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HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics
Individuals involved in disasters and terrorist attacks often experience psychological trauma that needs both immediate and ongoing attention. In addition to getting medical first-aid to individuals, responders can also help administer psychological first aid (PFA). A few features from the VA’s Psychological First Aid: Field Operations Guide are:
- Ensure safety first. Physical needs (medical attention, food, and shelter) take priority. Before you begin PFA, assess whether these other needs have been taken care of. Remember to communicate clearly and be compassionate and polite as you come into contact with survivors.
- Stay calm and spread calm. Be patient and pay attention to survivors, who are often in emotional distress, as they convey their story. If they express confusion, reassure them that their behavior is a natural response to the circumstances and offer healthy ways to cope with it. And make sure that your own emotional and physical reactions are not making the situation worse.
- Connect with others. Help survivors connect with friends, family members, and other people who can support them. Relationships are invaluable to survivors during traumatic events.
- Encourage hope. Help calm fears or worries about the future by reminding survivors that help is on the way and will continue to be available in the future as they recover.
For more information, see the “dos” and “don’ts” in this fact sheet from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. Also, download the free PFA mobile app, which supplements the PFA Field Operations Guide to help you administer psychological first aid in the field. Online training and videos are also available; see links on the web page linked above. For more information on healthy ways to cope, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
The purpose of the 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel (HRB) is to assess the health practices of active-duty service members. Substance abuse, mental and physical health, and lifestyle choices are important matters, especially when you need to be at your best for the demands of military life. Certain areas of this study directly affect human performance, and results (as reported in the Executive Summary) show that health behaviors vary between services.
Physical Activity/Body composition
Here are some figures from the Physical Activity/Body Composition portion:
- Overall, service members have lower rates of obesity (as defined by BMI) compared to the general public.
- More than one-third of active-duty service members age 20 and older were considered to be at a healthy weight, which exceeds the Healthy People goal as well as civilian population estimates.
- 75% of active-duty members practiced moderate to vigorous physical activity in the 30 days prior to the survey, with Army and Navy personnel having the highest rates.
- Almost half of service members do strength training three or more days a week.
Physical health and fitness are key components to optimal fitness. While these numbers are encouraging, there is no doubt that a larger portion of the military should be at a healthy weight and fit enough to fight. Make fitness and weight management your priority for performance.
- Only 40% of all active-duty personnel surveyed get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is an important factor in recovery. Poor sleep habits can take a physical and mental toll on your health, your relationships, and your performance.
Tobacco and alcohol
One area where the military could improve is in the use of tobacco products and alcohol:
- Almost one-quarter of service members reported smoking a cigarette in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, which is higher than the civilian population and the Healthy People objective.
- Smokeless tobacco use is also prevalent in the military with 12.8% of all service members using smokeless tobacco in the month leading up to the survey.
- Rates of binge drinking were higher in the military than in the civilian population and more prevalent in the Marine Corps than in any other branch.
Tobacco in any form is detrimental to your health. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking or would like to talk to someone about your alcohol use, there are lots of resources and professionals that can help you achieve your goal.
Stress and mental health
After more than a decade of ongoing war, troops have—and will continue to experience—significant mental stress as a result of their service. In general, 5-20% of service members reported high rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and/or other mental health concerns.
- The most common military-related sources of stress were being away from family and friends and changes in workload but included financial problems and family members’ health problems.
- Women reported experiencing personal sources of stress more often than men did.
- Those who drank heavily were more likely to report problems with money and relationships.
Drinking, smoking, overeating, and even attempted suicide are all negative coping factors when dealing with stress. The survey found that the most effective methods of coping were planning to solve problems and talking with friends or family members. Find out how to use productive and effective methods for coping with stress and mental health.
Nutrition and dietary supplements
Being fueled to fight is an important component for anyone in the military. Proper nutrition requires consuming healthy—and avoiding bad and potentially harmful—foods and beverages.
- According to the survey, active-duty personnel eat too many unhealthy foods such as snacks, sweets, and sugary drinks and not enough of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- More than one-third of personnel reported daily dietary supplement use.
What you decide to put in your body now may affect your performance and your career later. For more information on nutrition for combat effectiveness, read Chapter 15 of the Warfighter Nutrition Guide. And make sure you know what you’re putting into your body. Dietary supplements are not subject to pre-market approval by the FDA, and there are many ingredients that may do more harm than help. You can learn more about dietary supplements at Operation Supplement Safety. And for more information about the Health Related Behavior Survey, visit TRICARE’s webpage.
You may have heard how deep breathing can help you relax and focus, but have you tried it yet? It’s a great strategy for helping your mind and body relax, but maybe you don’t know how to do it. You can learn how—and keep reminders handy—with this downloadable card that HPRC created recently for the Strong B.A.N.D.S. campaign. Try it out.
You know the positive effects of exercise on your health: how it can benefit every part of the body and dramatically extend your lifespan. But did you know that—in addition to reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension—exercise also can play a role in helping some mental health issues? Physical fitness and regular exercise appear to buffer against depression and anxiety, promote calmness, enhance mood, and help protect against the negative effects of stress.
Exercise also can benefit your brain in other ways. Exercise benefits learning and memory, protects the brain from degeneration, and increases the brain’s ability to adapt after new experiences. Physical fitness and regular exercise promote both physical and mental resilience—something that is important for all to think about.
Pain is a sensation of both the body and the mind—and it’s within your power to use strategies such as meditation to control the mental aspect to decrease the physical sensation of pain. Meditation can teach you to have a focused, calm mind, and rhythmic breathing. It may sound easy, but it requires practice. The payoffs can be improved well-being, reduced pain, and relaxation. Want to know more? Check out HPRC’s new Pain Management section, where you can find strategies such as meditation that you can use on your own or with the help of a healthcare provider.
Most of us will experience pain at some point in our lives, and Warfighters—in training or in theater—are obviously at an even greater risk. For that reason, pain management has become a priority for the military. Committed to being a comprehensive Warfighter resource, HPRC now has pain management information, tools, strategies, and resources. You’ll also find answers to some of the most common questions about pain, including:
- What is pain?
- Why do some people tolerate pain better than others?
- What is the difference between acute and chronic pain?
- What happens if pain becomes chronic?
- What sorts of things affect my pain?
- How do the DoD and VHA treat pain?
Synthetic drugs are laboratory-made substances marketed and sold as alternatives to illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines. Although most are advertised as “all-natural,” they may have serious health effects and violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). HPRC takes a look at two examples of synthetic drugs, their legal status, and how they can affect service members in “HPRC’s Answer: Synthetic Drugs of Abuse.”
The annual Army “Strong B.A.N.D.S.” campaign is set to launch for another year beginning in May. Strong B.A.N.D.S. promotes physical fitness, nutrition, optimal health, and resilience by focusing on Balance, Activity, Nutrition, Determination, and Strength—forming the acronym B.A.N.D.S. The campaign has activities at numerous garrisons to help educate soldiers, their families, and civilians. Strong B.A.N.D.S. is a campaign of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation directorate and is “designed to energize and inspire community members to live a healthy lifestyle.”
Check out the website for detailed information and to see if there is a Strong B.A.N.D.S. activity near you.
Two techniques continue to be found to be effective no matter the age of the learner:
- Spread out your learning. When you need to learn something new, don’t cram it in right before you need it. Instead, distribute it over time in order to learn the most—and it’ll help you remember more of what you learn as time passes. So start ahead of time and diligently work towards your deadline. Then when you need the information, you may be able to remember it.
- Be put to the test! Testing allows you to evaluate your knowledge on a subject. Practice tests help you sharpen your skills through direct questioning or applying knowledge or skills in a similar task. So don’t be afraid to put yourself to the test: Use practice tests, flashcards, and/or practice problems to help yourself learn as much as you can and retain what you learn.
Some beloved techniques, such as highlighting and summarizing, may not be as effective as widely thought. Although this research focused on academic learning environments, the same information may be able to benefit military personnel as they learn new topics and skills throughout their career.
There is no one method that is the best for everyone and every task. In fact, combinations of learning methods have yet to be studied. Ultimately, you should judge these techniques according to your specific learning goals and determine what works best for you.
Biofeedback teaches you how to control your body’s nervous system in order to reduce pain and stress and promote relaxation. Biofeedback can sometimes relieve musculoskeletal pain such as neck, back, and shoulder pain. It also may work for migraines and stress- and tension-induced headaches. For more in-depth information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal on biofeedback for pain management.