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: Mind Tactics
Using tobacco hurts your wallet and your health. Cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, and chewing tobacco are expensive. Tobacco products can give you bad breath and stained teeth. Some tobacco users even lose their teeth. In addition, smoking tobacco damages your lungs, heart, and skin, causing you to look and feel older than you really are.
Despite all this, tobacco use among service members remains significantly higher compared to civilians. In an effort to reduce the number of tobacco users, the Defense Health Agency has teamed up with the Food and Drug Administration to promote “The Real Cost” campaign on military installations (at home and abroad).
The Department of Defense also sponsors an educational campaign that offers personalized plans for quitting tobacco and live 24-hour help. For more information, visit Quit Tobacco – UCanQuit2.org.
Forgiveness can help you adapt, embrace flexibility, be happier, and move through resentment in your relationships. Balancing children, career, and your marriage is difficult enough; adding deployments to the mix can lead to eruptions with family members. Meditation has been has been shown to help people lower stress their levels and become more forgiving. To reduce friction with your partner or children, consider following these steps associated with forgiveness meditations:
- Take a time-out, and find a quite space to calm down.
- Relax and focus on slowing your breathing.
- Recall times of closeness and connection with your spouse and children.
- Develop awareness of your reactions, and patiently find your way to forgiveness.
Meditation can actually change how your brain functions, building resilience and improving your performance. Much the same way you strengthen your muscles, when you exercise different parts of your brain, you make subtle changes to its structure. These physical changes lead to changes in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Specifically, it can change those parts of the brain associated with anxiety, mind wandering, mood, fear, stress, empathy, emotion, and pain.
Meditation uses thinking strategies to better manage stress, using your mind to tune into sensations in your body, accept feelings, and observe thoughts without judgment. However, meditation is about much more than just relaxation. It actually creates a state of calm alertness. With the regular practice of meditation, you can bring about structural changes in your brain that make this condition last longer.
If you repeat the same thought or action many, many times, your brain forms new pathways—a process known as “neuroplasticity.” Whether you’re finding your way around a new base, or your children are learning their multiplication tables, skills become ingrained as the brain changes. Meditation helps by affecting the parts of your brain responsible for attention, the ability to think and act with flexibility, and managing emotions. In fact, the emotion regulation center of your brain can grow with meditation, the self-control center becomes more active, and as you become less stressed and fearful, the fear center in your brain can actually shrink in size.
You might not be aware of changes overnight, but persistence will yield rewards. And some meditation is better than none. Just as you get stronger with more time at the gym, the more you meditate, the better your brain becomes equipped to reach that state of calm alertness. To learn more about how to meditate, visit HPRC’s Mind-Body Techniques section.
Art therapy is one more tool in the arsenal against PTSD and similar disorders. It uses various forms of artwork and creativity to explore feelings, confront emotional conflicts, improve self-awareness, manage behaviors and addictions, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. Under the supervision of an experienced therapist, art therapy can improve general functioning, health, and well-being and can help in recovery from trauma.
Responses to traumatic experiences can include flashbacks and nightmares as your mind unconsciously tries to make sense of what happened. Art can be effective in helping your mind process, express, and even master traumatic experiences, because visual imagery can express what words can’t. Engaging in creative arts has been used specifically to help service members work through trauma. This kind of therapy involves working through your difficulties with a licensed therapist, but the same creative outlets can be great outside of therapy too. Find a craft or art that you find calming, enjoyable, and expressive. Engaging in the arts can be fun and therapeutic.
“You are what you eat” means that food affects your physical AND emotional health! A tip that also helps your mood is to stay away from “comfort foods.” Choose foods that give you more steady energy, such as an orange or raisins (not ice cream or fries). This might be old advice, but here’s a new twist: Eat that snack mindfully!
By practicing mindfulness before you eat, when you’re feeling a craving, and while you eat, you can overcome binge eating, eating to soothe emotional concerns, and impulses triggered by yummy sights, sounds, or smells. It helps you understand your motivation. Are you eating because you’re hungry and it’s time to eat? Or is it a “quick fix” for your stress or worries?
Once you’re eating, instead of analyzing why you’re eating or focusing on other tasks such as texting, be mindful of the eating experience, embracing the experiences of smell, taste, temperature, and texture. You may find yourself slowing down and enjoying your food more!
Before diving into your next snack or meal, think about what you’re eating and be mindful of why. Here’s a simple example of how you can weave mindful eating into your daily life: You might notice that it’s 3pm, and you’ve had nothing to eat since that healthy lunch, and you need a pick-me-up, so you reach for an orange. Now, mindfully enjoy each part of the experience as you peel the orange, noticing the textures inside and outside, the stickiness, the spray, and the smell. Notice how you salivate with the anticipation of citrus acids, and the moment when the piece of orange hits your tongue, followed by squirts of flavor, and changing texture. Enjoy!
Do you know that some self-help books have been scientifically shown to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and change behaviors? “Bibliotherapy” uses books in two ways: First, it can inspire you to reflect on a certain topic, often by identifying with a story’s character. Second, it can give you structured approaches to address specific problems. Bibliotherapy can be useful for self-help, but it’s often most effective when paired with expert guidance or psychotherapy. The approach can target everyday concerns and is effective with adults of all ages, dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, addictions, insomnia, eating disorders, and migraines. Bibliotherapy can also help children and even assist parents to help their children become less anxious.
For structured approaches, the emphasis is often one of the following:
- Experiencing new ways to think about your situation so you also can explore new emotions and new behaviors.
- Letting your values guide your behaviors while you tune into and accept whatever difficult emotions you’re facing.
- Recognizing how you usually relate to other people and making thoughtful choices about how you want to relate to others moving forward.
If you decide to use the self-help approach without a therapist, it’s likely to be most helpful if you’re already feeling motivated and energized to invite change into your life. Bibliotherapy can educate and empower you or your family, boost your awareness, and enable you to make self-directed change.
If you think bibliotherapy might be useful to you, consult a mental health professional and/or a librarian for recommendations. You also can explore the American Psychological Association’s Bibliotherapy page, as well as the Department of Veteran Affairs Bibliotherapy Resource Guide.
Members of the military community know how hard it can be to be separated during deployments for months at a time, but even with miles between your loved ones, there are ways to communicate and connect. October 26th marks the Day of the Deployed, a day set aside to recognize the devotion and sacrifice of our military personnel who serve and their families who live outside our nation. The National Day of the Deployed pays tribute to those whose military service has sent them outside the United States to ensure its safety and security.
Lengths and frequency of deployments are always changing. Most service members have been deployed at least once and often for stretches of 3.5–12 months. One way service members can communicate with people back home is through letters. In fact, writing letters can help improve relationship satisfaction more than other forms of communication. It’s easier to ensure privacy with a letter than with email or phone. More importantly, letters provide the writer opportunities to reread their work and take the time to express what they really mean.
There is no best formula for what to write in your letter. Couples can agree on rules for communication by talking through and finding agreement on what works well for both partners, such as staying away from certain topics. It’s sometimes best to keep the focus positive, saving tense topics for later. Some may prefer to keep open communication to help maintain a sense of intimacy. Keep the guesswork out of what to write by talking about it, and then enjoy the connection you experience through letter writing.
Substance abuse can be detrimental to your health and your career, and it’s on the rise in the military, but you can learn to avoid and overcome it. Stress from active-duty service, deployments, family, and life in general might lead you to try tobacco, alcohol, or drugs as a source of relief. In the long run, though, substance abuse can take a toll on your body and affect your heart, lungs, liver, and mind, putting even more stress on you and your family. Staying clear of self-medication (and the slippery slope of substance abuse) is a good way to stay healthy, be productive, and live longer.
Everyone needs help sometimes, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help with substance abuse. Each service has its own substance-abuse treatment and prevention program to help you get better and return to duty:
- Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Program (Check your installation’s website for contact information.)
- Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP)
- Coast Guard Substance Abuse Prevention Program (SAPP)
- Marine Corps Substance Abuse Program
- Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention (NADAP)
For more information on substance abuse, please visit this Military OneSource web page.
It’s a good idea to have a choice of coping strategies to meet the specific needs of each situation you face—some “problem-focused” and some “emotion-focused.” During severe stress, you might find that your old ways of dealing with problems aren’t doing enough to help. For example, your preferred way of coping in the past might have been venting to a friend about something you couldn’t control. But now you may be overlooking direct actions you can take to fix the problem. Or perhaps you’ve always been an action-oriented problem-solver but now, even though it’s unfamiliar to talk with others about what’s bothering you, you might simply need someone to be a good listener. Take stock of your current coping strategies. We offer some suggestions here for how you can expand your arsenal. Consider which ones might be most useful for you personally in various situations.
No matter what triggers your stress, from deployment to late daycare pickup, you can manage your emotions, stress, and focus by repeating a word or phrase that clears your mind. This simple approach can reduce mental clutter and provide a sense of calm. You also may find you can focus better and more easily track your big priorities.
Good news! You can immediately begin learning this skill simply by trying it. Whether you know stress is coming or already feel stressed, or if you’re recovering after stress, repeat your chosen word or phrase to calm your mind. There’s no magic to this. By occupying your mind with a word or phrase, you put to rest distressing or distracting thoughts. Some people prefer to use words or phrases they find spiritually meaningful, while others choose something as simple as the word “one.” Other examples may include “breathe” or “let go.” The exact word or phrase doesn’t necessarily matter. See what works for you. As with other stress management techniques, the challenge is often transforming an interesting experiment into a healthy daily habit.