Filed under: Mind
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.
Pain is a sensation of both the body and the mind—and it’s within your power to use strategies such as meditation to control the mental aspect to decrease the physical sensation of pain. Meditation can teach you to have a focused, calm mind, and rhythmic breathing. It may sound easy, but it requires practice. The payoffs can be improved well-being, reduced pain, and relaxation. Want to know more? Check out HPRC’s new Pain Management section, where you can find strategies such as meditation that you can use on your own or with the help of a healthcare provider.
Two techniques continue to be found to be effective no matter the age of the learner:
- Spread out your learning. When you need to learn something new, don’t cram it in right before you need it. Instead, distribute it over time in order to learn the most—and it’ll help you remember more of what you learn as time passes. So start ahead of time and diligently work towards your deadline. Then when you need the information, you may be able to remember it.
- Be put to the test! Testing allows you to evaluate your knowledge on a subject. Practice tests help you sharpen your skills through direct questioning or applying knowledge or skills in a similar task. So don’t be afraid to put yourself to the test: Use practice tests, flashcards, and/or practice problems to help yourself learn as much as you can and retain what you learn.
Some beloved techniques, such as highlighting and summarizing, may not be as effective as widely thought. Although this research focused on academic learning environments, the same information may be able to benefit military personnel as they learn new topics and skills throughout their career.
There is no one method that is the best for everyone and every task. In fact, combinations of learning methods have yet to be studied. Ultimately, you should judge these techniques according to your specific learning goals and determine what works best for you.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine. Thin needles are inserted into the skin at points of the body that are thought to regulate the body's flow of energy (also known as qi or chi). It often is used for common health concerns such as headaches and migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome, and back, joint, and chronic pain. For more in-depth information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal on acupuncture for pain management.
The National Center for Telehealth and Technology just released an app called “Provider Resilience,” which aims to help healthcare providers by giving them tools to assess their own burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress—conditions common among caregivers. The app also provides inspirational stories, comics to remind users to take breaks, and inspirational videos from Warfighters sharing stories of how they were helped. Providers can even track their own information over time—for example, the app tracks the user’s last day off and recommends taking at least one day of leave every 60 days (and color coordinates the responses over time accordingly). And as long as the user secures the phone, no one else can access the results.
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.
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 Emotional Strength section of HPRC’s website. 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.
If you’re looking to get healthier, stronger, more energetic, or less injury-prone, setting goals can help you achieve this type of optimal performance. Use the American Psychological Association’s five tips for “Making your New Year's resolutions stick“ regardless of the time of the year.
- 1. One at a time. Doing everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time by breaking your goals into pieces to build on.
- 2. Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You may be eager to get started on your performance goals, but start with manageable goals and build up to the more challenging ones.
- 3. Share. Talk about your goals and progress with family and friends, as they can be your biggest supporters. It may also help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish and might interest them enough to join you.
- 4. Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to achieve your goals. If you know you are struggling with one aspect of your goal, the best thing to do is seek out advice and support. Use resources such as HPRC's Mind Tactics to get accurate information that can help you progress towards your goals.
- 5. Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection, if not impossible, is an ever-moving target. Don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being at your best, not achieving perfection. How you recover from mistakes matters—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead and get back to your goals.
For more information on how to become the best that you can be, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies: Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.