Filed under: Communication
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!
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.
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.
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (Resilience and Prevention Directorate), Uniformed Services University, and the Human Performance Resource Center ran a three-hour workshop introducing the Military Family Fitness Model at the DoD/USDA Family Resilience Conference last week (April 26-29) in Chicago, IL. The workshop focused on describing the newly developed process-oriented, multi-level model for total military family fitness, including how service members and their families, leaders, policy makers, and program managers can achieve and maintain family fitness (following the Total Force Fitness paradigm). Key aspects of the model were also described, such as family stressors, strengths, resources, and outcomes.
Deep breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness, and cognitive restructuring were taught as practical skills that can help control family members’ stress. Guidelines were also given for family communication and problem-solving skills designed to enhance family functioning and resilience. A military case study was presented to allow participants to practice the application of the Total Family Fitness model.
To see a copy of the workshop that was presented, click here; for more complete information, please read the abstract of the presentation.
To learn more integrative mind-body strategies, visit HPRC's Mind Tactics domain and the Defense Centers of Excellence newly published paper on Mind-Body Skills for Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System.
To learn more family strengthening strategies, visit HPRC's Family & Relationships domain.
Presenters of the model were COL Stephen Bowles, Ph.D. (USUHS), Colanda Cato, Ph.D. (DCoE), Monique Moore, Ph.D. (DCoE), and Liz Davenport Pollock, MS, LGMFT (HPRC).
Acknowledgements: Force Health Protection and Readiness, Psychological Health Strategic Operation; Military Community & Family Policy; Air Force Air Education and Training Command; Military Family Research Institute; and Defense Centers of Excellence.
Soldier 360° is a resilience program being implemented by the Army for Warfighters who have combat experience and their families. In fact, Warfighters take the second half of the two-week class with their spouses, while childcare is provided for those who need it. It’s aimed at non-commissioned officers who are nominated by their commanders. The course provides Warfighters with information and strategies on stress management, anger management, relaxation, health, communication, conflict resolution, nutrition, sleep, combat stress, and management of non-optimal behaviors. It also teaches physical fitness, yoga, meditation, conditioning, injury prevention, and pain management. The program combines financial counseling with Military and Family Life Consultant Program counselors, acupuncturists, physicians, and a myriad of others. Read another article from Army.mil for more information.
Two weeks ago, we started a four-week series on strategies for processing emotion. This week we’re again featuring one positive strategy (called “savoring”) and one negative strategy (called “dampening”). Although research has focused on how these strategies impact individual outcomes such as positive emotions and happiness, they could also be used with families, friends, and units to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions.
Savoring (Positive) Strategy #5: “Capitalizing”
“Capitalizing” comes about when individuals communicate and celebrate positive events. Within families and other groups, telling others about the positive event and marking it with a celebration (used in moderation) can increase daily positive feelings and actually increase your immune responses. You may be able to experience this capitalizing effect by posting positive news on your Facebook page, as well.
Dampening (Negative) Strategy #6: “Fault Finding”
“Fault finding” occurs when individuals pay attention to the negative aspects of events or interactions that are predominantly positive by trying to figure out what could have been better. Thinking through what could be better next time is an important skill for parents, Warfighters, and relationships—in moderation. Consistently finding fault within positive events is associated with lower levels of happiness, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.
So next time a positive event happens, try communicating the event with those around you and see if it helps foster positive feelings within the family (or unit). Additionally, catch yourself the next time you find fault within something positive.
Next week we’ll look at the last pair of strategies in this series.
Last week, we started a four-week schedule of discussing strategies for processing emotions. Each week we highlight one positive strategy (called “savoring”) and one negative strategy (called “dampening”). Although research has focused on the impact of these strategies on individual outcomes such as positive emotions and happiness, they seem to be strategies that could also be used with families, friends, and unit relationships to promote positive and happy individuals and interactions.
Savoring (Positive) Strategy #3: “Be Present”
“Being present” is a strategy whereby individuals deliberately direct their attention to focus on pleasant experiences happening in the present. For example, when something positive happens, rather than immediately thinking about the next event or what went wrong, take some time to stay in the moment and experience the happy feelings. In relationships, taking some time to focus on happy events can foster positive emotions in the entire family or unit.
Dampening (Negative) Strategy #4: “Distraction”
When individuals engage in positive events but let other thoughts intrude (like worries), then they experience “distraction.” Being distracted decreases the positive impact of the happy event. Distraction is associated with poorer well-being over time. Individuals who are less distracted tend to be happier in their relationships, as well.
Taken together, next time something positive happens, stay present, don’t let yourself be distracted, and see if the positive feelings linger longer than usual. Try this within your family, couple, or unit.
Come back next week for strategies five and six.
Couple dynamics can be a significant resource for individuals when positive and emotionally supportive. For example, in a study of civilian families under economic distress, a key buffering factor to feeling distress was spouses who were emotionally supportive to each other. In contrast, couples with similar external financial stressors who had relationships low in emotional support reported greater feelings of distress (Conger & Conger, 2002). Therefore, how the couple interacts with each other is an important factor that can either buffer or enhance feelings of distress.
Conger, R., & Conger, K. (2002). Resilience in midwestern families: Selected findings from the first decade of a prospective, longitudinal study. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 361-373.
Communicating well is extremely important for family well-being. Being able to speak clearly, listen well, show a range of emotional expression while being respectful and showing regard for family members’ are all aspects of good communication. You can help foster positive family communication by appreciating your loved ones verbally on a daily basis.
Walsh, F. (2006). Strengthening family resilience. NewYork, NY: Guilford.
Walsh, F. (2003). Family resilience: A framework for clinical practice. Family Process, 42(1),1-18.
Walsh, F. (2007). Traumatic loss and major disasters: Strengthening family and community resilience. Family Process, 46(2).
Military families have created unique ways to maintain close communication through deployments and long duty times. Merolla (2010) studied military spouse communication during deployment and found that while deployed, families deal with the stress of being separated well through balancing talk of everyday things (such as routines and everyday information) with deeper more meaningful conversations. Additionally, another key finding was that though there were individual differences – with creativity among couples an asset – couples seemed to benefit from keeping deployment communication similar to nondeployment communication in both planned and spontaneous discussions (Merolla, 2010).
Merolla, A. (2010). Relational maintenance during military deployment: Perspectives of wives of deployed US Soldiers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(1), 4-26.