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Filed under: Communication

Survival tips for couples during the holidays #2: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” are characteristics that when present in communicating can destroy relationship satisfaction over time.

Last week we started a series on survival tips for couples during the holiday season and discussed how many positive interactions couples need to do to make up for one negative interaction. This week, we're focusing on the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”—a term coined by researchers for four features of communication that can destroy a relationship over time. Try to avoid these when communicating with your loved one:

  • Criticism: Don’t made global negative statements about each other.
  • Contempt: Don’t be sarcastic (in a mean way) or mocking towards your loved one.
  • Defensiveness: Don’t respond to defend your behavior without first listening.
  • Stonewalling: Don’t withdraw or ignore your loved one.

Too much of these characteristics has been linked to unhappy relationships over the long term. As stress and tensions rise throughout this holiday season, remember to be vigilant about avoiding these four kinds of behavior.

Survival tips for couples during the holidays #1: Positive versus negative

Learn how many positive behaviors you need to make up for one negative behavior in your relationship with your partner.

The holidays can sometimes be a difficult time for relationships. Through this holiday season, remember to compliment your loved ones and show them on a daily basis that you care for them. are thinking of them, and love them. Couples who do five positive actions for every negative one are more likely to have long, happy, successful marriages. Contrastingly, unhappy couples are more likely to have one positive interaction—or even less—for every negative interaction.

Reconnecting with your teenager

Teenagers can sometimes have difficulty with a deployed parent's return.

Once the initial excitement of returning home wears off, getting back into the family routine after deployment can often be difficult. Teenagers, who already have a lot of changes to worry about, can sometimes have a difficult time accepting the return of a family member from deployment. As the returning parent, you can do several things to help ease the transition back home:

  • Let your teen know that you are sad to have missed important events in his or her life.
  • Ask questions about what is going on in his or her life. Make an effort to get to know his or her friends.
  • Finally, be sure to listen when he or she tells you about his or her feelings.

Taking these steps will allow your teen to open up to you and eventually will strengthen your relationship. For more tips, visit Real Warriors.

Communication is key

Proper communication between parents and children during deployment can reduce the risk of potential behavioral concerns.

Throughout the duration of a deployment, communication with children is extremely important. Parents sometimes are unsure how much information they should communicate to their children, with good reason: research shows that too much information can be overwhelming and stressful for children. Operation R.E.A.D.Y. provides an interactive booklet that helps you explain the deployment process to your children. It’s important for a non-deployed parent to provide updates with regards to the deployment process, but it’s also okay to leave out some details.

Capitalizing on good news

Responding positively to news of good things helps strengthen relationships.

“Capitalization” refers to the process by which people share good news with one another. Studies have shown that responding to good news with support and enthusiasm helps build a stronger relationship between two individuals. Using capitalization with your loved ones can not only strengthen your relationship, but also can ease the transition for returning Warfighters and their loved ones.

Lean on me: Providing support for children

Minimize relocation for youth through relying on support systems.

During times of deployment, children and teenagers often look for support from the people in their lives—family, teachers, and friends—to help them deal with the stress of having a parent deployed. A good support system helps by listening, understanding, and providing comfort. Children often will respond to those who show concern for them and to those who understand life in the military. Provide support by listening to what your child has to say and by helping them understand their situation.

Keys to building family resilience

A new RAND report points out key resilience-building features that families can use.

RAND Corporation recently published a report that evaluates studies and programs that promote resilience in the military. The findings by RAND’s military health research group include practices that promote resilience in military families. Below are a few points that can help your family to build resilience together.

  • Emotional ties. Bonding time helps family members become closer to one another emotionally. Shared recreation and leisure time could help tighten family bonds.
  • Communication. The ability of family members to exchange thoughts, opinions, and information is an essential step in solving problems and helping relationships thrive.
  • Support. Knowing that comfort and support are readily available within a family allows members to lean on each other during good and bad times.
  • Adaptability. Families that adapt to the changes inherent in military life are more likely to weather challenges together. Allowing some flexibility in family roles may help smooth transitions.

You can download a summary or the full report of “Promoting Psychological Resilience in the U.S. Military” from RAND’s website. RAND’s research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. For even more information on family resilience-building skills, visit HPRC's Family Skills section.

The effect of combat on communication

Combat is stressful. Here are some tips that can help you overcome the impact of combat on your relationships.

Being in combat is physically, emotionally, and mentally stressful. Part of the body's natural stress response is to remain on high alert in order to have a better chance of staying alive. This can lower your tolerance for relationship disagreements and can cause irritability and conflict. The following are some tips to help you overcome the effects of combat on your interactions with loved ones:

  • Practice emotion management strategies prior to and after communicating with your loved ones to help you calm down first.
  • If you are upset, wait to communicate with your loved ones rather than writing or saying something in the heat of the moment.
  • Describe your feelings and thoughts starting with "I.” I-statements are more personal and reduce feelings of blame.
  • Focus on the communication interaction between you and your partner, not just on the way that one or the other of you communicates.
  • Compliment each other!

The Military Family Fitness Model

The Warfighter’s greatest support usually comes from his or her family, yet families also have to deal with the stress of military life. The Joint Services and the DoD have teamed up to develop a framework for additional support and resources to help families cope with the increased pace of deployment.

Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, approximately two million U.S. troops have deployed. The operational tempo associated with these conflicts has led to longer and more frequent deployments with fewer rest periods in between. The inevitable stress is a challenge for military and civilian communities, even as families work hard to reintegrate their families and normal routines.

In response to these ongoing demands, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the development of the Total Force Fitness (TFF) initiative, a new Department of Defense model that focuses on the health, readiness, and performance of our Warfighters. (See the Total Force Fitness section of HPRC’s website for more information on this initiative.)

Following this initiative, a team of Joint-Service and DoD experts lead by COL Bowles of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) came together to create a model that promotes family fitness, resilience, and optimal well-being for service members and their families. This model, which is still in development, is called The Military Family Fitness Model (MFFM).

The MFFM first examines stress-inducing demands placed on military and civilian families from sudden deployment and the return home. Then, looking to build on the resilience of the family, MFFM provides guidelines, skills, and resources for the individual, family, and community to protect against the negative effects of stress. As sources of stress increase, certain behaviors indicate the need for more support (e.g., family strife, children acting out, job instability for non-service members, family role conflict, non-supportive relationships outside the family, and/or domestic violence). With MFFM, families have individual, family, and community resources for additional support. The aim of the model is to foster a multi-level approach that strengthens family resilience and, as a result, Warfighter resilience.

Individual approaches to addressing stress include breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness exercises, and cognitive restructuring. Family strategies include developing and maintaining strong communication skills, shared family routines, and the building of support networks. The bottom line of the MFFM is that at any point along the model, individuals, families, and communities can strengthen resilience resources to promote total family resilience and fitness.

Members of the MFFM team presented the Military Family Fitness Model at the USDA/DoD Family Resilience conference at the end of April. We encourage you to get more information on the conference presentation, read the abstract, and see the PowerPoint slides presented.

DCoE's (Defense Centers of Excellence) report [PDF] on the Family Conference can be read here.

Strategies to impact your well-being: Week #4

HPRC Fitness Arena:
A recent study examined eight different strategies for processing emotions and how they were linked to positive emotions and life satisfaction.

Three weeks ago we started a four-week series on strategies for processing emotion. This week we highlight one last pair of positive (“savoring”) and negative (“dampening”) strategies. Although the research study being featured focused on the positive impact these strategies can have on individual outcomes, it seems they also could be used within families and units to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions.

Savoring (Positive) Strategy #7: “Positive Mental Time Travel”

“Positive mental time travel” is what happens when an individual vividly remembers a positive event (or vividly anticipates a future positive event), such as a wedding or a reunion after deployment. Individuals who are able to remember past positive events (or look forward to future ones) and savor those happy moments are more likely to be happy in general.

Dampening (Negative) Strategy #8: “Negative Mental Time Travel”

“Negative mental time travel” takes place when an individual reminisces about a positive event but with an emphasis on negative explanations. For example, if an individual finishes a 1.5-mile run in the lead but thinks that they finished first because everyone else in their group was slow, then they individual is engaging in negative mental time travel. It can happen, too, when a person thinks their happy feelings from an event won’t last because they aren’t that lucky. Negative mental time traveling is associated with lower self-esteem and more depressive symptoms.

So take a moment to remember a positive event from the past and savor those moments (without negative mental time traveling). Does it make your current mood better to remember the positive event? Additionally, you can savor those moments with your parents, your children, your spouse, or your friends and colleagues. See if savoring enhances the mood of the person you are talking to, as well.

Check back next week, when we’ll take one last look at all eight strategies for well-being and examine how they all work together.

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