Coast Guard All Hands is featuring the monthly “Wellness Wednesday” series to help Coast Guard members learn more about healthy living. Blog author Tim Merrell is the Coast Guard’s Health Promotion Program Manager, a prior health services technician, has a bachelor’s degree in health education, and is a certified personal trainer. Please contact Timothy.M.Merrell@uscg.mil for topic recommendations or questions.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. The Coast Guard’s theme for this year is “Be there: your action could save a life.” Over 40,000 Americans die each year by suicide, and based on the Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Study, three percent of Coast Guard members have thought about attempting suicide.
Everyone experiences sadness and unexpected stressors: death, the loss of a job, or anything that causes unpleasantness in life. It is normal, to experience feelings of sadness and loss especially if we experience a life-altering event. What makes one person come back from a devastating set back, while somebody else feels the only option is to take their own life? Unfortunately, nobody knows the answer to that question, but a person’s resiliency seems to play a role in how an individual handles bad news.
There are some common practices that can improve a person’s resiliency:
- Positive outlook. A positive outlook will not only improve your mental health, it could also improve physical performance. A good way to reinforce mental outlook is to write down three things you are grateful for. This could be health-related, about a spouse, job, or children. A daily positive reinforcement exercise will be beneficial if life throws a curveball.
- Regular exercise. When you exercise, your body releases neurochemicals called endorphins. These endorphins react with receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain and elevate your mood. Typically 30 minutes of moderate exercise three to five times per week is all it takes to release these endorphins.
- Nutrition. Think of the human body like a machine. The fuel put into the body is food. The body performs better and is more apt to adapt to stress if it is running on high quality food. Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and some plant foods may help to stabilize mood swings and play a role in mental well-being. A good basic rule is to eat more fruits and vegetables and stay away from processed food.
- Sleep. Humans need sleep in order for the body to repair itself and get ready for the next day. This lack of rest affects every part of our lives, including mental health. For adults, the recommended amount of sleep is seven to eight hours per night. When we don’t get enough sleep, we are at risk for gaining weight, getting infections, chronic diseases, type-2 diabetes and heart disease. When we do not get enough sleep, it can increase our level of anxiety and depression. Sleep is needed to balance moods and emotions. Psychology Today recommends teenagers should be getting eight to 10 hours of sleep per day. The Pediatric Consensus Panel who made these recommendations found that sleeping fewer than this is associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems. In addition to these findings, lack of recommended amounts of sleep contribute to higher risk of self-harm and suicide attempts.
- Connect with someone. Supporting others and being supported by friends, family and coworkers is critical to health and well-being. Think about how you can be more empathetic and encouraging to those in your life. “Be there” in real ways for your fellow Coast Guardsmen and women and others in your family or communities. Ask to spend time with those you care about, or connect from a distance if needed. Share your appreciation for the relationship or friendship and commit to keeping the connection strong.
These suggestions are just a few things to improve overall resiliency. A more comprehensive list can be found on the Human Performance Resource Center. Try to make some of these changes for a healthier, more resilient you. Take care of yourself, and if you get to a point that you need some extra help, please do not hesitate to reach out and ask for help.