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  • Benefits of Mindfulness: Push-ups for the Brain

    Soldiers walking on patrol in Afghanistan
    U.S. Army soldiers patrol an area near the village of Kowtay, Khost province, Afghanistan. Clinical experts express that mindfulness can improve soldiers' ability to stay focused during tasks such as walking patrol. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

    Throughout childhood, you likely were told to: “Mind your manners” or “Mind your own business.” In other words, for your own good, whether that’s avoiding a reprimand or a fist fight, pay attention to yourself or what you’re doing. Now, we’re starting to realize that having the mental discipline to pay attention to what we’re doing has benefits well beyond saving face.

    In recent years, mental discipline has taken on new meaning in the context of “mindfulness,” a meditative practice gaining ground with mental health advocates. It’s described as exercises for the brain to encourage being in the present moment, focusing on the task, and not letting the mind wander. Service members practicing mindfulness may find it also helps reduce stress and anxiety and suppress distressing or distracting thoughts, which can translate to improved performance on and off the battlefield and overall mental health. Meditation alone is said to change the structure and function of the brain to encourage concentration and lower stress.

    Practitioners of mindfulness use varying techniques to achieve those ends but seem to agree that breathing and concentration are keys. By being more attentive to your breathing and concentrating on the present, experts say you’re not allowing emotionally upsetting memories, such as unpleasant flashbacks of combat, to cause a reaction. In other words, the practice helps you gain control of your emotions.

  • Helping Military Parents Build Stronger Families

    Service member helps five-year-old boy try on a flak jacket
    U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo

    Dr. Pam Murphy is a licensed psychologist at National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), and the Defense Department program lead for “Parenting for Service Members and Veterans.” This new online resource from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs provides military parents tools and exercises to strengthen their parenting skills and help them reconnect with their children. Many of the techniques offered are specifically tailored to address the unique challenges of military life.

    “Maria has gotten into the habit of whining. She’ll whine about wanting to watch TV longer, not having anyone to play with, and being denied candy at the grocery store. When Dad is away, Mom usually gives in — it’s just too much trouble to say no.”

    Sound familiar? Being a parent and having kids has many rewards, but some days you may wonder! Add in family separations, finances, household chores, moves, deployments, new schools and trying to fulfill some personal goals, and the quest to be a “good parent” may at times feel overwhelming.

  • Warrior Resilience Conference: Content from Virtual Event Still Available Online

    Service member camouflaged in the grass
    U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder
    While the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury frequently hosts webinars, the recent fifth annual Warrior Resilience Conference hosted in August was the center’s first large-scale virtual conference. There were more than 1,200 registered participants.

    Subject matter experts from across the country examined the relationship between physical and psychological resilience with presentations on the factors of sleep and fatigue, nutrition, exercise, family resilience, the role of chaplains in mental health care, posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

    Military health care providers, chaplains, academicians, and key leaders in the military and Department of Veterans Affairs health care system, presented their materials on a virtual stage, projecting the look and feel of a traditional conference environment with live audience polling, networking and exhibit hall features. Facilitated chat sessions gave participants opportunities to interact with presenters in question and answer chats.

  • Depression is Treatable: Take This Online Screening Today

    Close-up of a woman's face
    After a traumatic car accident, Tech Sgt. Ashley Barnett suffered from chronic back pain which led to depression. After recovering, Barnett said she felt it was important to share her experiences and let others know there are resources available to aid the recovery process. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin)

    Today is National Depression Screening Day. If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, visit Military Pathways to take a free, anonymous, online self-assessment for common mental health conditions such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. These conditions are treatable, and a self-assessment is not only easy but can be the first step you take toward getting the help you need. Learn more about depression and its symptoms from the below blog post we’re revisiting by Dr. James Bender.

    Depression has been referred to as “both the common cold and cancer of health care.” It’s like the common cold in that it can affect anyone at any time (depression affects approximately 14.8 million American adults annually). It’s like cancer because it can be deadly. Take, for example, someone who is clinically depressed and commits suicide. Depression also increases the chances of someone experiencing a heart attack.

  • Combat Stress vs. PTSD: How to Tell the Difference

    A wife and husband hug
    Army Spc. Jessie Nelson hugs her husband, Matt, on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Nelson and about 230 soldiers returned home after an eight-month deployment to Afghanistan.
    (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth)

    This blog post is from Navy Medicine Live, written by Cmdr. Carrie Kennedy, a neuropsychologist and aerospace experimental psychologist with Marine Corps Embassy Security Group. Kennedy describes the similarities and differences of combat stress and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to help you prevent or effectively manage both.

    It seems like the terms combat stress and PTSD are everywhere these days; it’s hard to go a few days without seeing a news story about veterans and these issues. But what are these concepts? Do they mean the same thing? And, perhaps most importantly, what can be done?

    Combat stress and PTSD are very different. However, because they share certain symptoms, you may not easily recognize that they’re different. It requires some understanding to separate the two. Unfortunately, sometimes they look similar, which can make understanding them somewhat complicated.