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.
In the conversation about health, wellness and performance, we often focus on managing our mental well-being, eating the right foods, and keeping on top of our workouts. It’s important to pay attention to your social fitness as well. In fact, the nature of your relationships with others—such as your partner, family, friends, co-workers, or fellow Coast Guard members—can impact other areas of your health for better or worse. The following information was provided by Ms. Sarah Steward who has a master’s in marriage and family therapy and is the family and relationship education specialist for the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC).
When your relationships are healthy, you’re likely to feel supported, accepted, and able to cope with stressors in other areas of your life. Also, those with good relationships tend to sleep better and rebound from injury, illness, and trauma quicker. In fact, having good friend and family relationships means you’re more likely to live longer! Your social network also can help you meet your fitness and nutrition goals by supporting you and keeping you accountable.
But if your relationships aren’t going so well, you’re more likely to be distracted and find it tough to focus on work. You may even feel lonely. Loneliness (or isolation) is linked with depression, poor cardiovascular health, a weakened immune system and sleep problems. And unfortunately, these tense, high conflict or overly demanding relationships can cancel out any positive effects of having those social connections in the first place.
So, what can you do to make sure that your interactions with friends, family, and other coasties work for you rather than against you? The social fitness experts at the HPRC offer some useful tips to keep your interpersonal interactions in tip-top shape.
- Start with you. When it comes to your relationships, remember that you’re a major part of the equation. It’s crucial to be able to recognize how and what you contribute to any positive or negative exchanges. Practice managing your feelings, so you can react and interact with others deliberately and thoughtfully, rather than in unhelpful, impulsive, or uncontrolled ways.
- Put in the time (and have fun doing it). With demanding and sometimes irregular schedules, it’s not always easy for Coast Guard members to find a way to spend quality time with friends and loved ones; but it’s critical to make friend and family time a priority to keep your relationships strong. Even if you can only carve out a little time once a week to play a game with your kids or make plans with friends once a month, try to add it into your routine. And remember to make it fun! In fact, try and have some fun in all your social and professional relationships—doing so can help build trust and cohesion.
- Keep it real. It’s essential to be authentic, genuine, and trustworthy. If you’re in a leadership role, being transparent and honest with your team can help improve teammates’ performance and their level of engagement. At home, building trust in your close relationships allows everyone to be more vulnerable, which builds solid bonds.
- Show you’re listening. Two of the most important communication skills to reduce conflict and maintain healthy relationships are being able to listen and show empathy. With empathy, you can tune into how someone feels and validate her or his experience, without necessarily agreeing. Good listeners repeat back what they heard and ask questions. Mind your body language too: put your phone down, make eye contact, uncross your arms, etc. Validation is a key skill across the board and is especially vital in your communications with your partner, co-workers, and family members.
- Be the excitement magnifier. It can be easy to forget that relationships are built during the good times, not just by being there in tough times. The way you react when others share good news with you can either strengthen or damage your relationships. When a friend, coworker, or family member shares good news, try to consciously share in their excitement and help him or her leave the conversation as, or even more, thrilled. Remember to act interested, avoid focusing on problems, and hold off on comparing your experiences to theirs.
- When it breaks, fix it. Relationships aren’t perfect, so there will certainly be times when conflict occurs or problems arise. That’s OK! Focus on making it through those conflicts without hurting your relationship and fixing things when you both have calmed down. For example, if things get heated with your spouse or partner, take a break from the conversation. When things have cooled, be sure to actively make a repair. Avoid ignoring the issue and assuming it’s passed. Instead, focus on accountability, validation, and making an effective apology.
Try these tips to keep your social-support network strong, which will help you stay emotionally, mentally, and even physically fit, so you can perform at your best. To learn more ways to improve your social fitness or other aspects of human performance optimization, visit HPRC’s website.