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Filed under: Stress

Training Warfighters for optimal mental performance

Stress as part of combat preparation—can you take the heat?

Understanding how stress affects you both mentally and physically in high-stress situations is important for optimal performance—which is why training under stress is a central part of combat preparation. Knowing what your reactions are, when to pause and take a deep breath, how to use positive self-talk, when to recalibrate one’s physical responses, and how to recharge (sleep and proper nutrition) after a stressful event are key for being at your peak mental performance. Getting support from comrades and using appropriate humor also can help relieve stress.

Be mindful during the holidays

Stressed out by the holidays? A bit of mindfulness can help.

The holidays can sometimes be a stressful time filled with loved ones and activities. This year, try practicing one of the healthy stress busters you can find on HPRC’s website—by yourself or with your family. For example, give brief meditation a try.

You can even try this as a family: Have someone lead the meditation and give occasional cues. Note that this generally works better with older children!

For more information on strategies for stress, visit the Stress Control section in HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.

Does your child lose sleep over worries?

School age children are often burdened with a lot of worries; more so if if one parent is deployed. Here's a simple strategy to help worrying minds.

Not being able to quiet your mind at night can be very frustrating— and it’s not just an “adult” problem. If your child has difficulty sleeping because of a restless mind, try setting aside some “worry time” during the day. Help your child create a “worry box” and personalize it through art. Children can write down their worries—each on a separate index card—and deposit the worry in the worry box. Doing this while getting ready for bedtime can be a good way to spend some quality time with your child every night. For more information on sleep strategies, visit HPRC’s Mind Tactics section.

Distract yourself from pain

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Distraction can help Warfighters cope with pain and other difficulties.

Ever notice that pain isn’t as bad when you are doing something: hanging out with friends; playing video games; taking a walk? Simply put, distraction works—sort of like having a busy signal for your brain. Distraction may not have the other benefits of exercise and meditation, but it can help you manage pain and other problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and anger.

A couple tips:

  • Choose healthy distractions that make your life better, such as exercise, fostering good friendships, art...
  • Don’t use too much distraction. Save it for when it can benefit you the most. If you use it too much, it loses its effect.

Don’t worry—write your stress away

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Instead of worrying, try writing down your concerns to reduce your stress.

Worrying is normal. If you tend to think that worrying will help you prevent stress later, you're not alone. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. Worrying can become a problem all by itself, especially when you're worrying about something that can't be solved. Try this instead: Make a habit of writing your worries down. Keeping a journal or a record, like some people do for weight loss or a training regime (see Rule #9 in OSOK’s 10 Rules of Engagement), can help you see patterns and trends, mark progress, and simply get things off your mind. For some, seeing a concern written down allows them to "forget" it. Keep a journal in a place where you find yourself worrying a lot (except in your car—limit your writing to someplace safe), such as the dinner table or the nightstand beside your bed. When you find yourself worrying, start jotting, and over the course of the week, see if it hasn't helped you get a handle on worrying. If it helps you take action or let go, you've done your mind a favor.

Don’t just listen – show you are listening.

Some tips for "active" and "constructive" listening will improve your communication skills.

Being able to communicate effectively with those around us is a great way not only to enhance our relationships but also to ward off unnecessary stress. When having a conversation with a partner, friend, or coworker, most of us forget to communicate that we’re listening and that we understand what the other person is saying, which, can lead to arguments and/or misunderstandings. Show the other person that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say— asking questions and showing supportive reactions will help the other person feel understood. The Kansas National Guard has a video that demonstrates four ways of responding, including one that is both active and constructive (the best way!).

Get moving to help manage PTSD

Research has found that those with PTSD are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease; for some, exercise might be a great addition to other types of treatment.

The physical and emotional stress associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can raise your blood pressure and cholesterol and increase body mass index, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Veterans suffering from PTSD are more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack than those without PTSD. While the exact relationship between PTSD and heart disease is not fully understood, we know that regular exercise can help prevent heart disease and other risk factors, which could be helpful for those with PTSD. Some types of exercise can be effective in reducing psychological symptoms associated with PTSD and also can play a role in reducing unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, being overweight, and physical inactivity—sometimes byproducts of trying to cope. If you think that exercise might help you or a loved one cope with PTSD, speak with your healthcare provider to assess how much and what kind of exercise is best!

Sleep loss can affect how you manage stress

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Not getting enough sleep impacts key factors in your ability to manage stress.

Think about this: Not getting enough sleep has a serious impact on how and what you think—your memory and concentration suffer, as do your awareness of your surroundings and your reaction time. Sleep loss affects your ability to make good decisions and puts you on edge, making you susceptible to your emotions. There’s more: Sleep loss also affects your ability to think positively and solve problems effectively. All of these are key factors in managing stress. Making good decisions now reduces your stress over the long term, and this can be compromised when you’re not at your peak. Bottom line: Focus on getting enough sleep to help you manage your stress.

For more on how to get better sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics information on sleep management. For how sleep loss affects all the areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article on The impact of sleep loss on total fitness.

Namaste: Using yoga to manage PTSD and TBI symptoms

Wounded warriors are using yoga as a way to manage stress and other symptoms involved with PTSD and TBI.

Yoga’s popularity is growing in the United States, but many Americans are still not familiar with the details of this ancient practice. Yoga roots are holistic in nature—body and mind are of equal importance, and the asanas, or poses, which define yoga for many of us, are only one aspect of practice. Together with meditation and breath control, yoga promotes strength, flexibility, and awareness of body and mind. Yoga can help achieve wellness through meditation, deep relaxation, stretching, and breathing. Several organizations are now beginning to provide yoga classes tailored to veterans and active-duty service members who suffer from combat stress. VA facilities, Warrior Transition Units, and civilian studios are using it to complement traditional treatment of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Individuals who struggle with PTSD describe it as a feeling of disconnectedness from themselves and others. Yoga, which means “bringing together parts as a whole,” helps people feel connected again. One traditional type of yoga that has been shown to decrease anxiety in the military population is sensory-enhanced hatha yoga, which involves breathing, meditation, and certain poses. A specific benefit reported by participants in sensory-enhanced yoga was a decrease in insomnia. Combat-stressed adults also experienced reduced hyperarousal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and rage. Integrative Restoration (iRest) is a yoga-based meditative practice that teaches a person to focus on breathing when a negative memory arises. Soldiers and marines have expressed satisfaction in these breathing techniques because of the method’s simplicity and ease. It allows a person to regain control over his/her thoughts whenever symptoms of PTSD present themselves. A study found that iRest decreases rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity all of which encourage negative thoughts and memories. Those practicing iRest also reported increased feelings of relaxation, peace, self-awareness, and self-efficacy. Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) was one of the first military facilities to research the outcomes of yoga for veterans and active-duty warriors suffering from PTSD. WRAMC immediately added iRest to its weekly treatment programs for soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI after observing its effects: increased calm and peaceful feelings, less severe reactions to situations, and increased outlook on life.

There are many more yoga practices than the ones mentioned here, and each yoga method is different, so you can find the right one for you!

Break down your problems, not yourself

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
When problems seem larger than life, try breaking them down in sections to tackle one at a time.

Dealing with the stress of deployment and re-adjusting to home life post-deployment can be tough. It’s important to focus on managing your stress, finding ways to cope, and building your resilience. According to Real Warriors, you can get “behaviorally fit” by managing stress and reaching out to others. Among several tips offered is how to deal with problems as they come—head on. Don’t avoid discussing tough issues or finding ways to deal with them. For problems that seem too big, try breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps. For issues that you still find yourself struggling with even after breaking them down, the best bet is to get help from a professional, friend, or supportive family member.

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