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Filed under: Stress

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.

Look over there! Diverting deployment stress

Distractions are a great way to keep a child’s mind off of deployment stressors.

Distractions are a great way to help reduce stress, as they allow a child or teen to take his or her mind off of deployment—to a point. A great idea for parents is to provide plenty of opportunities for social activities (i.e., sports, clubs, etc.). Many of the sources of stress from a deployment have no ready solution, so distractions can be helpful. Providing events that families can partake in together (i.e., bowling, arts and crafts, etc.) are a great way to bring families together. Research shows that the most common forms of adolescent distractions are reading, drawing, playing computer games, listening to music, and playing with pets.

Recognizing signs of distress in children

Parents play a crucial role in helping children cope with deployment. Learning to recognize signs of distress can help prevent depression in children.

During deployment, the parent at home plays a pivotal role in providing support for their children. Recognizing signs of deployment-related stress allows you to intervene and prevent future concerns. In young children, signs include unexplained crying, sleep difficulties, eating difficulties, and fear of new people or situations. In adolescents, signs include acting out, misdirected anger, and loss of interest in hobbies. For more signs of distress, read this Military.com article.

Tips for helping children cope with deployment

HPRC recommends three ways to help provide youth with support during deployment.

Follow these tips to help your child cope with a parent’s deployment:

1)    Increase your knowledge/awareness of deployment-related issues.

    • Understand the various ways in which a family is affected by deployment.
    • Understand the stages of the deployment cycle.
    • Find ways to improve public awareness of the need for support within communities.

      2)    Increase your knowledge of and vigilance for depression and stress symptoms:

        • Learn to recognize signs and symptoms of depression and other mental health concerns.
        • Understand common emotional phases in children and teenagers during times of deployment.

          3)    Increase opportunities for connection and support:

            • Show concern for your child. Many teens will refuse to express their concern over a deployment but will often respond to concern shown for them.
            • Help kids form networks with peers who have gone through or are going through a parent’s deployment.
            • Provide opportunities for activities to keep children distracted.

              For more information and resources on how to support children and teens during deployment, visit the HPRC’s family skills section.

              Lean on me: Providing support for children

              Minimize relocation for youth through relying on support systems.

              During times of deployment, children and teenagers often look for support from the people in their lives—family, teachers, and friends—to help them deal with the stress of having a parent deployed. A good support system helps by listening, understanding, and providing comfort. Children often will respond to those who show concern for them and to those who understand life in the military. Provide support by listening to what your child has to say and by helping them understand their situation.

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