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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: Total Force Fitness

Think like a survivor, not like a victim

Some individuals who have devastating injuries or illnesses are able to enjoy a good quality of life. Learn some factors that can help you think like a survivor, not a victim.

Why do some people with devastating injuries do well in their recoveries and others do not? People often focus on the negative fallout, but there can be positive consequences called post-traumatic growth. Scientists use the term “disability paradox” to refer to how some people with devastating illness or injuries are still able to enjoy a good quality of life. The characteristics of these folks describe someone with a “survivor mentality.” Characteristics include:

  • Subscribing meaning to one’s disability or lot in life and sharing this meaning with others.
  • Not choosing to live as a victim but instead to feel empowered and motivated to deal with struggles and come out as a victor.
  • Being flexible, adaptable, resilient, and rolling with the punches.

Many factors play into developing a survivor mentality. Here are some tips to help:

  • Create a strong support system: family, church, community, fellow Warfighters, healthcare providers, etc. A support system should be just that—supportive, encouraging, and a promoter of independence, not an enabler for being or feeling like a victim.
  • Maintain a “can do” attitude. See challenges or setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow. Focus on strengths and abilities, not on limitations. Survivors exhibit the 4 Cs of mental toughness.
  • Maintain hope and optimism; focus on the future and move from thinking about the negative aspects of injury/illness to focusing on the positives or possibilities.  

Fostering children’s shut-eye

Sleep needs depend on age. Children need more than adults, but the amount depends on age. Find out how much your child needs and how to make sure he or she gets it.

Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a day, but do you know how much sleep your children should be getting? Pre-school children (ages 3-5) need 11–12 hours a day, school-age children (ages 5-12) need at least 10 hours a day, and teens (ages 13–18) need 9–10 hours a day. But many children and teens are not getting the recommended amounts. For example, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights how almost 70% of teens are not getting the sleep they need.

Don’t know how much sleep your child is getting? Keep a sleep diary to track his/her sleep for two weeks.

Not sure how to help your child get the best sleep possible? Try the following tips. (They’re great for adults, too.)

Make sure your child has a consistent sleep schedule, including a consistent bedtime.

Provide the same quiet, dark bedroom environment for your child every night.

Help your child or teen have a relaxing bedtime routine that helps them prepare for sleep.

Avoid stimulation near bedtime. That means no sodas or other drinks with caffeine* and no TVs or computers in the bedroom.

Exposure to daylight helps set up a sleep rhythm, so make sure your child spends some time outside every day.

Turn the lights down to help your children wind down about an hour before bed and avoid using TVs or computers during this time as well.

Provide a low-stress family environment. Read HPRC’s “Family relationships affect your child’s sleep” for more information.

* Some experts recommend not giving children any caffeine, but if your child or teen does consume some, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children should not exceed 2.5 mg/kg per day and teens should not exceed 100 mg/day. 

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is important for your health. Learn how much you need and where to get it.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone that your body produces when your skin is exposed to sunlight, earning it the nickname “sunshine vitamin.” It plays key roles in reducing your risk of many health conditions, including depression, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and others. Spending 10 to 15 minutes outside on a sunny day with your arms and legs uncovered can provide nearly all the vitamin D most people need—challenging when you’re wearing a long-sleeved uniform or working inside all day—but you can also get some vitamin D in your diet from fatty fish (such as salmon), mushrooms, and many fortified foods.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for most individuals is 600 IUs. People who have a vitamin D deficiency or certain medical conditions might require supplemental vitamin D but only under the supervision of their healthcare provider. That’s because excess vitamin D can be stored in your body, putting you at risk for toxicity. Over time, too much vitamin D can lead to irregular heart rhythms, kidney damage, and other serious health problems. If you take large doses of supplemental vitamin D and eat foods that are fortified with it, you could easily obtain more than recommended amounts.

Despite the risk for toxicity, nearly one-fourth of people living in the U.S. have low vitamin D levels, so all adults and children should have their vitamin D status checked by their healthcare provider. For more information about vitamin D, read this fact sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Download the OPSS app

Use the Operation Supplement Safety & Natural Data app to get information and safety ratings on commercially available dietary supplement products and ingredients.

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is a joint military initiative between the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to educate service members and retirees, their family members, leaders, healthcare providers, and DoD clinicians about dietary supplements and how to choose them wisely.

OPSS has partnered with Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD) to provide all DoD personnel with access to evidence-based information on dietary supplements, including Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Ratings (NMBER)®.

Now there is an Operation Supplement Safety & Natural Data (OPSS & ND) app available that can help you make an informed decision by giving you:

  • Dietary supplement safety and effectiveness (NMBER) ratings.
  • Interaction ratings between drugs and natural medicines, known as “adverse reactions.”
  • Effectiveness ratings for natural medicines by medical condition and more.

To access the app you must first visit HPRC’s link to NMCD and sign up for your free account. Click on the Warfighter version and use your valid .mil email address. Once you’ve created your free account you will have access to the full version of the app. Up-to-date reviews of commercially available products, Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Ratings (NMBER)® for commercially available products, an Effectiveness Checker, and more will be at your fingertips.

The OPSS & ND app is available at these links for Android and for iPhone/iPad, or go to the Google or iTunes stores and search for “Operation Supplement Safety.”

If you have questions, please use the “Ask the Expert” button on the OPSS home page.

Depression—Don’t tackle it alone

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Depression isn’t just a lousy mood—it’s a serious illness that needs serious help. Check out some of the special resources for service members, whether it’s for you, a buddy, or a family member.

We’ve all heard of depression. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s easy to think that someone could just snap out of it if they wanted to. Depression doesn’t work like that. It can have an impact on a person in every way—physically, mentally, and emotionally, even extending to relationships—and can range from mild to severe. According to the American Psychological Association, “Depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.” Depression is an illness considered to be treatable with professional help.

This factsheet from afterdeployment.org details the signs and symptoms of depression. They also have an anonymous online assessment, general information, personal stories shared by those who’ve experienced depression, an interactive workbook that can help you challenge negative thoughts and identify depression triggers, and information about the link between behaviors and mood. Also take a look at the factsheet on Taking Charge of Depression, which includes helpful strategies.

For more information about depression or other mental states that can influence your performance, check out the section of HPRC’s website on depression. However, if you feel you are in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line—someone is available 24/7 for online chat or via phone at 1-800-273-TALK.

Cope with emotions through mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you to face hard emotions instead of running from them. Learn how here.

Mindfulness can help you feel better equipped to handle difficult emotions. It’s a process geared to help you tune into emotional experiences rather than try to escape from them. People can feel overcome by depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or other mental health problems, which, ironically, can be exacerbated by trying to forget the cause. For example, a Warfighter afflicted with PTSD often relives difficult events through dreams, flashbacks, or unwanted memories, because he/she desperately wants to avoid experiencing those events. To illustrate this idea, right now, try NOT to think of weapons. You probably thought about them that much more.

Practicing mindfulness mediation means focusing on whatever you are experiencing in the present moment. It can be a structured meditation activity, but because mindfulness is about being present, you can purposefully engage in mindfulness anytime, anywhere. A common meditative approach is to focus on a physical experience such as your breathing, noticing where your attention wanders, and gently guiding it back to your breath; it allows you to experience sadness, anger, fear, and other unpleasant emotions, letting them pass without clinging to the idea of making them go away.”

If you have ever “white-knuckled” your way through an amusement park ride (or ridden in a car with a driver you didn’t trust), you may remember thinking, “When will this be over? Please let it be over…” This shows that focusing on how long something lasts can make it feel like an eternity. By engaging in mindfulness, you will feel less threatened by certain emotions, and you will be less likely to engage in problematic forms of escape (such as drinking, drugs, or simply spacing out).

When people experience difficult emotions, they often cope by engaging the language center of the brain, using words internally to wrestle with the experience. But when people have difficulty re-evaluating why they feel the way they do, this leads to a circular internal debate (such as “I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do, but I shouldn’t…”), which can be pointless and can actually cause more distress. Emotions can be dealt with not just through words but also by tapping into their physical elements (noticing how you feel in your body). When people engage in regular mindfulness practice, the parts of their brains tuned into physical sensations are activated while they experience hard emotions. And people who regularly have this part of their brain activated tend to be more emotionally steady.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to escape unwanted emotions. And more problems will probably pop up as you try to escape. But if you’re willing to face hard emotions, letting them come and go like waves on a beach, then mindfulness practice can help you have a different experience. Tune in to HPRC for more mindfulness resources, and take advantage of the fact that mindfulness is everywhere now, whether part of your martial arts or yoga class or filling the self-help shelves of your local bookstore. Become more mindful, and you can feel better equipped to handle tough emotions; your mind and body will engage them more productively.

Why is ephedra illegal?

Read about ephedra, and why it is illegal in the United States.

Dietary supplements containing ephedra are illegal. What is ephedra and why is it illegal in the United States? Read HPRC’s new Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about ephedra to find out.

Also, be sure to check out our other OPSS FAQs, and if you still can’t find what you are looking for, use our “As the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

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 post-traumatic stress affects your brain.

Happy 224th, U.S. Coast Guard!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
In honor of the anniversary of USCG, take a moment to learn a little about the background and mission of this essential branch of the U.S. armed forces.

On the 4th of August 2014, the United States Coast Guard will be 224 years old. The Coast Guard actually began as the Revenue-Marine, later renamed the Revenue Cutter Service, under the Department of the Treasury. Its original mission was to control the seagoing smuggling that was rampant in the years following the founding of the United States. Needing money to fuel the fledgling country, the Treasury used the Revenue Cutter Service to patrol the shores and ensure that importers paid tariffs on their goods.

For its first eight years, following founding in 1790, this was the U.S.’s only maritime armed service because the Navy had been disbanded after the Revolutionary War. During the War of 1812, after the Navy had been re-formed, the Revenue-Marine was put into military service under command of the Navy. This set a precedent in which the Cutter Service alternated between peacetime missions under the Treasury to control shoreline smuggling and piracy and wartime military operations under the Navy.

The U.S. Life-Saving Service was also part of USCG’s ancestry. Founded in 1848, this agency grew out of a Massachusetts volunteer service, whose aim was to help shipwrecked mariners. The Service operated out of shore-based stations that spread southwards from New England after the Great Carolina Hurricane of 1854 brought recognition and federal funding. In 1878, the Life-Saving Service was formed as a federal agency under the Department of the Treasury.

In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service and the Life-Saving Service merged to form the United States Coast Guard, which later absorbed other marine-related Treasury agencies. Its scope expanded to cover smuggling, maritime rescue, shipping regulation, and wartime naval combat support and coastal protection. In 2003, the Coast Guard’s protective position was brought to the fore when it was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.

This August 4th, take a moment to thank the members of our U.S. Coast Guard for all they do!

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.

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