Filed under: Recovery
Exposure to a natural green environment can help reduce your stress levels and improve your health and well-being. So, feeling blue? Go green! Some of nature’s restorative benefits include improved positive mood, energy, and vitality; decreased anxiety, depressive thoughts, perceived stress, and hostility; as well as improved recovery times after surgery and less need for pain meds.
Exposure to nature can also reduce your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and stress hormones, as well as improve your sleep, immune function, and brain activity. Interestingly, people who live in neighborhoods where streets have more trees report feeling healthier, with fewer symptoms of poor health such as heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Neighborhood greenness has also been tied to longer life expectancy.
Depending on where you live, finding a natural environment can be tricky. You can find state and national parks online or look for local parks and gardens in your area. Even walking along a neighborhood street with lots of trees, spending more time viewing nature (through a window), or having indoor plants within view can make you feel better. You may want to experience nature on your own, with a buddy, or with a group of fellow service members or veterans. For group outdoor recreational activities, check out the Sierra Club Outdoors program (or, specifically, their Military Outdoors program). So if you’re feeling stressed, down, or not your usual self, get outside and go green!
Need a great post-workout beverage? Try drinking a glass of chocolate milk within 45 minutes after exercise to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscles.
Why chocolate milk? One 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk provides about 200 calories and the right ratio of carbohydrate to protein. It also provides electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, along with essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and calcium in an easily digestible liquid form. And even better, it’s inexpensive, readily available, and tastes good! But be sure to choose heart-healthy low-fat versions.
For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products, or for those who simply prefer a plant-based diet, fortified chocolate soymilk is a great alternative (but note that almond, cashew, and rice milk are not as high in protein).
Think of mental health treatment as a blend of science and art: scientifically proven treatment from a skilled psychotherapist who engages each patient as an individual. In standardized treatment, practitioners follow a specific protocol dictated by research studies. But even standardized approaches need wiggle room for the differences between human beings, both patients and practitioners. A lot of successful psychotherapy comes down to the relationship between the practitioner and the patient rather than the techniques, so there has to be some flexibility to it.
Evidence-based practice blends the best research evidence available (studies that have met certain criteria) with practitioners’ own clinical expertise, while also considering the patient’s values and preferences. Thus, good healthcare practitioners ask questions of their patients and pay attention to their perspectives. While it can feel vulnerable to lay it all out there, it is important to give honest responses. On the flip side, it is reasonable (and empowering!) for patients to ask providers why they are doing what they are doing. When the process is evidence-based, the provider will be able to describe his or her rationale while tuning into what makes sense for you as an individual.
Why do some people with devastating injuries do well in their recoveries and others do not? People often focus on the negative fallout, but there can be positive consequences called post-traumatic growth. Scientists use the term “disability paradox” to refer to how some people with devastating illness or injuries are still able to enjoy a good quality of life. The characteristics of these folks describe someone with a “survivor mentality.” Characteristics include:
- Subscribing meaning to one’s disability or lot in life and sharing this meaning with others.
- Not choosing to live as a victim but instead to feel empowered and motivated to deal with struggles and come out as a victor.
- Being flexible, adaptable, resilient, and rolling with the punches.
Many factors play into developing a survivor mentality. Here are some tips to help:
- Create a strong support system: family, church, community, fellow Warfighters, healthcare providers, etc. A support system should be just that—supportive, encouraging, and a promoter of independence, not an enabler for being or feeling like a victim.
- Maintain a “can do” attitude. See challenges or setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow. Focus on strengths and abilities, not on limitations. Survivors exhibit the 4 Cs of mental toughness.
- Maintain hope and optimism; focus on the future and move from thinking about the negative aspects of injury/illness to focusing on the positives or possibilities.
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 wounds of war also affect the family members of injured or ill Warfighters. The job of caregiving often falls to a family member, and while it can be a rewarding job, it can also be stressful. Taking time for yourself is important. You run the risk of burnout when your attention is directed solely towards others without time to recharge. Below are tips to help you find balance in taking care of both your loved one and yourself.
- View caregiving as if it were a team sport, not a solo one. Get other people to share the responsibilities.
- Encourage independence by supporting your loved one to do as much as possible for him/herself.
- Take a pro-active and positive perspective.
- Have a take-charge attitude for problems, and then reframe those problems into challenges.
- Avoid tunnel vision; find a balance between taking care of your injured loved one and taking care of yourself and others in the family.
- Create a care plan for yourself that includes fun time, down time, and relaxation methods. For some ideas, check out the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website.
- Seek professional help when needed.
For more information, read this handout on “Coping with Caregiver Challenges,“ which addresses common caregiver challenges such as stress and symptoms such as headaches and then suggests ideas for coping. Other strategies include keeping yourself healthy with exercise, rest, and eating well. For more ideas, check out the Traumatic Brain Injury website’s “Stress Busters” section. Building your stress-management skills can be a big help. Finally, assess yourself regularly to check on your well-being (to prevent burnout) can also be helpful. You can find assessments for caregiver stress at Afterdeployment.org (online) and Traumatic Brain Injury (for download).
Attention, all disabled service members and veterans! Staying active helps with recovery by rebuilding strength and endurance—and in so many other ways, as well. A positive mindset and a supportive community are as important as fitness, and getting involved sports such as snowboarding, cycling, wheelchair basketball, and others can build both physical fitness and mental resilience. Consider checking out the Warfighter Sports Program developed by Disabled Sports USA. It offers more than 30 winter and summer adaptive sports in more than 150 events nationwide. Instruction, equipment, and transportation are provided to Warfighters and their guests. Become a part of the team and find the events happening in your area today!
Physical and mental rehab for wounded warriors can come in the form of an undersea adventure. A 2011 study at Johns Hopkins University looked at the effects of a four-day scuba certification class on a group of veterans with spinal injuries. The benefits noted included improved muscle movements, reduction of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improved sensitivity/sensation for those with certain spinal cord injuries.
Being in the water offers a zero-gravity environment that enables Warfighters to develop the confidence and ability to do activities they may not feel comfortable doing on land. There are organizations that provide scuba lessons and outings for wounded veterans and their families free of charge, such as Adaptive Heroes, Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS), and Divers4Heroes, to name a few. Check for programs in your area and explore the great unknown!
Total Force Fitness requires optimal performance, and optimal performance requires optimal sleep. One way to get your best sleep may lie in some of the subtle sounds you hear every day. You may have heard of “white” noise, a type of random, constant sound that can filter or mask surrounding noises. Studies have now found that another kind of sound—“pink” noise—can help your sleep be even more restful than actual silence. Unlike white noise, the volume of pink noise is essentially the same regardless of its frequency. (For serious audio buffs, here’s an explanation from Georgia State University’s “HyperPhysics” department.) When you think of pink noise, think of rain falling or the rhythm of a heartbeat. This kind of noise regulates and synchronizes with your brainwaves, which enhances the percentage of time you’re in a restful, stable sleep. Pink noise might be another strategy to add to your arsenal for getting better sleep. You can get recordings of pink noise from a variety of sources online—some even free—for your smartphone or other mp3 player or cd/dvd player. A little searching should turn up something you like. And read more about the importance of sleep and how it affects your performance.
According to a recent report about post-exercise recovery and regeneration for athletes, men over 19 and women over 18 needs 8-10 hours of sleep a night (plus a 30-minute afternoon nap, as needed) for optimal athletic performance.
Continuing good sleep habits established earlier in adolescence such as regular meals, early morning light exposure, and a nightly sleep routine remain important. However, it’s also important to monitor the effects of stress and changes in sleep due to training/military operations.
Even if you’re not an athlete, the recommendations above still apply, except that your total sleep needs are seven to nine hours a night to keep you at your best.
Some additional tips for sleep:
- Regular exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night.
- If you have a question about whether to exercise more or sleep, choose sleep!
- During the night, if you wake up and after 20 minutes haven’t gone back to sleep, get out of bed, do something relaxing, and then get back in bed. You’ll probably fall right asleep.
Also, for a better understanding of your current sleep habits, afterdeployment.org has an online “sleep assessment” that you can take. For more information on how to optimize your sleep, visit the HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section.