Filed under: Mind tactics
Relaxation, meditation, imagery, and redirection strategies (such as distraction) may be helpful at reducing pain. These mind-body techniques can help you consciously relax your body, slow your breathing, reduce your blood pressure, and improve your sense of well-being. These techniques can also help you shift your focus to other things besides your pain. For more in-depth information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal on “Mind-body strategies for pain.”
Tough times challenge you to grow and develop new skills to deal with new challenges. If you find yourself in a tough situation you can’t change, you can at least control how you react while you’re in it. It’s how you interpret a situation that determines how you react to it. Therefore, if you find yourself in a tough situation, pause—think about what you can (and cannot) control, starting with your thoughts. This can often give you strength in new areas. Reflecting, meditating, praying—or in some way connecting to something greater than yourself—is a performance tool that can help you persevere through the challenges you may encounter along the way.
For more ideas on how to take charge of your thinking, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies on “Reframing your thinking traps for peak performance.” And for even more ways to persevere, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies for “Optimizing Your Body’s Response.” Finally, for more ideas related to spirituality, check out the Spirituality section of HPRC’s website.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a way to relieve the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety that show up as tense, aching muscles. This mind-body practice helps you consciously release muscle tension so that you’re able to function throughout the day and relax during downtime. Using PMR, you learn to release tension and develop deep relaxation by actively tensing and then relaxing the muscles throughout your body. The outcome: You can train your body to relax on command. Check out the description of how to do PMR in the Controlled Response handbook section of the OSOK Total Force Fitness program.
For more information on relaxation strategies, check out the Stress Control resources in HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
The way you interpret what other people say and do affects your performance as a Warfighter. Sometimes you may interpret things in faulty or unproductive ways called “thinking traps.” They can significantly damage your ability to reach your full potential. However, there are methods you can learn and use to develop alternate thoughts that promote productive and positive thoughts—a process is called “cognitive reframing”—that will lead to optimum performance. Learn about how to do it in HPRC’s Performance Strategy on how to “Reframe your ‘thinking traps’ for peak performance.”
It’s how you react to stressful situations—not the causes of stress themselves—that can affect your future health. Research has shown that people who react more strongly and remain “stressed out” longer are more likely to develop chronic diseases such as heart conditions and arthritis.
Even if you can’t control the stressful situations you find yourself in, you can learn to control how you react to them. Simple mind-body strategies such as deep breathing and cognitive reframing can help. Try some of the relaxation strategies from the Navy & Marine Public Health Center website the next time you find yourself reacting to a stressful situation and see if they make a difference.
In October 2012, students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences participated in Operation Bushmaster at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. The exercise involved a simulated combat environment to test the limits of their physical fitness as well as mental resilience. Military medical students were tasked with managing patient flow in an operational environment, such as tactical relocation over uneven terrain and dealing with changes in environmental conditions.
From a human performance optimization (HPO) standpoint, take-home points for the practical exercise included the importance of being physically fit, especially following guidelines for the prevention of back injuries, and implementing mental strategies for coping in high stress situations.
Understanding how stress affects you both mentally and physically in high-stress situations is important for optimal performance—which is why training under stress is a central part of combat preparation. Knowing what your reactions are, when to pause and take a deep breath, how to use positive self-talk, when to recalibrate one’s physical responses, and how to recharge (sleep and proper nutrition) after a stressful event are key for being at your peak mental performance. Getting support from comrades and using appropriate humor also can help relieve stress.
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.
HPRC shows you how to perform three basic breathing exercises in the HPRC Breathing Exercises for Optimized Performance video. Three basic techniques are covered:
- Deep Breathing. Use this method whenever you need to release tension and relax. This is a very effective strategy to de-stress quickly.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing can help stimulate both sides of your brain, which encourages optimal cognitive performance. So if you are feeling mentally fatigued, try this technique.
- Breath of Fire. Commonly used in some yoga practices, fast-paced breathing encourages increased brain activity and can confer feelings of energy in mind and body. Also known as “bellows breath, this is a powerful method to be used carefully according to instructions.
Using any of these strategies in the right situation can provide you with the edge you need to reach optimal performance. Instructions for these techniques are also available in an annotated transcript of the video.
When your body simply refuses to perform a well-learned skill, it’s called “choking.” For Warfighters, the results could be disastrous. Recent research focused on the theory that it involves a disconnection—or loss of focus—between the muscles and the part of the brain responsible for motor skills (for most people, the right side of the brain).
The study tested a small group of athletes to see if better physical performance would result from stimulating the right brain. They found that those who did so—by squeezing a ball with the left hand to stimulate the right brain before a high-pressure situation—performed better than those who squeezed a ball with the right hand or not at all and almost as well as in a low-pressure situation. Although more work is needed to verify the concept, it is something you can try on your own.