Stress Eating

Guest blog provided by Dr. Mark Long and Sally Vickers, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC), Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) Department

he_iconHow often do you eat when you’re not hungry? For instance, do you ever eat (or overeat) to reward yourself? How about when you’re frustrated, tired, stressed, anxious, bored, or in need of comfort? We often eat to fill a need other than hunger. However, doing so can lead to overeating and making poor food choices. Of course, having an ice cream to celebrate a birthday or achievement is fine from time to time, but if you find yourself making poor food choices or overeating on a regular basis, practicing mindful eating may help you improve your eating habits and help you enjoy eating right.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindfulness is the state of being attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present moment.[1] Before eating, think about what’s really driving your hunger. Is it a need for food or a need for something else entirely? Simply put, being mindful is experiencing and being fully aware of what your body is telling you in the present moment.

Before your first bite, ask yourself:

  • Am I physically hungry?
  • How hungry am I?

The trick is to eat before you get too hungry and to stop (or not begin) eating when you’re not hungry. You should also try to savor and enjoy what you eat by tasting it fully, rather than mindlessly filling a void.

Being mindful is an art. When your mind wanders (and it will), gently remind yourself to eat with intention and take in the whole experience moment by moment.[2] Eating mindfully will enable you to truly taste your food, eat only until your hunger is satisfied, and allow you to fully enjoy your food experience. Practice often and delight in the simplicity of eating! To help get you started, the Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s Relax Relax Toolkit offers a mindfulness section with an audio presentation on Mindful Eating.

[1] Brown K., Ryan R. The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in Psychological Well-being. http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2003_BrownRyan.pdf.  Published September 2002.
[2] 4Kabat-Zinn, J. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. pp 27-29. New York, New York: Dell Publishing; 1990.

A Closer Look at Resilience

Though it may seem as though the broad application of “resilience” relegates the term to a mere buzzword, the opposite is true. Resilience is defined—and built—by a multitude of influential factors coming together to increase one’s “capacity to withstand, recover, grow and adapt in the face of stressors and changing demands.” Moreover, there are overarching areas that can help us build, sustain and reinforce resilience whether we’re exposed to adversity or are enjoying calm waters. Our minds, bodies, social experiences and spiritual connections are all vital to our resilience. Here’s a closer look:

Mind: Our minds are the centers of our emotional and cognitive capacity to prepare for or respond to challenges. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “your outlook determines your outcome,” that speaks to the exceptional abilities our minds have to frame situations, think through them, and adapt positively. If you have a hard time “finding the silver lining,” check out these tips to help you “Reframe your ‘thinking traps’ for peak performance.”

Body: Stress and our responses to it are linked to a multitude of chronic physical health problems. The good news is that by taking care of your body, you can improve both mental and physical wellness. Healthy behaviors, including physical activity, balanced nutrition and adequate sleep build our resilience from the inside out. Get the facts on “Minding Your Health” here.

Social: The connections we share with others are important to our overall well-being, contributing to positive problem-solving skills even when we don’t feel stressed out. Connections with our peers, community and environment are protective factors that have been proven to help lower susceptibility to the negative effects of stress. Additionally, by helping others through their challenges, we gain a renewed sense of purpose and strengthen our own resilience. Here’s a great example of this mutual benefit.

Spiritual: Whether you practice a particular faith or religion, or find meaningful connections in other ways, your spirituality serves as the lens from which you see and interact with the world around you. It provides a trusted set of values and ethics, helping you find meaning in life’s challenges and triumphs. Check out this article from Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control for more on spirituality and resilience.

Resilience doesn’t just evolve from prior hardships.In fact, it can be built proactively by using everyday wellness to strengthen coping skills. Don’t wait until you’re facing a challenge to take a closer look at how you can make small improvements in these four areas to be ready and thrive.

PCS Season is Here – Keep up with Your Shipmates

Many Sailors are preparing for upcoming Personal Change of Station (PCS) moves this summer, a transition that can bring about as much stress as it does excitement. Transitions can mean disruption to daily routines and separation from one’s social/support network (think exhausting and isolating cross-country drives for a PCS move, or transferring as a geobachelor). Even for experienced PCS pros who are eagerly awaiting the next chapter in their career and life, moves can be tough—particularly when they’re occurring during an otherwise stressful time.

While our shipmates may seem to have it all under control on the outside, it’s important to remain vigilant and pay attention to even the smallest signals that something isn’t right, particularly as they’re leaving a familiar environment and are heading to a new one. You may know bits and pieces about a shipmate’s life outside of the work center—relationship or family tension, financial issues, apprehension about career changes, etc.—but may feel as though you don’t know enough to get involved. Even though your buddy may casually dismiss his or her problems, or may not discuss them at length, reach out and offer your support and encourage him or her to speak with someone, perhaps a chaplain or trusted leader, before the situation becomes overwhelming. The likelihood of making a bad decision is higher when a person is in transition, so identifying resources early is vital to keeping your shipmate healthy and mission-ready.

If you notice anything out of the norm for your shipmate, break the silence and speak with others who know him or her well—a unit leader, roommate, family member or friend. They may have noticed the same cues or observed some that you weren’t aware of, helping to “connect the dots” and facilitate the intervention process. While you may not be able to tell if your shipmate is or isn’t in crisis on your own, by openly communicating to piece things together, you’re helping to ensure that your buddy has resources in place to help him or her build resilience and thrive in their next phase in life.

Ongoing communication is critical. Once your shipmate has checked out of your command, don’t lose track of him or her. Ensure that you have his or her accurate contact information, ask about upcoming plans, and check-in with them on their progress often. Remind your shipmate that they’re still a part of your family and that you care about their well-being. Preventing suicide starts by being there for every Sailor, every day—no matter where they are.

What’s Your Plan to Navigate Stress?

As the days get longer and warmer and summer excitement begins, safety will be a critical focus—from preventing mishaps in swimming pools and outdoor grilling dangers, to preventing fatigued driving during summer road trips. Naval Safety Center’s “Live to Play, Play to Live” campaign is in full-swing, with severalsnp Navy programs engaging to ensure that the entire community enjoys the next 101 days of summer safely and responsibly.

While planning for physical safety helps minimize risk for yourself and those around you, emotional safety and wellbeing is an equally important part of the equation to keep you healthy and mission-ready. We may not know when we’ll encounter adversity, but by identifying positive resources that we can turn to during life’s inevitable challenges we can help prepare ourselves for the unexpected, minimizing the risk of those challenges developing into crises. Just as you would program a sober buddy’s number in your phone to avoid getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, you should take a moment to proactively identify who you’d reach out to and what you will do when you encounter stress and adversity.

To help you explore and identify your resources for making healthy decisions during stressful times, take a moment to fill out your Stress Navigation Plan, downloadable on the Navy Suicide Prevention website here. This simple proactive tool helps you think about your current practices for navigating stress—from a tough day on the job, to financial setbacks or relationship issues—while you’re still emotionally healthy. In the process, you may come up with more positive ways to navigate stress than what you currently turn to and will have the names and numbers of those you trust when you need to talk things through. By writing your resources and practices down now, you’ll be more prepared during stressful situations and are empowering yourself to make positive choices to thrive during adversity, not just survive.

While you’re encouraged to share your Stress Navigation Plan with your closest friends, family or those who are listed in it, your plan doesn’t have to be shared with anyone. Keep it in a safe place (wallet, desk, glove compartment in your car) so that you can easily access it when the need arises. You can even take a picture of your plan and store it in your mobile phone, or save the phone numbers in your contacts list. This is a simple commitment to yourself to navigate stress safely and to remind yourself that seeking help—whether through a friend, peer, leader or professional resource—can help you emerge from adversity stronger and more resilient than before. Be sure to update your plan every few months so that you’re not just ready for stress during the 101 days of summer, but all year long.

May 18-24 is National Prevention Week

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s (SAMHSA) “National Prevention Week” is right around the corner. Observed from May 18 – 24, this annual public health initiative is aimed at increasing awareness of mental health issues and substance abuse issues through community-centered approaches. While this week is used to promote public awareness and support, National Prevention Week was developed based on the concept that “effective prevention… requires consistent action.” It’s an all hands evolution, all of the time. This is a great opportunity for you, your shipmates and families to tie in the many ways we can come together to support each other and prevent destructive behavior, engaging the theme “Our Lives. Our Health. Our Future.” Each day, SAMHSA will highlight a new topic according to the following calendar.

May 18: Prevention and Cessation of Tobacco Use

May 19: Prevention of Underage Drinking

May 20: Prevention of Prescription Drug Abuse and MarijuanaUse

May 21: Prevention of Alcohol Abuse

May 22: Prevention of Suicide

May 23: Promotion of Mental Health

Visit SAMHSA online for National Prevention Week engagement ideas. You could organize a health fair supporting the daily topics or promote prevention awareness on your command’s Facebook page using SAMHSA’s messages. Even individual action promotes solidarity. Take the Prevention Pledge on Facebook and encourage your shipmates to do the same. Templates are also available online for the “I Choose” project—a great opportunity for individual or group engagement. Just take a photo of yourself or a group of your shipmates holding up an “I Choose” sign personalized with your message promoting healthy choices to prevent destructive behavior.

Navy’s 21st Century Sailor Programs have myriad resources to support your local efforts. Visit Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Navy Suicide Prevention, and Navy Operational Stress Control online for downloadable tools and information. For more resources, including Tobacco Cessation information, visit Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s Health Promotion and Wellness site.