Filed under: Mindfulness
Last week we focused on being a gratitude-seeker this holiday season. This week’s tip is to focus on the positive. Optimistic Warfighters who “see the glass half-full” are less impacted by warzone stress, experience fewer mental health issues, and exhibit better health and resilience overall. The Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) defines optimism as “a set of beliefs that helps to focus your attention and behavior on the opportunities and possibilities of life.” Everyone falls victim to negative or “the grass is greener” thinking at times, but negative thoughts create more negative thoughts. Learn to stay realistically positive. Optimistic thoughts are contagious too, so you’ll be passing on positivity! The Comprehensive Soldier & Family Fitness program calls focusing on the positive a “hunt for the good stuff.”
You can learn optimism in a variety of ways, such as focusing on what’s positive and possible, taking advantage of opportunities that arise, and developing realistic expectations about outcomes. DCoE has specific suggestions on how to accomplish realistic optimism. And for more Mind Tactics to promote resilience, check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience section.
Happy Thanksgiving! In HPRC’s series on “Keeping the Happy in the Holidays,” this week we focus on being a gratitude-seeker. Gratitude is a state of mind that that can be hard to foster in our busy lives, particularly during the holidays. This holiday season set some time aside for gratitude.
The Defense Centers of Excellence suggests some tips for cultivating this skill, including:
• Spend two minutes a day thinking about what you are grateful for,
• Write five things daily in a gratitude journal
• Look for things to be grateful for in your everyday life.
For more ideas on fostering happiness, check out HPRC’s section on Mental Resilience.
HPRC’s series on staying happy over the holidays started last week (read the first BLUF here). This week, try experimenting with your expectations in order to sail through the holidays with a smile.
If you have visions of the holidays being a certain way—with lots of fun, togetherness, love, joy, and no discord—you may feel disappointed when the reality turns out to be something else. It’s natural to feel this way, but take stock of how your expectations perhaps contributed to your disappointment. Try experimenting with different ways of looking at things. For example, think about what’s behind your holiday expectations. Is it really a happier holiday when you spend more money? Can the entire holidays be filled with fun? Can you get along with everyone all the time? Are your expectations realistic?
Afterdeployment.org describes how to foster realistic thinking and have a clearer lens to the world by focusing on what is probable instead of wasting time thinking about things that are unlikely. In other words, focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. This can be particularly helpful for your relationships.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, but for many the expectations around the season leave them feeling depressed, lacking in motivation, feeling family friction more acutely, and on top of all of that, vulnerable to overeating. Now’s the time to shift your thinking to stay happy this holiday season. Check back every week as we present tips on how you can do this for yourself.
Tip #1: Shift your thinking to decrease stress
Realistically, it’s unlikely you can make holiday stress just go away, but you can change your response to that stress. Noticing your thoughts and emotional reactions can empower you to experience different, less-charged reactions, resulting in more positive thoughts and actions. Learn about the common thinking traps that you can get stuck in and how to reframe them. Noticing and then shifting your thinking can have a big impact on what you feel—try it out and see for yourself.
For more ideas, check out HPRC’s section on Mental Resilience.
You’ve heard the expression about being able to dish it out, but not being able to take it. Is there some truth to that? Being on the receiving end of criticism can be a tough spot for many of us—whether at work or with your friends or family—and for some, can even provoke anger. If you think that avoiding or denying criticism, making excuses for yourself, or fighting back is the best way to handle it, take note of how many times those tactics have made the situation worse instead. The next time you feel criticized, try this: Listen to what is being said, ask for details, agree with your critic’s right to his or her opinion, and use the criticism as a learning opportunity. If you need time to think about what’s being said or to calm down, try saying “Let me think about it” to get some breathing space.
Many of us have the habit of focusing on the negative stuff in life and expecting the worst outcome. This tendency can be compounded by military training that teaches you how to assess risks and plan for the worst outcome. If this way of thinking crosses over to your personal life, you’re shortchanging yourself. What are you taking for granted? Look around—recognize and appreciate the little things in your day. Focus on appreciation and gratitude. Try breaking your habit of fixating on the negative for just one day—instead, spend it acknowledging and appreciating the ordinary good things in your life.
- When you wake up in the morning, stop and take a moment to think about something good that you’d like to happen in your day.
- If you’re in a relationship, take a few minutes to really appreciate your significant other.
- If you’re deployed, reflect on how your buddies support one another when times get tough.
- Before eating lunch, take a moment to be grateful for something that keeps you going each day—maybe it’s as simple as the first cup of coffee in the morning, an easy commute, or your buddy’s positive attitude.
- At dinner, spend a moment thinking about your loved ones. Have you told them lately something you appreciate about them?
- Finally, before you go to sleep, acknowledge something about yourself you’re proud of.
Start again tomorrow, reflecting back to today—did acknowledging the magic of the “everyday” help you have a better day?
For more information on mental strategies, visit HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
You may have heard how deep breathing can help you relax and focus, but have you tried it yet? It’s a great strategy for helping your mind and body relax, but maybe you don’t know how to do it. You can learn how—and keep reminders handy—with this downloadable card that HPRC created recently for the Strong B.A.N.D.S. campaign. Try it out.
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.
It’s no news that stress can take a toll on your life and can affect your relationships—which may already be under a strain from repeated deployments and combat exposure. But unmanaged stress doesn’t affect only you; it can create a ripple effect in families, which is why learning to effectively manage stress is so important. Deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery, and body scanning are just a few strategies that can help you relax, manage your stress, and help you live your life better—and everyone in the family can learn and benefit from them.
For more tips on how to manage stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Control section.
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (Resilience and Prevention Directorate), Uniformed Services University, and the Human Performance Resource Center ran a three-hour workshop introducing the Military Family Fitness Model at the DoD/USDA Family Resilience Conference last week (April 26-29) in Chicago, IL. The workshop focused on describing the newly developed process-oriented, multi-level model for total military family fitness, including how service members and their families, leaders, policy makers, and program managers can achieve and maintain family fitness (following the Total Force Fitness paradigm). Key aspects of the model were also described, such as family stressors, strengths, resources, and outcomes.
Deep breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness, and cognitive restructuring were taught as practical skills that can help control family members’ stress. Guidelines were also given for family communication and problem-solving skills designed to enhance family functioning and resilience. A military case study was presented to allow participants to practice the application of the Total Family Fitness model.
To see a copy of the workshop that was presented, click here; for more complete information, please read the abstract of the presentation.
To learn more integrative mind-body strategies, visit HPRC's Mind Tactics domain and the Defense Centers of Excellence newly published paper on Mind-Body Skills for Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System.
To learn more family strengthening strategies, visit HPRC's Family & Relationships domain.
Presenters of the model were COL Stephen Bowles, Ph.D. (USUHS), Colanda Cato, Ph.D. (DCoE), Monique Moore, Ph.D. (DCoE), and Liz Davenport Pollock, MS, LGMFT (HPRC).
Acknowledgements: Force Health Protection and Readiness, Psychological Health Strategic Operation; Military Community & Family Policy; Air Force Air Education and Training Command; Military Family Research Institute; and Defense Centers of Excellence.