Filed under: Mind
Think of stress as a balance scale. All the situations you find stressful are heaped up on one side. How you deal with them is on the other side. The trick is learning to balance the two sides (or even better, having your coping resources outweigh the causes of your stress).
Everyone feels overloaded at times, when stress seems too much to handle. This can be compounded with multiple family demands—from finances, children’s needs, managing work and family demands, and fostering your relationships. Here are two suggestions to help you find balance:
- Find out what practical needs are causing your stress and come up with possible ways to address them using HPRC's problem-solving tips. For example, you know that you need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but you and your partner seem to manage only five hours or so. So discuss possible solutions with your partner. For example, set a bedtime and stick to it no matter what chores aren’t done; put the kids to bed at an earlier time; create a wind-down routine 30 minutes before bedtime in order to get that eight hours—and stick to it! Then pick one of these possible solutions, try it out for a week, and then re-assess. If it doesn’t work, pick another; or if it does work, maybe tweak it a little to make it even better.
- Once you have plans to deal with the sources of your stress, then you can focus on managing your stressful feelings. There’s no need to continue feeling stressed out while you put your plan into action. Try some of the “behavioral strategies” in HPRC’s Managing Emotions that you can do anywhere with minimum fuss, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or other relaxation strategies. You can even teach them your children and do them together as a family. Learn how in “Calming & Grounding Activities” from the FOCUS Family Resiliency Training Manual, which describes several shared activities.
And check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section for resources that are geared more for you as an individual.
HPRC has strategies to help you focus your attention, so that it goes to the right place at the right time. By honing these approaches, you will find that habits are so well formed that you are able to efficiently maintain an external focus without having to use as much internal focus to guide your actions, allowing you to be more aware of your environment and able to do more. In other words, you can “get out of your own head” so that you experience automatic and smooth movements and avoid “paralysis by analysis.” In other words, you can make quick and accurate judgments—as a parent or as a Warfighter—without having to think about them deliberately. For the complete “how-to,” visit HPRC’s “Performance Strategies: Develop routines to optimize attention.”
You have probably noticed that people tend to be happy when they’re successful. But did you know that it can also work the other way—that happiness can lead to success? Happier people tend to get more excited about chasing after opportunities. Happy people tend to interpret, remember, and even experience life events differently than unhappy people. For example, happy people tend to like other people more readily (leading to positive interactions). And when they are faced with adversity, they tend to use humor and focus on what has gone well recently. Across studies, researchers have found evidence that in marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health, there is a two-way street: Success leads to happiness and happiness leads to success! Want to experience the successes of a happy person? One strategy is to be sure to somehow experience positive emotions frequently.
“Heart rate variability,” a way to track how your heart rate rhythmically goes up and down, helps you objectively assess your mind-body optimization. When your heart rate varies more, it’s good for your health and performance. Breathing at certain paces has a big impact on heart rate variability and—in turn—the mind-body connection and performance. And because you can learn to control your breathing, you can also improve your HRV. For more information about HRV and breathing to increase your HRV, read HPRC’s “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best.”
Sleep is essential for optimal performance. Especially Warfighters, though, it can be hard to come by. Lack of adequate sleep, called “sleep debt,” can result in reduced mental and physical performance (see HPRC's "How much sleep does a Warfighter need?"). Use HPRC’s “Sleep & Warfighters” infographic to learn how sleep impacts your health and performance, as well as tips to get your best rest. For more in-depth information on optimizing sleep, visit our Sleep Optimization page.
The “relaxation response” is your body’s natural reaction against the negative effects of stress; it shuts off the “stress response” when the need for it is over. Recent research has shown that the relaxation response can decrease the harmful effects of chronic stress even at the gene level. Learn about your body’s natural stress and relaxation responses, when they are and aren’t helpful, and how to control them when their natural operations fail in HPRC’s “Influence Your Body’s Stress & Relaxation Responses.”
Wanting some holistic strategies to enhance your performance? Check out the “One Shot One Kill (OSOK) Performance Enhancement Program” that shows Warfighters how to set up and manage their own performance-enhancement system. OSOK is designed not only to enhance performance but also to jumpstart Warfighter resilience. It builds on the skills that Warfighters already possess and then teaches new ones as needed.
There are two ways you can use OSOK: as an individual through “OSOK Solo” and as a unit/group through “OSOK-IP Unit.” Both highlight “10 Rules of Engagement” and provide seven core modules: Controlled Response, Mind Tactics, Performance-Based Nutrition, Primal Fitness, Purpose, Code, and Recharge. OSOK also provides self-assessment forms so you can track your progress over time.
For other performance-enhancement programs and information about holistic (total) fitness, check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
Some intense military training, such as in the Special Operations Forces, screens personnel by ultimately selecting those who can handle extreme adversity. In fact, how you view stress can have a big impact on whether the stress you experience is helpful or not. When you have a positive interpretation of your stress—that is, “eustress”—you may feel “amped up” enough to perform your best without experiencing any negative effects.
How do you experience stress in a positive manner? Try reframing it. Your situation doesn’t have to “suck”—it can just be a challenge that ultimately helps you grow more resilient. When you use this approach, it’s easier to take on whatever comes your way instead of engaging in unhelpful practices that may just increase your stress. Learn to find meaning in what’s difficult with your word choices. Here are some examples of statements you may find helpful:
- “Go beyond!”
- “I can!”
- “I am!”
- “Makes me stronger.”
- “For my buddies.”
- “For good.” (Or if you are spiritual, “For God.”)
- “Feel it!”
- “Dig deep.”
- “You got it!”
- “It’s all good.”
The list goes on. Figure out what words or phrases help you switch from seeing stress as a negative to feeling it’s just another challenge to tackle.
For more information on how to handle stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.
Routines often help performance, and some of the world’s best athletes have scripted routines that begin with what time they wake up. This type of rigid approach can be useful when the environment is predictable. Top performers find that routines can help shift them from the stressful anticipation of how things are going to turn out to a focus on what’s most important in that moment; in other words, routines can provide an escape from anxiety. But overly rigid routines can morph a helpful tool into a superstitious or obsessive ritual. The best athletes regard flexibility and adaptation as crucial to their own, often finely honed, routines. With Warfighters, for whom crises are part of the job, the best teams are able to go “off-script” when needed in order to work together most effectively.
For more information on mental aspects of performance check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
A popular sport psychology technique Warfighters can use is mental imagery. This is the practice of seeing (and feeling) in your mind’s eye how you want to perform a skill, as if you were actually doing it. It can augment your usual training and help you maintain—or even surpass—your current skill level, even when you’re sidelined.
Some of the ways that imagery helps performance include:
- Better decision-making
- Fewer errors
- Improved attention
- Increased confidence
- Reduced stress and anxiety
You can generate imagery in your mind for just about any task (improving your running time or marksmanship, for example). Good mental imagery incorporates all of the senses, and it often helps to listen to a scripted audio recording. You can create your own and/or work with a CSF Prep Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert to develop one.
Watching others can also help. In fact, being a spectator can boost learning even more than mental imagery by itself because you’re viewing what you’d like to accomplish rather than conjuring up images with your own mind. Both methods of learning are effective. Observing can be in-person or by video, but you can also combine video/imagery approaches and potentially get even more bang for your buck.
With either approach, or with the combined approach, it is important to “feel” yourself executing the skill, even though you might be sitting or lying down. Of course, imagery doesn’t have to be done while you’re sitting still. Try using imagery in the setting where you’ll actually perform the skill. You can even incorporate it into existing training protocols.
Watch HPRC for future posts where we’ll explain how to create your own imagery. Until then, check out other mental performance skills located in Mind Tactics.