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HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics
Yoga’s popularity is growing in the United States, but many Americans are still not familiar with the details of this ancient practice. Yoga roots are holistic in nature—body and mind are of equal importance, and the asanas, or poses, which define yoga for many of us, are only one aspect of practice. Together with meditation and breath control, yoga promotes strength, flexibility, and awareness of body and mind. Yoga can help achieve wellness through meditation, deep relaxation, stretching, and breathing. Several organizations are now beginning to provide yoga classes tailored to veterans and active-duty service members who suffer from combat stress. VA facilities, Warrior Transition Units, and civilian studios are using it to complement traditional treatment of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Individuals who struggle with PTSD describe it as a feeling of disconnectedness from themselves and others. Yoga, which means “bringing together parts as a whole,” helps people feel connected again. One traditional type of yoga that has been shown to decrease anxiety in the military population is sensory-enhanced hatha yoga, which involves breathing, meditation, and certain poses. A specific benefit reported by participants in sensory-enhanced yoga was a decrease in insomnia. Combat-stressed adults also experienced reduced hyperarousal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and rage. Integrative Restoration (iRest) is a yoga-based meditative practice that teaches a person to focus on breathing when a negative memory arises. Soldiers and marines have expressed satisfaction in these breathing techniques because of the method’s simplicity and ease. It allows a person to regain control over his/her thoughts whenever symptoms of PTSD present themselves. A study found that iRest decreases rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity all of which encourage negative thoughts and memories. Those practicing iRest also reported increased feelings of relaxation, peace, self-awareness, and self-efficacy. Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) was one of the first military facilities to research the outcomes of yoga for veterans and active-duty warriors suffering from PTSD. WRAMC immediately added iRest to its weekly treatment programs for soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI after observing its effects: increased calm and peaceful feelings, less severe reactions to situations, and increased outlook on life.
There are many more yoga practices than the ones mentioned here, and each yoga method is different, so you can find the right one for you!
Although there are individual differences in sleep needs, most people need seven to eight hours of sleep at night to function optimally, and anyone who sleeps only four to five hours each night will experience some loss of performance. Sleep loss hinders your ability to accurately interpret the emotions of others and identify what they’re feeling. Specifically, sleep loss impacts your ability to interpret the emotions anger and happiness expressed in the faces of others, making it difficult to interact effectively and communicate clearly with the people around you, reducing one’s ability to maintain good relationships.
Dealing with the stress of deployment and re-adjusting to home life post-deployment can be tough. It’s important to focus on managing your stress, finding ways to cope, and building your resilience. According to Real Warriors, you can get “behaviorally fit” by managing stress and reaching out to others. Among several tips offered is how to deal with problems as they come—head on. Don’t avoid discussing tough issues or finding ways to deal with them. For problems that seem too big, try breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps. For issues that you still find yourself struggling with even after breaking them down, the best bet is to get help from a professional, friend, or supportive family member.
Tobacco users often claim the reason they smoke (or chew) is to relieve stress. However, research shows that tobacco is not only ineffective for relieving stress, but tobacco users actually experience more stress than non-users. A study among military personnel showed that tobacco users use positive coping strategies—such as problem-solving skills—less often than non-smokers. So think twice before you light up (or chew) in order to relax—it may not be working as well as you think. Try some of the relaxation strategies found in HPRC’s Mind Tactics Stress Control resources instead.
Working out by yourself is fine if you’re self-motivated, but getting a buddy to tag along can provide the motivation needed to really ramp up your workout. Let’s face it—a bit of friendly competition can help you push harder than if you were alone. In fact, research has consistently shown that performance is substantially improved when you exercise with someone (even a virtual partner)—unless the workout is complex or involves tasks that require coordination, when the performance can degrade (i.e., "choking under pressure"). So, for best results, practice your difficult routines with a trainer, and then engage in healthy competition to optimize your performance. Keep in mind that not just any friend will do. It’s best to get a buddy whose skill level is similar to your own.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been one of the military’s top priorities in the past few years, especially after reports of projected rates as high as 30% in veterans. However, a May 2012 Science article points to new findings that might indicate lower PTSD rates currently across all services—between 2.1 and 13.8%. Taking into consideration under-reporting due to stigma, the authors suggest these low rates might be due to the targeted attention that PTSD has received, along with interest in bolstering Warfighter resilience. The article cites the military’s adoption of resilience programs such as “Battlemind” as possible contributors to these low rates. The authors recommend more in-depth research to determine the effectiveness of such programs.
In an April 2012 Times article Dr. Martin Seligman, whose work on “positive psychology” influenced Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, explains his stance that soldiers can enhance their mental toughness through optimistic thinking. By seeing situations as temporary—“It will go away soon”—or specific—“It’s just this once”—or changeable—“I can do something about it”—you can make it through adversity and perform optimally. The training also emphasizes how resisting negative thoughts such as “Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a soldier” while expressing gratitude—“I made it farther than I did last time”—are part of the puzzle to building resilience and becoming mentally tough. To learn strategies that can help build mental toughness, visit OSOK’s Mind Tactics module in HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
PsychCentral’s March 2012 "Ask the Therapist" article addresses how mindfulness relates to military performance—especially important now that the military has been incorporating mindfulness tactics for enhancing Warfighter mental and physical resilience. Of particular note is a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology that demonstrated significant improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, etc. in veterans after completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The article also noted other studies that showed long-term stress-reduction, well-being, and positive experiences. Simply put, acknowledging emotional pain helps you overcome it. You are then able to focus and communicate with loved ones more effectively.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation and mindfulness, check out the Mind Tactics section of the HPRC website, which contains many resources related to meditation and mindfulness, as well as resources related to mental fitness, mental toughness, and resilience.
Not only is alcohol abuse harmful to your social life and relationships, but it also takes a toll on your physical and mental performance. Alcohol abuse is a serious performance degrader that results in irritability, difficulty communicating with friends and family, delayed reaction timing, reduced metabolic rate, and decline in cognitive processing.
If you’re not sure if your drinking levels constitutes abuse or not, check out Military Pathways’ free and anonymous Drinking IQ screening. This online self-assessment can help you determine the seriousness of your drinking habits and how it can impact your total performance. A few tips from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will also show you how to cut back on your alcohol consumption.
Grab your headphones and learn effective relaxation strategies for performance optimization and stress reduction with the Relax Relax Toolkit from the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC). Featuring audio instruction from experts and links to evidence-based information on each technique, this toolkit covers a number of strategies including breathing exercises, muscle relaxation strategies, meditation styles, and combination and advanced strategies. To help meditation, Relax Relax also presents a variety of relaxing music to help you meditate. Visit the HPRC’s Stress Control Tools for more information on relaxation strategies.