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‘Tis the season for decisions

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The holiday season is filled with choices. Learn how to build a foundation for better decision-making.

Decision-making is difficult, but there are a few strategies you can put into place to help make better choices this holiday season. The holidays are jam-packed with options: what to buy for gifts, who to spend time with, or whether to reach for another cookie. Try these tips to feel good about your decisions and reduce regret:

  • Remember the basics. Good health habits lay the foundation for making better decisions. But when you’re busy or stressed, it’s easy to forget the basics. Stay current on dietary guidelines to help make healthy food choices. Build in time for exercise because staying active benefits both body and mind. The mood-enhancing, stress-buffering effects of exercise can boost your confidence and clarity with decision-making as well. And use HPRC’s sleep tips to make sure you start each day with a full tank because sleep lays the foundation for optimal emotional, mental, and ethical functioning.
  • Slow down. It’s really easy to go on autopilot and make thoughtless, “emotionally charged” decisions. However, this can lead to outcomes you might regret. So take pause when you can. Try the STOP technique: Take a tactical pause, breathe deeply, and note your thoughts and feelings before you begin to weigh your options.
  • Use “if…then” thinking. The holidays are filled with temptations to do and say regrettable things, drink or eat more than you want, or spend more money than you planned. “If...then” thinking can help you proactively head off poor choices by connecting a situation or circumstance to an alternative action or behavior that you planned ahead of time. For example, you might say to yourself, “IF I find myself getting worked up by a political discussion, THEN I will see if cousin Jack wants to go for a walk.”

‘Tis the season for decisions. Make sure you’re making good ones. A little proactive planning can help you make wiser choices and avoid the decision pitfalls that are common this time of year.

Warfighter strengths boost recovery

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November is Warrior Care Month, and this year’s theme is “Show of Strength.” Learn how using strengths can help with recovery and transition.

When Warfighters are wounded, ill, or in the midst of a major transition, focusing on strengths can help boost confidence and morale and instill hope during recovery. Human nature makes it so that you’re already hardwired to notice the bad more than the good. When you’re struggling to get well or are in transition, it’s even easier to get stuck thinking only about deficiencies and weaknesses.

You probably have spent lots of time contemplating how you could be better. Try asking yourself any of these questions to help you think more deeply about your strengths.

  • What is right about me?
  • When do I feel most true to myself?
  • Who am I when I’m at my best?
  • What strengths do I bring to the table at home and at work?
  • What do others appreciate about me?

Reflecting on your strengths can help you shine the light on your internal resources and overcome adversity. If you’re able to mobilize certain strengths—such as bravery, kindness, and humor—you might temper the impact that physical illness can have on your well-being. Managing physical or psychological illness also can give way to the development of personal strengths and resources. Using these strengths daily can prevent burnout and enhance overall satisfaction with your life.

Show your strengths: Wounded warriors likely spend a lot of time deliberating what’s wrong. Consider the benefits of also highlighting what’s right and how you can use your strengths during healing.

To take a survey about your character strengths, visit the VIA Institute on Character page. Check out the Office of Warrior Care Policy page for resources and tips to help raise awareness about Warrior Care Month too.

Fighting the “negativity bias”

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Learn how your brain focuses on the negative, how that can impact your well-being, and how to balance out your perception.

The human brain has evolved to be adept at identifying threats and challenges, which enables you to navigate through a dangerous world successfully. This ability helps keep Warfighters, family members, and teammates vigilant and safe from harm. But it also can skew your perception of life toward the negative. Read on to learn how to keep your mind in balance.

This hardwired tendency, called “negativity bias,” causes your brain to prioritize, seek out, and lock on to negative information out in the world like a heat-seeking missile. You’re likely to process negative events more fully than positive ones. Negative emotions seem to hang around a lot longer than positive emotions. And when you get home at the end of the day, you’re more likely to mull over the one negative comment someone made about your work and ignore the many positive comments you received from others. It’s just the way your brain works.

Negativity bias is adaptive and helpful in many ways, but the key to maintaining good mental health is in finding balance. So what can you do? Here are a few strategies to try:

  • Spend a few minutes each day looking for the good around you. Write down the positive things you notice and reflect or share with other people.
  • Check your interpretations. If you notice you tend to interpret the world in negative ways, ask yourself if you’re seeing things accurately and if you can be more flexible in your thinking.
  • Be intentional about appreciating the ordinary. Good things don’t have to be big things. When you can learn to be grateful for and appreciate the little things, you can balance out the impact of your negativity bias.

The bad stuff will find you, but work each day at fighting the negativity bias by searching for the good.

Mental flexibility beats forced positivity

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Feeling anxious or down? Find out how awareness and mental flexibility is more important than thinking other, specific thoughts.

Forcing yourself to “just think positively,” especially if you’re feeling sad or anxious, typically doesn’t work. New perspectives can be wonderful, but they can’t be forced. Typically, it isn’t specific thoughts that can make you feel better; it’s the flexibility to recognize that there’s more than one way to look at a situation.

Remember: Thinking about something doesn’t always make it true. For instance, you might believe, “My NCO thinks I’m incompetent.” Instead, you might take comfort in thinking, “My NCO pushes hard, but he knows I’m good at what I do”—if you really believe it. Still, it could lead to an internal debate: “He thinks I stink. No, he knows I’m good. He thinks I’m a loser,” and so on. But recognizing there are many ways to interpret your NCO’s behavior can be helpful, as you simply move forward and do what’s needed.

You’re not burying your feelings and you aren’t fighting them: You’re using this mindfulness and acceptance-based approach to become aware of thoughts and feelings, let them fade into the background, and focus on what’s important. It’s tempting to fight negative emotions, but the fight itself often makes things worse. Picture someone saying, “Don’t be anxious/sad/mad/frustrated,” and you’ll likely feel the emotion that much more strongly as you either try to push it away or cling to it. Be present: Tune into your feelings and face what’s happening. Let the experience come and watch it go.

Mindfulness in daily life might seem simple, but it’s not. Practice the skill and enjoy slowly becoming better at it!

Mindfulness help for service members

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Learn about some of the benefits of learning mindfulness meditation and becoming more mindful.

Mindfulness meditation can help service members learn to focus on the present, heal from injury, and/or improve their performance. It’s a popular technique in which you clear your mind of clutter and simply notice thoughts, sensations, emotions, or distractions by focusing attention on a specific target such as breathing. During this process, you consistently (and gently) guide your attention back to a present moment and focus on your target, with an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment. This attitude extends into treating yourself with compassion, rather than judgment. “Mindfulness meditation” and “mindfulness” are often used interchangeably, but mindfulness meditation refers to a technique, whereas mindfulness refers to any process of bringing mindful awareness into daily life. Practicing mindfulness meditation regularly can help you become more mindful in general. Read more...

Ways to quiet your mind

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Figure out your preferred approach to quieting your mind so that you’re ready to take on the next challenge!

You might have noticed that you can “turn off” your busy brain by watching TV, but did you know there are other techniques that could help quiet your mind? You can download several MP3 audio files in HPRC’s Mind-Body Apps, Tools, and Videos.

Remember it's okay if your busy brain turns on. But just as easily as racing thoughts creep in, let them creep out—while gently guiding your attention to something neutral such as your breath, or something important such as the task at hand. Whether it’s watching TV or using a mind-body technique, find ways to quiet your mind and be more focused when it matters.

Improving mood with food

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Mindful eating can help you make better decisions and transform your whole eating experience!

“You are what you eat” means that food affects your physical AND emotional health! A tip that also helps your mood is to stay away from “comfort foods.” Choose foods that give you more steady energy, such as an orange or raisins (not ice cream or fries). This might be old advice, but here’s a new twist: Eat that snack mindfully!

By practicing mindfulness before you eat, when you’re feeling a craving, and while you eat, you can overcome binge eating, eating to soothe emotional concerns, and impulses triggered by yummy sights, sounds, or smells. It helps you understand your motivation. Are you eating because you’re hungry and it’s time to eat? Or is it a “quick fix” for your stress or worries?

Once you’re eating, instead of analyzing why you’re eating or focusing on other tasks such as texting, be mindful of the eating experience, embracing the experiences of smell, taste, temperature, and texture. You may find yourself slowing down and enjoying your food more!

Before diving into your next snack or meal, think about what you’re eating and be mindful of why. Here’s a simple example of how you can weave mindful eating into your daily life: You might notice that it’s 3pm, and you’ve had nothing to eat since that healthy lunch, and you need a pick-me-up, so you reach for an orange. Now, mindfully enjoy each part of the experience as you peel the orange, noticing the textures inside and outside, the stickiness, the spray, and the smell. Notice how you salivate with the anticipation of citrus acids, and the moment when the piece of orange hits your tongue, followed by squirts of flavor, and changing texture. Enjoy!

Cope with emotions through mindfulness

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Mindfulness can help you to face hard emotions instead of running from them. Learn how.

Mindfulness can help you feel better equipped to handle difficult emotions. It’s a process geared to help you tune in to emotional experiences rather than try to escape from them. It’s easy to be overcome by depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or other mental health problems. And you can make it worse by trying to forget the cause. For example, a service member afflicted with PTSD desperately wants to avoid experiencing certain traumatic events. Ironically, the actual effort to forget can cause him to relive difficult events through dreams, flashbacks, or memories. To illustrate this idea, right now, try NOT to think of weapons. You probably thought about them that much more. Read more here

Learn how to stretch mindfully

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Learn how to do stretches in a mindful way using yoga poses to get the benefits of both stretching and mindfulness.

Mindfulness isn’t something you have to do sitting still. You can apply mindfulness to activities such as stretching. A great way to do this is by using yoga poses. When stretching in a mindful way, you bring your attention to your breath as you stretch your muscles.

Mindful stretching can help you in a number of ways:

  • To focus your attention before or after a workout
  • To focus on and relax knotted areas within your muscles
  • To provide closure to something you’re working on (such as the transition from work to weekend)
  • As a routine before you go to bed to prime your body for sleep

In mindful stretching, the focus is not on doing repetitions or certain times, but rather going with what your body needs in the moment. To learn how, see HPRC’s “Mindful Stretching Exercises Using Yoga Poses” for a step-by-step guide with pictures. 

Stressed out? It isn’t all in your head.

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The mind-body connection is incredibly powerful. Learn more about how this two-way interaction can work for and against you.

Stress affects your body, and the condition of your body can cause stress. If you have PTSD, you could be so chronically stressed that it contributes to a heart condition. Or if you had a heart attack, you could feel so traumatized that you become anxious. What’s more, stress could have contributed to your heart attack in the first place. This back-and-forth relationship also occurs between physical pain and depression. You physically hurt, so you feel down…you feel down, and so you hurt more.

This link between mind and body is amazing. Sometimes it can feel like it’s working against us, but you can also use the mind-body connection to your advantage! For instance, you can learn to push through strong emotions with mindfulness, reduce your blood pressure with a self-driven technique called autogenic training, or turn on your body’s relaxation response through deep breathing.

There are lots more ways you can put the mind-body connection to work to reduce your stress. Get more ideas by exploring HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.

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