which focuses on exercise and sleep (not just meds and surgery) as important biological influences. Important psychological factors include thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and attention. And impactful social factors involve healthcare, family, and work. All of these factors can contribute to understanding and mitigating the impacts of pain.
The American Psychological Association shares concrete advice to manage pain, including these tips:
- Distract yourself.
- Stay active and exercise.
- Know your limits.
- Follow prescriptions carefully.
- Make social connections.
- Don’t lose hope.
Tired of having family members “push your buttons” or inadvertently pushing theirs? You’ll be glad to learn it’s something you can fix. How you relate to people as an adult is shaped by the relationships you had early in life. It’s easy to get drawn into old patterns with family members. But there are some things you can do to stop taking the bait and stop putting bait out there for your loved ones to take.
For example, an old rivalry can re-emerge between siblings, even if you don’t do this with any one else in your adult life. Or it can feel like you’ve gone back in time, and you’re an adolescent again rebelling against your parent. Keep these old patterns in mind, because they can creep into your present.
Here are some tips to avoid reliving familiar conflicts or other unpleasant interactions:
- Don’t put out bait: You can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control yours. Be aware of what you feel drawn to do, and stop yourself if you know your next move might cause friction (such as calling someone a name, or more subtle moves).
- Don’t take bait: Others will (consciously or unconsciously) do things that trigger your emotions (such as a snarky comment or an overly long story). Slow down and take a breath rather than responding out of impulse.
- Assume good intentions: When you feel baited, assume that the other person isn’t intentionally triggering you and that he/she means well. Even if this is untrue, your different style of interacting with him or her can help break the pattern. And it could even start a new, more positive dynamic!
Instead of being a “perfect” parent, strive to be “good enough.” As a parent, you want the best for your children. At a minimum, you know you shouldn’t neglect or abuse your children. Ideally you’re a caring parent who sets good boundaries for their safe development. But some parents overdo their involvement.
The problem with working too hard to meet your child’s every need is that your child doesn’t learn to become independent. When children experience some frustration along the way or have to figure out things on their own, they become more equipped to tolerate frustration and face adversity. And they learn how to solve problems for themselves. That said, don’t leave them hanging, but gently guide them to figure out solutions for themselves.
Read HPRC’s “Need to update your parenting style?” to learn more ways to be “good enough.”
The U.S. military celebrates the Friday before Mother’s Day every year as Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Initiated in 1984, this national event acknowledges and honors the commitment, courage, and sacrifice of the wives and husbands of our nation’s service members.
Military spouses are the backbones of their families and are key to the success of our warriors, both on and off the “job.” President Obama reflected this in a speech when he said, “At the heart of our Armed Forces, service members’ spouses keep our military families on track.”
So not just today, but every day, we offer our thanks and appreciation for all that you do—for keeping yourself, your children, and your spouse strong!
Visit the newest section of HPRC’s website—“Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships.” It includes strategies for communicating and managing conflict, building and maintaining strong relationships, and fostering parent-child relationships.
Here are some kinds of questions you can find answers to:
- Is there such a thing as a healthy argument?
- How can I be a better listener?
- Why do I get so angry that I can’t think clearly?
- Can I win more arguments than I lose and still have a good relationship?
- How can I change my attitude and focus less on the negative?
- How can I help my children get through challenging situations?
You can use these strategies in all your relationships—friends, coworkers, bosses, leaders, etc.—not just your intimate and family relationships.
You can find more questions and answers in “Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships.”
Most military children will at some point experience stress related to being part of a military family. Fortunately, there are numerous online resources to help military kids and their parents learn important coping skills, especially for when a parent returns from a deployment. A parent can load apps such as the following on their phone and then hand it to their child:
- Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (for Apple and Android) teaches children coping skills through breathing and more,
- The Big Moving Adventure (for Apple and Android) teaches children about moving (how to pack up their toys, say goodbye to friends, etc.).
- Focus on the Go (for Apple and Android) teaches children how to manage their feelings in helpful ways.
Military Kids Connect (MKC) is a Department of Defense program aimed at improving quality of life for military children of various ages. The site helps parents, caregivers, children, and the child’s peer community to talk about issues and learn coping skills through a variety of apps (Apple, Android, and Kindle) and online tools.
HPRC’s Family Resilience “Tools, Apps, & Videos” section includes links to more programs (such as FOCUS World and Sesame Street) and apps. But don’t forget: As with any online activities, monitor your children and be vigilant against cyber threats.
If you’re in the military, you know you may have to move at almost any time, so you try to avoid accumulating things you don’t want to move with you. But whether you’re moving or not, spring is a great time to get rid of the clutter in your home.
There are many resources to help you get organized. But the hard part can be letting go of “stuff” you may be attached to emotionally. The memories pull at you, so the closets stay packed. So why get rid of things? It can save your sanity and lighten your load.
Consider a “mindful” approach to your spring cleaning. The self-compassion and non-judgment of many meditation practices can help you deal head-on with the emotional connections you may have to your stuff. This approach raises your awareness of attachment to belongings. You can see the memories, connections, love, and bonds that the items represent. And then you get to practice self-observation in the moment of letting things go.
How do you do it? Try this meditation: As you sort through items that literally weigh you down and debate whether to keep something, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this object really adding value to my life?
- Do I need this thing to remind me of a pet, friend, or special time?
- Can I accept that the object is not a substitute for a person or memory?
- Can I take a photo of it and then let it go?
- Can I imagine myself free from this object?
- Would letting it go mean I no longer care?
Only you can answer these questions for yourself. The balance between holding on and letting go is very personal. Use gentleness and compassion with yourself as you move through this exercise and practice being mindful.
All families need to spend some time together to help build strong family bonds. There is no right way or ideal amount of time. Some families like to spend all their free time together, while others may spend a bit of time together throughout the week or dedicate some family time on a consistent basis. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in other things so we spend all our time on work, bills, cleaning house, scheduled activities, or other responsibilities, and family time goes by the wayside.
Think about your own family. Do you have enough time together? What kind of time is it? Is everyone on a phone, computer, tablet, or television? Try unplugging and going outdoors, playing a board game, or getting together and giving everybody five minutes to talk about what they like about each other. You could let your children (if they’re old enough) pick what they want to do on their family day out, and then everyone else needs to come along and make the most of it. If part of your family is deployed, you should still schedule family bonding time. Some of your family time can be spent making things to send to your deployed family member or documenting your fun time with photos or videos.
Stressed just thinking about how to add in some good family time? Just make the most of what you have by focusing on each other without extra distractions!
To have a healthy, long-term romantic relationship, you might find that you need to cool it with old patterns. Use these ICED tips to make sure your relationship holds up over time.
Identity: It’s easy to lose yourself in relationships. You may feel subtle (or not-so-subtle) pressure to be more like the other person and enjoy the same activities or share the same goals. But if you give in to these pressures, you can lose track of your own identity. While it’s good to adapt some over time, you also want to keep a clear sense of your own identity. Solid relationships consist of two people with solid identities.
Calm: It can feel difficult to remain calm when fear of losing your partner pops up. While it's normal to experience some concern, the key to a relationship without harmful pressure is learning to calm yourself. If you look to your partner instead to make you feel better, perhaps acting a bit “clingy,” your efforts could backfire. The pressure that your partner feels can lead him or her to feel withdrawn rather than closer. If your partner’s presence feels like a “bonus” instead of a “need,” you’re on the right track.
Engage: When you see your partner upset, slow down and engage with him or her in a way that empowers both of you. Engage with empathy andboundaries. For example, “I know you feel anxious about me going out with the boys. I feel a bit guilty, and I think I need to deal with that guilt, but do you think you can cope with your own feelings too? It’s important for me to keep these other friendships."
Deal: Whether you or your partner (or both) feel uncomfortable, it’s best to cope with how you feel rather than looking for quick fixes. Dealing with discomfort is key to growing individually and together. And it’s crucial to hang on to your own identity, learn how to self-calm, and engage with your partner in a way that makes sense.
Parents are one of the most important factors in their children’s fitness. You can set the example. Children of active parents are more than twice as likely to be active than those with inactive parents. You also can help your children be active by driving them—or better yet, walking or biking with them—to and from activities, being active with them at home, cheering or supervising their play/activity, and getting the right equipment for their activities. It’s important to expose kids to different activities. Once they find something they like, they’ll stick with it. Above all, make it fun!