Filed under: Stress
Everyone has feelings—and by the time people become adults, most have a vocabulary for talking about them. Children, however, often don’t yet have this skill and are more likely to act out how they feel. A great way to strengthen your family is to help your child(ren) learn how to talk about feelings in an age-appropriate way. The Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) program for enhancing family resilience has created a “Feeling Thermometer” that you can use with your child so he or she can show you where his/her feelings fall. This is a great way to understand what your child is feeling and to start talking about emotions such as anger when a child gets too “hot,” so he or she can learn how to control such feelings and make that anger temperature go down.
For more ideas to strengthen your family, check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
Have you breathed deeply lately? Breathing’s not something we usually have to think about, so we tend to take it for granted. But our breath can be a powerful tool for relaxation and stress relief. Taking time every day to focus on deliberate breathing—that is, breathing deeply and with control—can allow your body’s relaxation response to kick in and help you de-stress.
Slow-paced and deep-breathing exercises have been widely studied for their relaxing effects on the body’s stress response system. There are several types of deep-breathing exercises you can perform, but one of the easiest and most common is just called “deep breathing” (or “diaphragmatic breathing”). HPRC has a video on Breathing Exercises for Optimized Performance that introduces three breathing strategies for human performance optimization: “Deep Breathing,” “Alternate Nostril Breathing,” and “Fast-Paced Breathing.” A longer version is available for you to practice along with the instructor, or you can download a Performance Strategies transcript that takes you through these breathing exercises step-by-step to achieve relaxation.
For more ideas on relaxation strategies, check out the Stress Control resources in HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a way to relieve the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety that show up as tense, aching muscles. This mind-body practice helps you consciously release muscle tension so that you’re able to function throughout the day and relax during downtime. Using PMR, you learn to release tension and develop deep relaxation by actively tensing and then relaxing the muscles throughout your body. The outcome: You can train your body to relax on command. Check out the description of how to do PMR in the Controlled Response handbook section of the OSOK Total Force Fitness program.
For more information on relaxation strategies, check out the Stress Control resources in HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
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.
Many jobs involve duties that can cause minor musculoskeletal tension that builds over time until you find yourself experiencing pain. Sitting or standing for long periods of time, lifting or carrying heavy objects, and other common mission-related actions of active-duty personnel wear on the body, leading to increased risk for injury. Yoga can help to reduce this risk by improving posture, increasing energy, and stretching overused or tense muscles. If you don’t have time for yoga between work, your normal exercise routine, or family obligations, suggest sharing a quick yoga session with buddies in your unit during a break to reduce your risk for injury and help get through the afternoon. There are different styles of yoga for all skill levels.
Virtual reality was first introduced as a therapy tool for people with anxiety disorders such as phobias, but it is now used for a wide range of conditions, from PTSD to childhood ADHD. In fact, it recently warranted its own symposium at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where experts exchanged ideas on the current state of research.
Virtual environments used in therapy sessions are created for the individual’s needs—for example, a noisy classroom for a child with ADHD, the re-creation of the 9/11 attacks for a firefighter or police officer, or “Virtual Iraq” for a soldier. “Virtual Afghanistan” is the newest creation and is already being used to help service members overcome PTSD. Active-duty men and women are gradually brought back to their traumatic event using the virtual world as the therapist provides verbal cues to facilitate the healing process.
With a view to mitigating future need for therapy, a series of episodes is currently being created to provide pre-deployment “Stress Resilience Training for Warfighters.” The goal is to help reduce the risk of PTSD and better prepare warriors for actual scenarios they will encounter in theater.
For more information about how to prevent and manage stress, visit HPRC’s Stress Control section.
When you’re in pain, any relief is welcome. The good news is that researchers have found pain can be managed and alleviated, to a degree, by employing strategies that have you put your focus elsewhere. Meditation is one such strategy. A recent small study examined the experience of pain from fourteen experienced meditators and fourteen inexperienced participants. It turns out that the old adage is true: Practice makes perfect. The experienced meditators experienced pain to a lesser degree and got used to the pain more quickly. They also registered less anxiety than the unpracticed participants. The message? Practicing meditation regularly may improve how your brain handles pain.
And tune in again later for HPRC’s new section in Total Force Fitness on pain management—coming soon.
With the holidays upon us, the number of problems that you have to solve might be kicking up a notch or two. A Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs initiative, Moving Forward, has a website that gives you tools for “overcoming life’s challenges.” As you encounter challenges this holiday season, give their module a test run—it takes you through a step-by-step process for solving problems. They suggest:
- Define the problem and set goals
- Come up with alternative solutions.
- Pick one solution
- Put your solution into action and analyze the outcome.
HPRC’s website also has useful information on stress management.
It’s how you react to stressful situations—not the causes of stress themselves—that can affect your future health. Research has shown that people who react more strongly and remain “stressed out” longer are more likely to develop chronic diseases such as heart conditions and arthritis.
Even if you can’t control the stressful situations you find yourself in, you can learn to control how you react to them. Simple mind-body strategies such as deep breathing and cognitive reframing can help. Try some of the relaxation strategies from the Navy & Marine Public Health Center website the next time you find yourself reacting to a stressful situation and see if they make a difference.
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.