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
The state in which athletes perform at their best is often referred to as “the zone,” but researchers refer to it as “flow.” This experience of being completely immersed in an activity involves:
- Clear goals and immediate understanding of whether actions are helping or hurting progress towards goals.
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
- Merging of action and awareness.
- Absence of self-consciousness and anxiety.
- Time seems distorted (slow in the moment and fast retrospectively).
- Targeting of your attention where it is most needed.
- Challenges or opportunities feel like a stretch but still match your skill level.
- Feeling in control and prepared to face whatever happens next.
You can experience flow in myriad ways, whether you’re engaged in combat, playing competitive sports, or raising children. Flow can’t be forced, but you can set the stage for it by learning good stress management and practicing key skills through repetition.
Compression garments are becoming more and more popular in the sports world. Back in 2001, NBA All-Star Allen Iverson began wearing a sleeve on his arm to help with bursitis in his elbow, helping to increase blood circulation and reduce swelling in his arm. Similar sleeves are used for clinical conditions such as lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.
You can find compression garments as sleeves, socks, shorts, or even full-body suits. There are various levels of compression for garments, but they all have gradient pressure, which means they’re a little tighter at the bottom of the garment and a little looser at the top to help push blood toward your heart and prevent blood from ‘pooling’ or remaining in the compressed areas. Most garments need simple measurements around your arms or legs to make sure you have the correct size.
But can these garments also impact your performance and recovery? It’s been found that compression garments do actually help with blood flow and increase oxygen to working muscles. But whether that translates into improved performance is another question altogether.
Most performance-related studies have looked at the effects of compression sleeves or socks on running. Some participants said they didn’t feel they were working as hard when wearing compression garments on their legs. While the relationship between compression garments and performance is still not clear, some researchers have suggested that this psychological benefit of lower perceived exertion might help athletes train at higher intensity. However, more research is needed to show if this ultimately leads to actual performance improvements.
In terms of recovery, more research is needed too. The effects of compression garments on muscle soreness after exercise have been mixed, but there have been no studies on the use of compression socks or sleeves for shin splints and other leg pain. They are sometimes effective at reducing the muscle soreness that occurs 24-48 hours after exercise. Relief of symptoms from wearing these garments varies from person to person, sometimes with no benefit. And it isn’t clear whether wearing these garments during recovery will improve your performance next time.
That “slow to wake up” feeling of grogginess in the morning has a name: sleep inertia. HPRC asked a sleep expert whether sleep inertia is a real threat to performance, and the answer may surprise you: While sleep inertia is a real phenomenon, the threat it poses to performance has never been seriously studied but probably isn’t as bad as you might think.
However, sleep inertia can be a serious issue when cognitive performance—such as problem solving and decision making—is called for immediately on waking. For example, physicians who are awakened by calls from nursing staff have been known to make serious errors. For most situations, though, it’s better to sleep (and pay down any “sleep debt”) rather than stay awake with the intent of being alert just in case you’ll be called on, our expert concluded.
If your head does need to be in the game quickly after awakening, call on some caffeine to help; it can give you the boost you need to get out of your sleep inertia. Popping in some caffeine gum when you wake up (but only when essential) can produce near-normal cognitive performance within about five minutes.
September is Suicide Prevention Month — a good time to review how you can possibly help someone in need. Rule number one: Trust your instincts. If you’re worried about someone in particular, don’t ignore it—talk to that person about the concern you feel for him or her. Don’t know how? Be an ACE: “Ask, Care, Escort.”
Ask. If you’re concerned, ask directly and without judgment, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” If he or she responds “yes,” determine if he or she has a plan by asking, “Have you thought about ways that you might hurt yourself?” (Note: The more specific the plan, the greater the risk).
Care. Next, care for your friend by staying with him or her, actively listening, staying calm, and removing anything he or she could use to hurt him/herself. Don’t leave your friend alone.
Escort. Tell someone immediately. Take your friend to someone who is trained to help, such as a primary care provider, chaplain, or health professional, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911 for additional support.
The Department of Defense has dedicated September to building awareness around suicide prevention. DoD has kicked off the campaign with a new Crisis Support Guide for Military Families—“Supporting Military Families in Crisis: A Guide to Help You Prevent Suicide”—that addresses suicide prevention, including warning signs, risk factors, and what to do in an emergency. Although the focus is on what families can do to help Warfighters at risk, there is advice for individuals too. Highlights include things you can do to take action: offering support, promoting a healthy lifestyle (caring for yourself, too!), and different treatment approaches that could help.
For more resources, go to HPRC’s section on suicide prevention.
Sleep is essential for optimal performance! The recent Warrior Resilience Conference V hosted by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury included a session called “Scheduling Sleep – A Clear Mind, A Combat Edge,” which highlighted how sleep is critically important to:
- Moral judgment
All of these have a serious impact on performance—not only for Warfighters, but for everyone. Lack of sleep is also linked to increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, depression, substance abuse, weight gain, heart and kidney disease, reduced immune response, and loss of focus. Make it a goal to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and reap the performance and health benefits.
There may be times in your life when you feel isolated or all alone. Connecting with people can help you find meaning in life, feel better, improve your mood, and beat boredom. Afterdeployment.org has a tip sheet—“Beating Isolation”—with ideas for how to overcome loneliness that include making plans to hang out with someone, reaching out to people you know, and getting involved in your community.
The “relaxation response” is your body’s counterpart to the stress response you feel during critical situations. As the name suggests, the relaxation response has a calming effect on your mental and physical state, with benefits that include less anxiety, a more positive mood, a sense of calmness and well-being, and reduced heart rate, breathing and metabolic rates, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
Sound good? You can learn how to use your body’s relaxation response for health and well-being. Various mind-body techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai-chi, and qigong all train you to turn this response on. Practicing these mind-body techniques has been found to help with anxiety and depression, as well as physical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and types of cancer that are exacerbated by stress.
To learn more about mind-body techniques, check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.
In relationships, “capitalization” refers to the process of sharing good news with one another. It’s easy to sympathize with buddies when times are tough, but studies have shown that responding to good news with support and enthusiasm helps build stronger relationships between individuals. So remember to receive good news from coworkers, friends, and family with enthusiasm. It can not only strengthen your relationships but also create a positive environment.
For more information on building strong relationships, check out the Family & Relationships domain.
You’ve heard the expression about being able to dish it out, but not being able to take it. Is there some truth to that? Being on the receiving end of criticism can be a tough spot for many of us—whether at work or with your friends or family—and for some, can even provoke anger. If you think that avoiding or denying criticism, making excuses for yourself, or fighting back is the best way to handle it, take note of how many times those tactics have made the situation worse instead. The next time you feel criticized, try this: Listen to what is being said, ask for details, agree with your critic’s right to his or her opinion, and use the criticism as a learning opportunity. If you need time to think about what’s being said or to calm down, try saying “Let me think about it” to get some breathing space.