Category Archives: Tools

Alcohol’s Impact on your Ability to Navigate Stress

This month marks the first anniversary of Navy’s flagship responsible drinking campaign, Keep What You’ve Earned, and Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse KWYE_2Prevention wants to get a “pulse check” on how you believe attitudes and behaviors toward drinking in the Navy have changed since the campaign’s launch.

This may lead you to ask… what are your beliefs and attitudes when it comes to ‘popping a cold one’ at the end of a stressful day or week?

Some may think that having an extra beer or glass of wine to unwind from a stressful day or drinking excessively with friends at the end of a challenging week may seem like ways to ‘release,’ but the reality is that using alcohol to navigate stress can lead to a dangerous situation.

Not only does alcohol impact your physical health, but it can take a toll on your psychological and emotional wellness if consumed irresponsibly or in excess. Additionally, abusing alcohol in response to stress may spiral into social withdrawal, anger or rage, and decreased inhibitions—which may increase suicide risk.

Though alcohol may seem to help you loosen up, using it to navigate stress can lead to long term impacts on your physical and psychological health including addictive or destructive behavior. Stress induces the body’s “fight or flight” response, providing rapid energy in order to handle threats. Thus, when we’re unable to respond to these challenges adaptively, we may make unhealthy choices to ease the tension.

Instead of alcohol, utilize your sense of controllability to focus your body and mind on positive measures to counter stress. Physical activity can help your body re-regulate hormones to help you think clearly and unwind.If you enjoy the company of others, go for a run with a few shipmates or get in a good workout. Passive activities like listening to music, reading, and meditation can also produce a sense of calm so that you can refocus on positive solutions and regain a sense of control.

The bottom line is that alcohol will not help you decrease your stress level long-term. Rather it can jeopardize everything you’ve worked hard for, particularly if use turns into abuse, or you make just one irresponsible decision like getting behind the wheel after drinking. After all, You’ve Earned It, Don’t Waste It!

For tips on responsible drinking, click here. If you think you may be struggling with alcohol, contact your local Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program. To participate in the anonymous Keep What You’ve Earned survey, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KWYE.

Bonus: Click here to watch the latest Keep What You’ve Earned Profile on Senior Chief Brian Wenzel. Sharing your story is one everyday way we can build a sense of community and promote awareness.

What’s Next? Navigating Transitions, Pt. 4

Though we recognize their strength, resilience and contribution every day, each April our Armed Forces and the entire nation honors military kids with the milchildMonth of the Military Child.

It’s often said that military children serve right alongside their parents. They endure many of the same transitions: navigating separation during deployment (or geo-bachelor tours), adapting to life when that parent leaves and returns home, frequent moves, making new friends, adjusting to new surroundings, and more. Though they tend to keep a smile on our faces and often help positively shape others’ perspectives, sometimes it’s difficult to determine how children are processing the latest changes in their lives—even the familiar ones (like moving!). The presence of protective factors can help lessen the negative effects of stress on children and families alike, building family resilience. Help your kids and family apply the 5 Principles of Resilience (Predictability, Controllability, Relationships, Trust and Meaning) to thrive through transition periods with these quick tips:

  • Connect with the community (Relationships). Helping your kids get involved in social and extracurricular activities will lessen the stress of making new friends and getting acclimated with a new place, while providing a positive environment for expression. Social activities and peer connections can also be confidence-builders; military kids are often admired by their peers for their adaptability, sacrifice, and the “cool places” they’ve lived. A sense of belongingness is important!
  • Explore their feelings (Predictability, Controllability, Trust). There are a lot of unknowns with deployments and PCS moves alike. Sit down with your children and explore their apprehensions. Making a plan for communication when a parent will be in a different location, teaching them about their new community and having open discussions can help kids regain a sense of control and promote trust. Get them excited about their upcoming changes while letting them know what to expect. They’re more likely to adjust better to their new phase of life, and you’ll have more peace of mind.
  • Set an example (Meaning). Kids look up to their parents in challenging times, but that doesn’t mean you have to be superhuman! It’s important to show children that life’s changes bring new opportunities and that setbacks are only temporary. Help them see the positives, while trying to remain level-headed. Lean on the support of friends and family, faith or laughter as medicine for stress relief. This will help your children learn positive ways to navigate stress and find greater meaning in life’s twists and turns.

Most importantly, remind your kids that you admire their strength. Thank them and tell them you love them. Whether facing a change or navigating daily life, nurturing and affection are important protective factors at all times. Salute your Military Child!

Tools for Healthy Eating, Barracks Style

A balanced diet is an essential part of preserving our mission readiness and ability to thrive in our personal lives and careers. Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, the OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. He has nearly 10 years of experience in counseling thousands of service members and their families on nutrition and health-related issues, having delivered close to 600 nutrition-related lectures to more than 20 commands and institutions across the DoD.  With a passion for promoting nutritional awareness to enhance health and quality of life for individuals and populations, Lt. Cmdr. Sood hopes to offer simple and practical ways to maintain healthy eating practices 365 days a year.  He is a firm believer in the phrase “food is medicine,” and that every individual should embrace this idea to help them think about food as a therapeutic agent, thus leading to food choices that are beneficial rather than detrimental to overall health.

- NavyNavStress.com note

barracks

For those who live in the barracks, dining options may seem limited to a repetitive menu of sandwiches, TV dinners and ramen noodles. It doesn’t have to be that way! These days many foods can be prepared without a stovetop or traditional oven, taking the stress out of creating tasty meals in the barracks while keeping your weight in check.

March is Navy Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Enjoy the taste of eating right.” Whether you’re seeking the comfort of a home-cooked meal or just trying to make the best of affordable microwave-cooking, the following simple tips incorporating the 5 Principles of Resilience can help you eat healthy, “barracks style.”

  • Plan Ahead. Make good use of the available space in your room, shelves, locker, refrigerator, and/or freezer, and always have them stocked with healthy meal and snack options.  This will encourage you to eat what you have on hand and prevent you from eating out too often.
  • Build a Sense of Community. Make meal plans with your friends, neighbors, and roommates. Eating together creates a community support system to enhance and maintain healthy eating habits. If you enjoy dining out with others, just work it into your weekly routine.  Reserving eating out for social occasions helps to maintain a healthy body and budget.  Opt for healthier menu items like steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted choices, and limit the fried stuff. Request gravy, sauces, and dressings on the side.  A good practice is to share a meal or take half home.
  • Don’t Just Rely on Premade Meals! With a little planning, you can still enjoy whole foods, even with limited refrigerator or storage space. Before your next grocery trip, make sure your list includes a variety of shelf-stable foods from each food group:
    • Grains: Look for cereals or granola bars with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and few ingredients—read the labels! For a hot breakfast or snack with minimal prep, opt for instant oatmeal, cream of wheat or brown rice. Whole wheat or whole grain bread, tortillas, pita bread, and crackers are nutritious snack or sandwich options.
    • Vegetables: Fresh, canned, or frozen, you can still get your veggies in with minimal prep!
    • Fruits: Choose fruit cups or fruit canned in its own juice or water (vice “heavy syrup”) to avoid added sugar, or opt for dried fruit.
    • Dairy: Choose low fat cheese or yogurt with minimal ingredients on the label. Try plain yogurt topped with your own fresh or dried fruit for added flavor.
    • Protein: Explore quick options like tuna packets, fat free chicken breast canned in water, nuts, nut butters, canned beans, or Greek yogurt
      • Choose low sodium canned and packaged foods with less than 480mg per serving on label
    • Healthy Oils: Top off your salad or sandwich with olive oil, oil-based salad dressings, low fat mayonnaise, hummus, or spreadable butter alternatives made with plant oils. Look for a greater amount of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats and limit saturated and trans fats.
  • Get Creative with Your Equipment. Microwaving doesn’t have to mean under or unevenly cooked meals. Use ceramic, heat-resistant glass or BPA-free microwaveable plastics, and incorporate tools like a microwavable plastic folding omelet pan or vegetable steamer. Be sure to rotate food often for optimal taste and even cooking. If you’re looking for more variety, try using a toaster, electric grill, rice cooker, or toaster oven (with the option to toast, bake, or broil).
  • Watching your weight?  Use an online tool like https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/ to calculate how many calories you need to lose, maintain, or gain weight and divide your calories into three meals per day.  For example, if you need 1800-2000 calories daily, then strive for 600-700 calories per meal.  Focus on heart-healthy, nutrient-dense foods from each food group.

Visit the “Eaters” link on the Navy Nutrition website for more resources on grocery shopping, meal planning, and healthy stress-free eating, barracks style!

Good Nutrition can Keep you Healthy from the Neck Up, too

We often think of fueling our bodies with the right foods to achieve optimal performance as warfighters, and of course to manage our weight and overall waisthealth. The benefits of proper nutrition don’t stop there though. Healthy eating habits not only help you stay fit from the neck down, but from the neck up. As we recognize Navy Nutrition Month throughout March, get the skinny on keeping your mind and body nourished, and “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.”

Combatting stress with a good diet doesn’t start once your conscience kicks in after that second helping of your go-to comfort food, but should be a proactive and ongoing effort. Research shows that people are more likely to select food for taste over nutritional value—but nutritious and delicious foods are easier to find than you may think.

Did you know omega-3 fatty acids have been found to aid in the prevention of stress through their essential role in brain biochemistry?  Rather than experimenting with the unknowns of nutritional supplements (that do not require approval from the Food and Drug Administration), go for naturally-occurring sources of omega-3s. Salmon, eggs and lean meats are excellent—and tasty—suppliers of these vital nutrients and each help you incorporate more protein into your diet, the healthy way.

Why protein to reduce stress? Protein supplies the brain with amino acids, helping to promote healthy brain function through the steady creation of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that carry and regulate signals throughout the body).  Quality protein can be found in a variety of sources, not just meat and dairy products. Try pairing your salmon with a side of black beans, or reach for a handful of raw almonds instead of going for the cookies when you’re stressed.

And then there’s sugar. We all know that tense situations and stress can lead to cravings, particularly for sugar. While glucose is essential for our bodies to function, our body’s sugar supply needs to be slow and steady for good performance. Added sugar can cause your glucose levels to spike, then fall rapidly, thus intensifying cravings and impacting alertness and decision-making abilities, so avoid those peaks and valleys from sources such as sugary drinks, sweet desserts or additives. To find balance, incorporate more of your favorite complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and fruits, to satisfy your sweet tooth, while allowing yourself to have small portions versus the “cold turkey” route. Try a banana and peanut butter sandwich – a healthy, sweet, delicious and protein-packed alternative to your vending machine favorites.

Hungry for more? During the month of March and throughout the year, the Navy has a buffet of resources to support making healthy choices every day. Check out our feature in All Hands Magazine for more tips, and visit Navy Nutrition and Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center to help you incorporate the nutrients you need to stay fit from the neck down—and up.

Laughter is good medicine for stress relief! Navy Operational Stress Control and Suicide Prevention would like to thank cartoonist Jeff Bacon for his continued support.

What’s Next? Navigating Transitions Pt. 2

Whether it’s welcomed or unexpected, change isn’t always easy—but it’s always Transitions2an opportunity for growth. Zeroing in on the present may help you avoid stress and keep you focused on the mission at hand, but that avoidance may become a normal practice on and off the job, especially when facing a major transition. Perhaps you’ll be leaving your current command for an upcoming PCS, IA deployment, or for other reasons; or you’re facing retirement or leaving the Navy. Even in unfamiliar situations, Controllability and Predictability can help you navigate new waters and thrive in your next phase of service or life.

One way to gain a sense of control and prepare for any transition is to start making connections and networking. If you’re going to PCS, think of someone that you can reach out to when things get stressful. Give him or her a heads up that you’ll be moving and ask if they will help you get connected within your new community. The Sponsor Program can also help you and your family get linked into your new unit and community, while your local Relocation Assistance Program can help simplify your move.

Sailors who aren’t in transition can help those who are by checking on that person regularly to see how things are going. They’ll appreciate a trusted friend having their back, and your perspective might help them get a better grasp on what lies ahead. Leaders can help as well. Send personal introductory letters or emails to a new check-in’s family and ask about their specific needs or questions. Building that relationship early on will help families feel comfortable speaking up if they have concerns about their Sailor that leadership may not otherwise detect. A supportive and welcoming command environment can help ease the transition process.

Proactive preparation can also help reinforce a sense of control and predictability. Whether you’re a first timer or a pro at deployments, planning is crucial to help you and your family manage logistics and shape expectations in advance. The excitement of coming home can be stressful as well, especially with the change in pace when reintegrating back into family life. Check out this Real Warriors feature for tips to consider when reconnecting with family and friends.

Perhaps the most anxiety-producing transition is preparing for life after the Navy. Navy’s Transition GPS can help with pre-separation questions. You can also take proactive measures, like learning how to “de-militarize your resume,” in order to take some of the stress out of the next phase in life. Speaking with friends who have already retired or separated and are thriving in their new careers can also ease anxiety—and help get you connected.

With any change, the Relationships you build will help carry you through life’s challenges. Having the support of others, controlling what you can and preparing for the predictable can help take the stress out of the next chapter.  Remember, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” —Charles Darwin