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Make stress your ally

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Stress doesn’t have to be your enemy. Learn how to make it your ally.

Stress is unavoidable, especially for Warfighters and their families. Alleviating or overcoming your stress is one way to cope, but you also can learn to embrace it and make it your ally.

You might believe that stress is out of your control, and the only way to cope is to avoid it. The good news is there are many ways you can respond to stress. Try the following strategies to turn stress from enemy to all. Read more...

What’s your stress mindset?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Your mindset about stress can influence how it impacts your health and well-being. Learn more.

While most people believe stress is seriously harmful to their health, it turns out that your stress mindset—or how you think about stress—influences whether your psychological and physiological reaction to stress impacts you positively or negatively. Some evidence suggests those who experience lots of stress and feel that it negatively affects their health have a nearly 50% increased risk of premature death. However, those who experience lots of stress but don’t believe it’s all bad tend to have a much lower risk of death.

It’s not realistic to suggest that life could ever be stress-free, especially for Warfighters and their families. Although many are convinced that all stress is bad, it actually can be good for you. Read more...

Write your way to well-being

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Learn how writing can help you ward off depression and enhance well-being.

If you find it difficult to share when you’re feeling down or anxious about something in your life, writing can help you make sense of an experience on your own. It isn’t easy to reach out when you’re going through tough times. You might prefer keeping struggles private or feel that there isn’t anyone you can turn to who might really understand.

Writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings can be an effective tool to help you process your stressful events. Writing can help you direct attention to causes of distress and raise awareness of the impact they have on you—emotional, behavioral, or physiological. By helping you express emotions you might want to suppress or avoid, the process can put distance between you and your thoughts, giving you an opportunity to evaluate or restructure your story.

Writing also can help reduce depressive symptoms, improve immune function, and enhance well-being. It can help ease the transition for veterans returning home and experiencing reintegration problems, and it might increase marital satisfaction for Warfighters returning home after high combat exposure.

So how do you do it? When you’re feeling stressed or anxious or just struggling to make sense of something, find 15–20 minutes to write. Include your take on the situation at hand. Reflect on how it’s impacting you and what you’re doing to get by. Use writing as a space to say what you can’t say to anyone else. The format doesn’t matter—on a piece of paper, inside a journal, or in a digital document. While writing, you might notice that you’ve developed a different perspective on events. You might identify a silver lining to a difficult experience. You might highlight effective and ineffective ways you’re coping, helping you take further action to seek help or use those strategies in the future. Sometimes it helps to do this over 3 or 4 consecutive days.

And remember: If you’re continually struggling or feeling more distressed even after writing, consider seeking help through a mental health professional or other resource.

Feeling stressed? Help is available.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships, Mind Body
May is Mental Health Month. Learn more about assessing your own mental health and getting help.

The demands of deployment and combat can be stressful. It’s important to know that, if it gets to be too much for you to handle, you can get help. Here are some ways to find it.

Returning home, you might feel that nothing’s changed since you left, or you could have a rougher transition and experience sadness, sleep problems, anxiety, anger, heightened emotions, edginess, and/or trouble focusing. These are common and normal reactions to being in theater, but they can potentially be signs of mental health concerns too.

So when should you seek help? You can first use a mental health-screening tool that can guide you in the right direction. The assessment is free, anonymous, and available to service members and their families. However, it’s not intended as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

For accurate diagnosis, or to simply check in with a caring professional, consider consulting a qualified mental health therapist. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website offers good information and helpful resources. Also, Military OneSource offers support and services to improve your mental health and well-being. If you feel you're experiencing a potentially life-threatening problem, contact the Military Crisis Line online or call 800-273-8255 and press “1,” or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or by phone at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) also has a 24/7 Outreach Center featuring a hotline, email, chat, and phone number. And visit HPRC’s Suicide Prevention page. In an emergency, please dial 911.

Be proactive in addressing your mental health. And if you’re ever concerned about safety, err on the side of caution.

Take it to heart

February is American Heart Month. Remember your fitness and nutrition goals to keep the most important muscle in your body healthy!

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death among adults in the U.S.—deadlier than any form of cancer. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight/obesity, family history, and smoking.

So what can you do to protect yourself protect yourself and your loved ones? First, know your risk factors. There are some things that you can’t change, such as your family history, sex, and age. But there are many things you CAN change through lifestyle choices.

Regular exercise can help you manage many risk factors such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. By now, you’ve probably forgotten about your New Year’s fitness resolutions! Get back on track: commit to at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least 5 days a week. You can even stay active at work!

Remember to make healthy food choices and manage your stress too. Check out the newest Dietary Guidelines for the latest recommendations on eating right. Reboot those fitness and nutrition resolutions to stay ready, resilient, and fit. 

Dealing with loved ones during the holidays

Learn how to make friends with your family this holiday season.

It’s often great to connect with family and friends during the holidays, but it can occasionally feel like you’re drawn into old—sometimes negative—ways of communicating. If you only see your family now and then, they might view you as you were when you were younger instead of as you are now. Just being together in the same place can even ramp up old issues. Planning ahead for how to deal with situations can help you navigate them better and bring peace.

  • Think about potential friction points with loved ones.
  • Decide how you want to respond.
  • Be patient with others.
  • Stay positive and true to yourself.

Words to clear mental clutter

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Mind, Mood, Stress
It may sound simple, but you can repeat a word or phrase to bring calmness and relaxation into any situation.

No matter what triggers your stress, from deployment to late daycare pickup, you can manage your emotions, stress, and focus by repeating a word or phrase that clears your mind. This simple approach can reduce mental clutter and provide a sense of calm. You also may find you can focus better and more easily track your big priorities.

Good news! You can immediately begin learning this skill simply by trying it. Whether you know stress is coming or already feel stressed, or if you’re recovering after stress, repeat your chosen word or phrase to calm your mind. There’s no magic to this. By occupying your mind with a word or phrase, you put to rest distressing or distracting thoughts. Some people prefer to use words or phrases they find spiritually meaningful, while others choose something as simple as the word “one.” Other examples may include “breathe” or “let go.” The exact word or phrase doesn’t necessarily matter. See what works for you. As with other stress management techniques, the challenge is often transforming an interesting experiment into a healthy daily habit.

Tips for caregivers

Caregivers play an essential role in the recovery of an injured, ill, or wounded service member. The emotional, physical, and psychological health of the caregiver is also important in this process.

When a wounded, ill or injured service member returns home, his or her life has significantly changed, and so have the lives of the caregivers and family. DoD recognizes the importance of the caregiver and family in the recovery process. However, caregiving can be stressful, and you run the risk of burnout when you focus solely on others without time to recharge. So it’s important to take time for yourself too. Read on to learn HPRC’s top tips for caregivers and families.

A “natural” way to recover

If you’re in any stage of a recovery process (physical, mental, or spiritual) it may be helpful to get outside and spend some time in nature.

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!

Stress can zap your relationships

Stress can make you impatient, disagreeable, and less able to solve problems. Learn some tips for how to reduce its effects on your relationships.

When stress threatens to overload you, be careful it doesn’t spill over into your relationships. Stress can make you less patient with your loved ones, less able to solve problems well, and more disagreeable.

When you’re under a lot of stress, you’re also more likely to feel negative about your relationships. This generally leads to more fighting, which can be especially tough for military families if one of you deploys or leaves for training before you’re able to rebalance your relationship and de-stress. While you’re apart, negative feelings can fester and further damage your relationship.

But just knowing about how stress can impact your relationships is the first step. Next time you feel stressed out, don’t let it fester. Instead, do something about it. To ease your stress, you can try:

  • Deep breathing or another mind-body skill that can switch you from your body’s stress response to its relaxation response.
  • Exercise, which can make you feel better and lower your stress.
  • Something just for fun, which can take your mind off your stress.
  • Connecting with a loved one. Feeling loved and supported can also reduce stress.

Finally, if you’re apart from your loved one, set aside time regularly to connect to him or her, regardless of the last fight you had. Try to give each other benefit of the doubt and move past the argument. You can always finish discussing it when he or she returns. 

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