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Mindfulness in military environments

Filed under: Mindfulness, PTSD
Find out how practicing mindfulness can be useful in combat and austere environments.

Mindfulness training, or the practice of training your mind to stay in the present moment, offers many benefits, particularly for Service Members. These vary from pain and stress management related to post-deployment and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to supporting improved emotional states and emotion regulation. Mindfulness training also can enhance your ability to perform optimally in military environments—in garrison, during training, or in theater.

Mindfulness training cultivates your ability to focus on what’s happening internally in your surroundings. Mind-wandering, worrying about what’s coming down the pipeline, or even trying to evaluate what happened in the past can keep you from attending to details critical for the present. A mindfulness practice also encourages you to experience a situation without judgment (thinking, “This is neither good nor bad”) and with acceptance (thinking, “This is what’s happening right now”). 

In garrison or during dwell times, mindfulness can help you cultivate stronger relationships with friends and family and make the most of your time to recover and restore energy. Warfighters lead busy lives, and time with loved ones can feel limited. Mindfulness helps you maximize those precious moments and cope with difficult emotions that can impede communication and intimacy.

Mindfulness during training

In training environments, mindfulness helps Warfighters stay safe while acquiring new skills and tactics. It also aids with their memory and recall on difficult tests and qualifications. For example, Warfighters need to be able to block out distractions and tune into their physiology to obtain optimal performance in shooting tasks for weapons qualifications. Managing your mind-and-body experience of performance anxiety during the evaluative stages is critical for being able to shoot a weapon with accuracy and consistency.

Mindfulness in theater

Your situational awareness is enhanced by mindfulness in a combat environment too. Mind-wandering and judging an experience can create unnecessary stimuli that interfere with your ability to connect with the internal and external resources you need to accomplish your task, avert disaster, or respond to crisis. Warfighters are less lethal and resourceful in combat when their minds wander and they’re unable to fully focus on the situation at hand. Some research shows that mindfulness training—even for relatively short periods of time (for example, 8 hours over 8 weeks)—improves focus in Service Members. That is, they’re able to keep their minds from wandering and have fewer lapses in performance during a given task.

Combat environments are often characterized as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA), which can easily lead to sensory overload. You might feel overwhelmed too. Cultivating mindfulness can help increase your tolerance of these environments and impede thinking traps about uncertain outcomes, enabling you to hone your skills of attending to the right stimuli at the right time. Mindfulness training also has been found to be effective for managing and tolerating heat pain for both experienced and inexperienced meditators. In one pain-threshold study, some participants who used mindfulness training were able to tolerate higher temperatures before they reported feeling pain, and they were able to endure heat stimuli for longer durations.

Debrief

One of the first steps in mindfulness involves pausing, taking a deep breath, and bringing your attention inward for a moment. For more information on how to begin a mindfulness practice, read HPRC’s “A mindfulness meditation primer” and watch the video below.

Posted 21 June 2017

Mindfully remembering fallen service members

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
This Memorial Day, take a mindful moment to remember those who have served honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

Memorial Day marks a national day of remembrance to honor those who lost their lives while protecting our country and values. Our fallen service members deserve our utmost respect, so take some time to mindfully acknowledge and respect their sacrifices.

Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating your attention and focus in a way that allows you to deeply appreciate the present moment. The practice of mindful remembrance also can help you more fully acknowledge the sacrifices of others. Whatever your plans this Memorial Day, try to engage in the 3 R’s:

Reflect: Stop, take a deep breath, and reflect on what you value most in your life. Appreciate what’s around you: your home, treasured friends and family, health, and career. Then internally shift attention: Tune into your heart beating and chest rising and falling with each breath.

Recognize: There are many people who enable the life you lead. They contribute in both small and big ways too. So pause and thank those who make things possible. Mindful appreciation can amplify your ability to feel gratitude toward people and events that you often might take for granted.

Remember: Think of someone you know who has lost his or her life in service to our country. Say the service member’s name out loud. Repeat it to yourself. Take a few quiet moments to recall a special memory, photograph, or simply what this person meant to you. Or commit to reading or sharing a story about a Warfighter whose actions you revere.

Remembering the fallen is a sacred and enduring responsibility that should be front and center at all Memorial Day festivities, and this practice can start with you. To learn about an organization that has created the goal of mindfully recognizing every fallen service member since September 11, 2001, visit the Mindful Memorial Day page. 

Watch HPRC’s video below for more on how to cultivate a mindful remembrance practice.

Posted 22 May 2017

Military kids and mindfulness

Encouraging your kids to be mindful supports their mental health. Learn how to bring mindfulness into your family.

Children can boost their mental wellness by learning and practicing mindfulness. It helps them be more aware of their thoughts and feelings “in the moment” and enables them to better manage their emotions and reactions. When children and teens accept their emotions, they can avoid becoming overwhelmed and suppressing their feelings. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, improve performance, and build resilience. Bringing mindfulness into your family can help create calm and peaceful times together. Read more...

Your year in “after action” review

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Goals, Mindfulness
Every mission deserves a thorough debrief. Why not your year? Learn how an annual AAR can help Warfighters reflect and set goals for the New Year.

Leaders conduct after action reviews (AAR) with Warfighters to provide feedback on mission and task performances in training and combat. Try doing the same at home, and conduct a “year-end review” of your personal goals.

  • What was supposed to happen? Think back to the end of last year: What did you look forward to working on? Which goals—personal, social, academic, financial, physical, and otherwise—did you set? What about your expectations for staying on track with things?
  • What actually happened? Based on the goals you set, take stock of how things went. Did you hit the mark? What progress did you make? Did any goals fall completely by the wayside?
  • Evaluate “sustains and improves.” You might be tempted to assign a label of “success” or “failure” to each of your goals once you’ve compared where you wanted to be with where you actually ended up. Instead, think of goals as a constant work in progress. Devise a list of “sustains” to highlight strategies you used to help gain some ground on important goals, underscore what went well, and understand what got you there. Reflect on “improves” to balance the scale—by acknowledging shortcomings, deficits in motivation, or resources—and draw attention to ineffective strategies.
  • What about next time? Put it all together and imagine what this coming year will look like. Which strategies will you adjust? How will you prioritize forgotten goals? Who can you reach out to for support? What resources can you leverage? What about new goals?

Remember: Intentional reflection drives purposeful action. Life is your most important mission. As the clock ticks down on this year, take a moment to evaluate what’s happened so that you can increase accountability, get focused, and feel energized for the New Year.

‘Tis the season for decisions

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
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

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
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”

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
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

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
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

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
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

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
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.

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