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HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics

PTSD can “short-circuit” your brain

Filed under: Mind, Mind tactics, PTSD
PTSD affects the “circuitry” of the brain. Learn how PTSD-affected brains confuse threat and safety.

PTSD was finally recognized as a medical condition when recent advances in neuroscience showed that the brain no longer works properly after trauma. Your brain has an alarm system to help ensure your survival; it’s useful as long as it works properly. When the alarm system malfunctions because traumatic events pushed it to its limits, the part of the brain responsible for thinking and memory can’t function properly. When this happens, a person with PTSD can’t compare what’s happening now with events in the past when they were safe. However, there are treatments to help “rewire” the brain, so it can work properly again. Learn more about this in “How is your brain’s circuitry affected by PTSD?”

Mental tools for your performance arsenal

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
There are concrete actions you can take to help your performance when you need it most – check them out here.

No single mental technique can do the job for you, just as no single tool is the only one in a construction project. You can’t hammer a nail with a wrench! HPRC offers nine rules and strategies for your mind’s toolbox to help you perform your best. Check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies on “Mental skills for optimal performance” to learn more.

Are you tough enough…mentally?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Are you mentally tough? See if you’ve got the 4 Cs. Develop these traits and maintain them.

The term “mental toughness” is often tossed about, but what is it really? And do you have it? Mental toughness is important to the success of Warfighters, athletes, business people, and others who have to overcome adversity to be successful.

Sport psychologists and others interested in optimal performance talk a lot about mental toughness, but it’s a bit complex, so it’s often misunderstood. Mental toughness is not just one trait; it’s a mixture of them.

Boiling it down, mental toughness is a strong belief in yourself and an unshakable faith that you control your own destiny. If you’re mentally tough, you can remain undaunted by adversity.

If you have these 4 Cs, you’re mentally tough:

1)    Control: You feel in control of your emotions and influential with the people in your life. 

2)    Commitment: You embrace difficulty rather than running from it.

3)    Challenge: You believe that life is full of opportunities, not threats.

4)    Confidence: You know you have what it takes to be successful.

Mental toughness is a psychological edge that some are born with and others develop. It allows you to consistently cope with training and lifestyle demands better than those who don’t have it.

You can develop mental toughness through a long-term process of developing mental skills.  Leaders can promote mental toughness by creating a learning environment centered on the mastery of those skills (listed above) and by being generally supportive, encouraging Warfighters to maintain positive relationships. Over the long haul, to maintain your mental toughness, you need to continue honing mental skills, and you need a self-driven, insatiable desire to succeed.

When “moral injuries” add to PTSD pain

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Mind, PTSD, Stress
PTSD can haunt Warfighters with lingering fear or inner conflict called “moral injuries.” Learn more about this phenomenon.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can tear apart your sense of what is safe and of what is good.

Part of the diagnosis of PTSD is exposure to a traumatic event: death, serious injury, sexual violence, or the threat of any of these. PTSD symptoms such as intrusive memories, avoidance of situations or feelings, problems in thinking or mood, and feeling overly amped up are common reactions to abnormal circumstances. Think of PTSD symptoms as self-preservation instincts gone haywire. One theory holds that, because you nearly died or experienced something awful or could picture it because it happened to someone close to you, your mind/body tries to sound the alarm bells to keep you safe. But the alarm bells sound at the wrong times and in the wrong ways.

However, PTSD symptoms can come from sources other than fear of bodily harm. They also can arise from inner conflict, when emotions trigger feelings such shame and guilt or when you question fundamental beliefs (such as “the world is basically good”). Witnessing or experiencing betrayal (especially by a leader in a high-stakes situation), within-ranks violence, extreme violence, and incidents involving civilians are some of what can disrupt your world view. It isn’t just an event but the interpretation of an event that causes Warfighters to experience “moral injury.”

If you suffer moral injury as part of PTSD, you start believing you live in an immoral world, or you view yourself as immoral, irredeemable, and defective. If you’re a Warfighter experiencing these feelings, you not only feel lousy, but you are more likely to isolate yourself just when you need others more than ever. Isolation can lead to self-handicapping or self-destructive behaviors.

So how do you save yourself from experiencing moral injury as a part of PTSD? Having a healthy sense of self-esteem can be one of your best protectors. There are no quick fixes. But forgiveness—of others and of yourself—can help you to let go of moral injury. With the help of a psychotherapist, you can begin to wrap your heart and mind around what happened. And pursuing positive interactions, such as getting involved with charitable groups, can give you opportunities to relearn that you are good and the other people in the world are generally good too. Last but not least, connecting with your spirituality—in whatever way is comfortable to you—can help you navigate this difficult journey.

E-cigarettes spark new research

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes sweeping new regulations on the multibillion-dollar e-cigarette industry and has asked for more research on the long-term health effects of these products.

E-cigarettes were introduced to help people stop smoking, but they are becoming a popular alternative to traditional cigarettes. But are they really a healthier substitute, as many companies claim? In short, we don’t yet have a full answer to this important question, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on a mission to find out.

On April 25th, FDA released a proposal for new regulations on e-cigarettes—a multibillion-dollar industry that so far has not been highly regulated. In fact, FDA currently lacks the authority to collect vital information about these products. Traditional cigarettes deliver thousands of chemicals, many of which are dangerous, to cigarette smokers and non-smokers around them. By comparison, e-cigarettes deliver substantially fewer chemicals. However, little is known about the potential dangers of the chemicals that e-cigs deliver.

Proposed new rules would allow FDA to collect information about the ingredients in e-cigarettes, as well as their health and behavioral effects. It also suggests that more research is needed to study the long-term health effects of these products.

E-cigarettes are now being marketed with flavors popular among young people. Preliminary studies have found that young people who say they would never use a tobacco product are experimenting with e-cigarettes. The proposed new rules also would require e-cigarette users to be at least 18 years of age to purchase these products.

Although it’s still unclear how the popularity of e-cigarettes will impact public health, but it’s certain that more research will shed some light on their long-term effects.

SNAP your problems!

Filed under: Children, Families, Teens
SNAP your family’s problems with this easy-to-remember acronym.

Problem solving is a great resilience skill for families. All ages can learn or fine-tune their ability to solve problems. After all, life ensures there will be plenty of problems to solve! You can specifically help children learn how to problem solve with this easy-to-remember acronym—SNAP:

S: State the problem.

N: Name the goal.

A: Find All possible solutions.

P:  Pick one option.

For example, if your child wakes up tired every morning, you can help him or her identify the problem (being tired), set the goal of getting more sleep, and discuss possible solutions (such as going to bed earlier, developing a bedtime routine, or learning a relaxation skill such as deep breathing). Then help your child pick one to try for a specific time period (such as a week) to see if it works. And instead of trying to solve the problem yourself, be a coach and help your child learn how to solve problems using SNAP.

Check out FOCUS’s handout on SNAP to learn more. And for more resilience-building skills for your family, visit HPRC’s Family Resilience section.

Finding the “new normal”

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
After a major trauma, illness, or life-changing event, it is often necessary to adapt your lifestyle and create a new version of what feels “normal.”

Bad things happen. Unfortunately, you can count on experiencing different traumas, deaths, illnesses, and injuries. As a Warfighter (or military family), you can probably expect to face these kinds of situations more often than other people. That doesn’t make these experiences any more pleasant, and often it doesn’t make them any less surprising. After a major trauma, illness, or life-changing event, it is often necessary to adapt and create a “new normal.”

Studies of “post-traumatic growth” have found that trauma survivors can grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually after horrendous experiences such as cancer, terrorism, sexual assault, plane crashes, and even combat. It’s common to react with an emotional roller coaster of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Your natural instinct might be to run from these feelings. However, post-traumatic growth can be accomplished better by taking steps to approach them. The people who support you (including but not limited to therapists and family members) can do the following:

  • Listen empathically, accepting and encouraging full expression of feelings.
  • Avoid clichés and easy answers. Hearing “there will be brighter days” is not helpful.
  • Be patient. Changing perspective won’t happen overnight.
  • Offer a helpful relationship, recognizing there is no “magic technique” or “quick fix.”

You can also be an active agent in your own healing. One technique that can be useful to you is to tell and retell versions of your story in order to become more immune to the hard parts and to reach a point where you can find new meaning in it. People of any age, including Warfighters, can benefit from actively embracing a “new normal” through taking advantage of your relationships and developing a new twist on their story, even when this initially might seem far-fetched.

Family rituals matter

Rituals can enhance your performance as an athlete, Warfighter, and family member.

Athletes have rituals they engage in to ensure their best performance. Warfighters have rituals around paroling, shooting, and other mission-specific tasks to create the right mindset for the situation. Families can benefit from rituals too.

Consider the types of rituals your family typically engages in. There are probably more than you think. Celebrating holidays, personal traditions such as pancakes on Saturday mornings or memorializing the death of a loved one, and simple everyday acts such as bedtime stories or morning tea are all rituals.

When a couple comes together and starts a family, each person brings along his/her own rituals. Consider it an opportunity to build something new together—a blending of histories. For example, let’s say you grew up celebrating Christmas with your family, but your partner’s family celebrated Hanukah. As a couple you can take the rituals that are meaningful to each of you personally and celebrate all of them to create a new combined holiday tradition for your own family.

Rituals certainly can help your own performance, but they also help deepen bonds and create a distinct family identity that can be supportive in both happy and stressful times.

Can exercise help prevent suicide?

Exercise can greatly enhance mental health and well-being, but can it play a part in suicide prevention?

Suicide is a complex issue with many contributing factors, including mental health issues. Focusing on treating mental health issues and strengthening mental fitness is key for suicide prevention. Currently, efforts within the military focus on education, early intervention, decreasing stigma towards mental health treatments, and adapting a holistic approach to fostering mental fitness—which includes exercise. Learn more about how physical activity and regular exercise can improve mental health in HPRC’s answer to “Can exercise be a part of suicide prevention?

Family relationships affect your child’s sleep

Filed under: Children, Families, Sleep
Family interactions can impact your children’s sleep. Learn about what kinds of interactions to avoid.

Did you know that the nature of your family relationships can impact your children’s sleep? Children in home environments with verbal and/or physical conflict do not sleep as well as children in more nurturing home environments. Children exposed to negative family interactions are likely to wake up more, stay awake longer in the middle of the night, and/or sleep less overall.

The conflict can be between parents and children as well as children observing the interactions between their parents. The kinds of behavior include yelling, name-calling, making threats, and physical assault such as slapping or hitting with a closed fist. Behavior like this is often triggered by anger and/or stress, but you can learn to control your anger and reduce family stress, which will help your child’s sleep and a whole lot more. Thus, growing up around nurturing relationships can have multiple benefits.

To learn more about fostering strong relationships, check out HPRC’s Family Resilience section, and for more resources for managing anger and/or stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.

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