Filed under: Mood
Warfighters involved in Operation Desert Storm to current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan may be experiencing what the Institute of Medicine is calling “Chronic Multisymptom Illness.” Research suggests that it is connected to toxins and contaminated environments in Middle East combat zones. Those who appear to be suffering from it have apparently unexplainable symptoms lasting at least six months in two or more of the following categories: fatigue, mood and cognition issues, musculoskeletal problems, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory difficulties, and neurologic issues. Dust storms and smoke from burn pits may be the vehicles for transporting toxic metals, bacteria, viruses, and perhaps the nerve gas sarin. Experts suggest that high temperatures and low humidity in the Middle East cause people to breathe more through their mouths than through their nose, carrying the pollutants deeper into the lungs, especially during rigorous physical activity. New legislation has recently set up burn pit registries to track the medical histories of those who may have been exposed to smoke from the practice of burning waste (human, plastic bottles, etc.) using jet fuel. With the rise of unexplained medical conditions among younger veterans of recent conflicts, researchers are looking for more conclusive evidence as to what exactly is causing this chronic illness. In the meantime, the IOM has just published a report with extensive information and recommendations for treatment.
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.
Everyone experiences anger—it’s normal. It’s also normal that the people you love will make you angry at some point. The trick is figuring out how to manage your anger—an essential skill for yourself and your relationships. Not dealing with anger just makes the situation worse. Afterdeployment.org has handouts on different aspects of Anger and Anger Management to get you started, including Anger Cues and Measuring Anger, Myths About Anger, how to manage anger with Time-Outs, and how to create an Anger Control Plan.
Optimism is a hallmark of resilience, and being optimistic can enhance your performance. Having a positive outlook can also help you harness your mental and physical strength to deliver your best performance, no matter the conditions. Whether you’re facing physical, mental, or emotional challenges, learn how to shift your thinking from negative (pessimistic) to positive (optimistic), and see how an optimistic perspective can help you achieve a greater outcome. For help on how to accomplish this, check out HPRC’s "Reframe your thoughts for peak performance."
Researchers have long been interested in meditation and its potential benefits. A recent study found that regular meditation practice of 20 minutes a day has a lasting effect on how your brain processes emotions. This suggests that meditation could potentially help your brain handle stress, anxiety, and depression, and possibly other feelings. For those individuals dealing with relocation, deployment after-effects, chronic stress overload, recent family changes, or new training assignments, having a strategy to improve your resilience and help process the expected extra doses of emotions can be helpful.
For more information on meditation, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s meditation page. HPRC will be adding a new section on Mind-Body Strategies in the near future that will give you more resources, too—so check back for that.
"The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be." – Robert Fulghum, author & essayist
Don’t waste time hoping for a better situation; make the best of wherever you find yourself and plan to be successful while you’re there using the resources you have. Whether you have performance goals of enhancing your physical fitness, becoming stronger mentally, bolstering your spirit, eating better, or enhancing your relationships, make sure that your “tools” are in good condition and ready to be used at any time. This can be particularly helpful if you (or your loved one) are on TDY or deployment because you can carry your performance-enhancement tools within you and employ them when needed.
For ways to sharpen your tools for Total Fitness (resilience and performance enhancement), check out the One Shot One Kill performance enhancement program to be prepared no matter where you are. Or if you have specific performance areas you want to strengthen, check out the other domains of HPRC’s website: Physical Fitness, Environment, Nutrition, Dietary Supplements, Family & Relationships, and Mind Tactics.
The way you interpret what other people say and do affects your performance as a Warfighter. Sometimes you may interpret things in faulty or unproductive ways called “thinking traps.” They can significantly damage your ability to reach your full potential. However, there are methods you can learn and use to develop alternate thoughts that promote productive and positive thoughts—a process is called “cognitive reframing”—that will lead to optimum performance. Learn about how to do it in HPRC’s Performance Strategy on how to “Reframe your ‘thinking traps’ for peak performance.”
Many of us have the habit of focusing on the negatives 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 you tend to focus on the negatives in life, you’re shortchanging yourself. Try to appreciate the little things in your day that you may take for granted. Focus on appreciation and gratitude. Try breaking your habit of focusing 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 say good morning to your day.
- If you are in a relationship, take a few minutes to really look at and appreciate your significant other.
- If you are deployed with your unit, pause to think about how your buddies support and help one another to get through a rough day.
- Before you eat lunch, reflect for a moment and think about something that keeps you going everyday—maybe it’s as simple as the first cup of coffee in the morning, an easy commute, or your buddy’s positive attitude. Take a moment to be grateful for that.
- 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.
Anger is a normal feeling. It’s also inevitable that the people you love will at some point make you angry. Instead of letting your anger control you, however, find out how to control your anger. Managing your anger is important for both yourself and your relationships. Afterdeployment.org has handouts with information on anger and anger management, common myths about anger, tips on how to use timeouts to manage anger, and how to create an “anger control plan.” For strategies on how to further enhance your relationships, visit HPRC’s Overall Family Optimization Skills section.
You’ve probably heard of TBI—the acronym for traumatic brain injury. The Defense Centers of Excellence defines a traumatic brain injury as “a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain.” TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, with 80-90% being mild. The symptoms, treatments, and recovery time are different for mild versus moderate-to-severe TBIs.
Common symptoms associated with TBI are:
Physical: headache, sleep disturbances, dizziness, balance problems, nausea/vomiting, fatigue, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light, ringing in the ears
Cognitive: slowed thinking, poor concentration, memory problems, difficulty finding words
Emotional: anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings
For more information, including strategies and suggestions for rehabilitation, check out DCoE’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Pocket Guide for Warfighters. TBI is a serious physical as well as mental injury, so it is important to consult a health professional before attempting any kind of treatment.