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HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics

Dealing with loved ones during the holidays

Learn how to make friends with your family this holiday season.

It’s often great to connect with family and friends during the holidays, but it can occasionally feel like you’re drawn into old—sometimes negative—ways of communicating. If you only see your family now and then, they might view you as you were when you were younger instead of as you are now. Just being together in the same place can even ramp up old issues. Planning ahead for how to deal with situations can help you navigate them better and bring peace.

  • Think about potential friction points with loved ones.
  • Decide how you want to respond.
  • Be patient with others.
  • Stay positive and true to yourself.

What’s so great about gratitude?

Filed under: Gratitude, Mood
During the holiday season, we hear a lot about giving. Learn about the relationship and mind-body benefits from feeling and expressing gratitude.

Gratitude comes in different forms and has many benefits. There’s that thankful feeling when you receive a gift. Gratitude can also spring from awareness and appreciation of what’s really important. You can also express thanks to acknowledge that you value others, their actions, or how you benefit from others’ kindness.

When you express gratitude, you form tighter bonds with others and invest more in those relationships. Naturally, you take care of little things that help your relationship work. For example, expressing gratitude daily to your romantic partner for three weeks helps you care more about your loved one. When you say thanks, your partner is more likely to feel that there’s a fair split with household responsibilities.

If you’re feeling grateful, you might want to assist others. You could likely help someone with a personal problem, offer emotional support, and work cooperatively. You could also face what’s hard and feel more comfortable in voicing concerns to a friend or partner—partially because you’re in touch with how important that person is to you. Feeling gratitude increases your satisfaction with life and helps you remember what matters most—relationships, not material things.

The benefits of tapping into gratitude don’t end with better relationships. Writing down what you’re grateful for every day for three weeks can improve your mood, coping abilities, mental health, and physical well-being. Gratitude can also strengthen your belief that life is manageable, meaningful, and sensible. Thankfulness can help you feel less sad or anxious, as you experience more joy, enthusiasm, and love. It can even lower your blood pressure and risk of stroke, reduce stress hormones, and improve your immune system.

The cure for loneliness: connect with one person

Filed under: Isolation, Loneliness
Loneliness can be very isolating. Learn one “tried and true” strategy for combating feelings of loneliness.

It’s possible to feel lonely even within a big family or when constantly surrounded by others. Sometimes you can feel even lonelier. But you can feel better if you focus on strengthening a connection with at least one other person. Here’s how:

  • Pick someone in your life. Choose someone you want to be close with or feel like you share a lot in common. If you’re married, you’d ideally pick your spouse.
  • Open up. Tell that person how you’re feeling and what’s on your mind. You could also start the conversation by asking how they’re feeling.
  • Keep the conversation going. Ask follow-up questions and share your own thoughts and feelings. 
  • Be curious and focus on the other person. Hopefully, they’ll express interest in your ideas and emotions too.

Next week, we’ll offer more tips on combating loneliness and staying connected!

Forgiveness: A gift to you and yours

All relationships come with challenges. Forgiveness can be a gift to yourself, your spouse, and even your children.

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.

Forgiving your partner or children is not only a gift to him or her, it’s also a gift to you! For more ideas about forgiveness, try this guided meditation and read about couples communication.

Meditation builds “brain muscles”

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Meditation can help retrain your brain, building resilience and well-being.

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.

Artfully working through trauma

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Art, Mood, Therapy, Trauma
Art therapy can be a helpful tool in the recovery from trauma.

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.


Communication during deployment

HPRC would like to recognize Day of the Deployed (October 26th) with some tips for communication during your loved one’s deployment.

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: Stop it now

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. Read more about how substance abuse can affect you and how to put an end to it.

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:

For more information on substance abuse, please visit this Military OneSource web page.

Developing your coping arsenal

Learn coping strategies that can help you either directly tackle the problem or reduce your stress associated with the problem.

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. 

Words to clear mental clutter

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Mind, Mood, Stress
It may sound simple, but you can repeat a word or phrase to bring calmness and relaxation into any situation.

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.

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