Filed under: Mental health
You know the positive effects of exercise on your health: how it can benefit every part of the body and dramatically extend your lifespan. But did you know that—in addition to reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension—exercise also can play a role in helping some mental health issues? Physical fitness and regular exercise appear to buffer against depression and anxiety, promote calmness, enhance mood, and help protect against the negative effects of stress.
Exercise also can benefit your brain in other ways. Exercise benefits learning and memory, protects the brain from degeneration, and increases the brain’s ability to adapt after new experiences. Physical fitness and regular exercise promote both physical and mental resilience—something that is important for all to think about.
Caring enough to really listen when someone needs it—also known as being someone’s “wingman”—can make a big difference in a Warfighter’s life. Being a wingman means showing care and concern for a buddy consistently—if you’re separated, for example, it means staying in touch and checking in regularly to make sure you’re both okay. When a buddy is thinking of hurting himself or herself, a great wingman skill to use is ACE—the acronym for “Ask, Care, Escort.”
Ask. If you are concerned, ask directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
Care. Next, as wingman, care for your buddy by staying with him or her, actively listening, staying calm, and removing anything he or she could use to hurt him/herself.
Escort. Finally, take your buddy to someone who is trained to help, such as a primary care provider, chaplain, or health professional, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911 for additional support.
Optimism is a hallmark of resilience, and being optimistic can enhance your performance. Having a positive outlook can also help you harness your mental and physical strength to deliver your best performance, no matter the conditions. Whether you’re facing physical, mental, or emotional challenges, learn how to shift your thinking from negative (pessimistic) to positive (optimistic), and see how an optimistic perspective can help you achieve a greater outcome. For help on how to accomplish this, check out HPRC’s "Reframe your thoughts for peak performance."
Worrying is normal. If you tend to think that worrying will help you prevent stress later, you're not alone. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. Worrying can become a problem all by itself, especially when you're worrying about something that can't be solved. Try this instead: Make a habit of writing your worries down. Keeping a journal or a record, like some people do for weight loss or a training regime (see Rule #9 in OSOK’s 10 Rules of Engagement), can help you see patterns and trends, mark progress, and simply get things off your mind. For some, seeing a concern written down allows them to "forget" it. Keep a journal in a place where you find yourself worrying a lot (except in your car—limit your writing to someplace safe), such as the dinner table or the nightstand beside your bed. When you find yourself worrying, start jotting, and over the course of the week, see if it hasn't helped you get a handle on worrying. If it helps you take action or let go, you've done your mind a favor.
A working group of military chaplains makes time each month to discuss new research, practical strategies, and frontline experiences around topics like PTSD, spirituality, moral injury, and sexual assault. The September 2012 meeting focused on PTSD. From participant LTC Dave Grossman came this advice: “We are all going to have bad days as we walk our warrior path. Do not destroy yourself because of the bad days and never judge yourself by your worst day.” The article from the Defense Centers of Excellence highlights some advice from this group for tackling tough issues from a spiritual perspective.
If you would like more information on the Chaplain Working Group, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ever have a buddy ask, “What’s going on inside your head?” Now you can look at the inner workings of the mind—“Interactive Brain” helps you understand how specific parts of the brain can impact basic functions and performance. This tool provides facts about the functions of the right and left sides of the brain, as well as the anatomy of vision, including videos of how head injuries affect eye movement. By going through the sections and clicking the links on the diagrams, you’ll also gain insight into how certain brain injuries such as mild to moderate TBIs can impact performance. Be sure to watch the introductory and anatomy videos that accompany the interactive diagrams, especially if you want to understand traumatic brain injury better.
The American Psychological Association has officially recognized what animal lovers knew all along: pets are good for one’s mental health. Warfighters need help to reduce stress and support their mental health, and having a pet may provide some helpful companionship. The problem is that Warfighters end up going places their pets can’t go—so what do they do? They either don’t get pets in the first place, or they end up having to find places for their pets while they are deployed—a big source of unwanted stress. Unfortunately, when family or friends can’t help, that place may end up being a shelter. The American Humane Association has advice for military personnel, including making plans for the care of pets and, when all else fails, finding a foster home through organizations such as Military Pets FOSTER Project. So don’t stress out about your pet—or about getting one, if you’ve been putting it off. Hooah!