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Filed under: Stress

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.

Managing family stress

Stress can create a ripple effect in families; learning ways to effectively manage your stress can have numerous benefits.

It’s no news that stress can take a toll on your life and can affect your relationships—which may already be under a strain from repeated deployments and combat exposure. But unmanaged stress doesn’t affect only you; it can create a ripple effect in families, which is why learning to effectively manage stress is so important. Deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery, and body scanning are just a few strategies that can help you relax, manage your stress, and help you live your life better—and everyone in the family can learn and benefit from them.

For more tips on how to manage stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Control section.

One tobacco myth up in smoke

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Tobacco use doesn’t live up to its reputation among U.S. military personnel for relieving stress.

Tobacco users often claim the reason they smoke (or chew) is to relieve stress. However, research shows that tobacco is not only ineffective for relieving stress, but tobacco users actually experience more stress than non-users. A study among military personnel showed that tobacco users use positive coping strategies—such as problem-solving skills—less often than non-smokers. So think twice before you light up (or chew) in order to relax—it may not be working as well as you think. Try some of the relaxation strategies found in HPRC’s Mind Tactics Stress Control resources instead.

Leveraging mindfulness as a performance-optimization tool

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Practicing mindfulness can improve performance by reducing stress and increasing well-being.

PsychCentral’s March 2012 "Ask the Therapist" article addresses how mindfulness relates to military performance—especially important now that the military has been incorporating mindfulness tactics for enhancing Warfighter mental and physical resilience. Of particular note is a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology that demonstrated significant improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, etc. in veterans after completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The article also noted other studies that showed long-term stress-reduction, well-being, and positive experiences. Simply put, acknowledging emotional pain helps you overcome it. You are then able to focus and communicate with loved ones more effectively.

If you’d like to learn more about meditation and mindfulness, check out the Mind Tactics section of the HPRC website, which contains many resources related to meditation and mindfulness, as well as resources related to mental fitness, mental toughness, and resilience.

Listen your way to relaxation

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Learn to “Relax Relax” with a toolkit of audio files from NMCPHC.

Grab your headphones and learn effective relaxation strategies for performance optimization and stress reduction with the Relax Relax Toolkit from the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC). Featuring audio instruction from experts and links to evidence-based information on each technique, this toolkit covers a number of strategies including breathing exercises, muscle relaxation strategies, meditation styles, and combination and advanced strategies. To help meditation, Relax Relax also presents a variety of relaxing music to help you meditate.  Visit the HPRC’s Stress Control Tools for more information on relaxation strategies.

Smartphone apps to help with stress and relaxation

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
The National Center for Telehealth and Technology offers expanded mobile apps to help users control stress and monitor PTSD symptoms from their smartphones.

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology has introduced a line of mobile apps focusing on mind-body strategies to help improve mood, PTSD symptoms, and induce relaxation. Currently, most of the applications are available at the iPhone app store and Android Market. Below is a list of a few that are currently available. For more details, visit the MT Stress Control Tools.

Stay active and reduce stress

Stressed out? Try getting more exercise, and you may find your high blood pressure dropping along with your stress level.

Many who suffer from a lot of stress also have high blood pressure and do not exercise. People who practice some form of activity or exercise benefit from less stress associated with personal, family, and work situations. Reducing stress will improve your health. Exercise helps improve your stress tolerance and also can strengthen your cardiovascular system, increase endorphin levels, and keep you mentally focused. Bike rides, power walking, and yoga are some of the many inexpensive, time-efficient ways to improve your general fitness and reduce stress. The Mayo Clinic has more good advice on how and why to reduce stress.

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