Meeting the Challenges of Stressful Life Events
Re•sil•ience (n): the ability to cope effectively with life challenges
Having supportive relationships, supporting an optimistic outlook, maintaining self confidence and keeping things in perspective assist in building resilience. A crucial step to building resilience is seeking assistance when needed. Help can come from family members, friends or peers, support groups, books, and helping professionals.
Strategies to build resilience include successfully navigating stress, time management, and enhancing one's problem-solving capability.
Navigating stress begins with the Sailor learning to recognize their personal signs of stress and to identify personal stressors. Plans can then be developed to either minimize the stressors or the adverse effects of the stressors. Stress and change are a part of living and inevitable; most crises are not insurmountable problems. Navigating stress includes strategies that also emphasize maintaining a healthy lifestyle which includes sufficient rest, good nutrition, regular exercise, and limited alcohol use.
Time management can be one of the skills developed to manage stress that involves identifying and prioritizing tasks. Strategies are then developed to efficiently complete high priority tasks, limiting distractions and overcoming procrastination. Techniques might include:
- Say no to time-wasting demands.
- Pace yourself.
- Build “safety zones” into schedules that are dedicated to priority activities that take longer than expected.
- See a task through to completion using a well thought out plan.
Problem-solving skills can be enhanced through a methodical approach to addressing problems. This method involves the following steps:
- Defining the problem and breaking it into realistic and manageable elements.
- Think of several solutions and evaluate the appropriateness of each solution.
- Weigh potential costs and benefits for the different proposed solutions.
- Put the solution into practice and evaluate the outcomes.
Anything that empowers individuals in those initial seconds after encountering challenges or threats to say to themselves, "Yes, I can handle this," will make them not only more effective in the performance of their jobs but also more resilient to the potentially damaging effects of life stressors.
- Necessary physical skills
- Physical strength and endurance
- Physical fitness and wellness
- Healthy brain control systems for staying calm
- Familiarity with the specific threat situation
- Necessary mental skills
- Self-knowledge and self-confidence
- Psychological wellness
- Willpower and fortitude
- Resources of fortitude from outside oneself
- Belief in the rightness of mission and actions
- Spiritual fitness
NAVY STRATEGIES FOR STRENGTHENING SAILORS AND COMMANDS
In recent years, specific tactics, techniques, and technologies have been developed to perform strengthening functions within each strategic category: training, cohesion, and leadership. The strategies available to military leaders in the 21st century to strengthen their Sailors.
Listed below are general principles for understanding and devising tactics for each strategy. This list is not exhaustive, as all leaders must develop unit or mission specific strengthening tactics, taking into account available resources.
The basic principles for training to promote resilience are to:
- Make training as realistic as possible so that personnel will have few surprises during deployment. Intense surprises can be the worst enemy of psychological health.
- Make training tough enough to push individuals to develop new skills without making it so tough they fail to master training challenges or to experience stress injuries in the training setting.
- Promote communication and trust both horizontally (peer to peer) and vertically (leader to subordinate) through shared hardships and programmed success.
For more information on training to promote resilience, see Training for Resilience Checklist (hyperlink to it).
Social cohesion joins a group together, resulting in collaboration and the ability to achieve more as a unit than they would individually. Social cohesion is created in all social groups in much the same way, whether that group is an explosive ordinance disposal unit, the crew of a ship, health care professionals taking care of acutely injured service members in a surgical hospital, or a family in the United States. Cohesion in a unit or group develops gradually through the interaction of the following factors:
- Familiarity , Communication, Trust, Respect, Loyalty, and Love
Social cohesion can be thought of as being a form of social wellness or unit fitness.
Potential Threats to Unit Cohesion
Just as physical or psychological health can be lost or diminished as a result of harmful events, unit cohesion can be lost or diminished as a result of specific social threats or challenges. To maintain healthy social cohesion, it is important for leaders to understand and recognize the following potential threats to the unit's cohesion and resilience of unit members:
- New accessions to the command, especially just prior to deployment
- Loss of command members during deployment, whether as casualties or for other reasons
- Turnover of unit members due to transfers shortly after a deployment
- Loss or turnover of leadership, especially just before or during a deployment
- Events during deployment with unexpected or adverse outcomes, especially if there is potential for blaming shipmates or leaders for the outcome
- Any violations in the command of ethics, rules of engagement or core values
- Hazing or other destructive behavior within the command
The final strategy for strengthening leadership is the most fundamental of all because the other strategies for strengthening Sailors and Marines depend on it for their success. There can be no training or unit cohesion without the direct and continuous involvement of leaders, but leadership can also directly strengthen Sailors and Marines for resilience through discipline, example of fortitude, clear communication, and the promotion of ethics.
For more information on leadership strategies for building and maintaining individual and command resilience, see the Operational Stress Control section (Five Core Leader Functions).
This checklist obtained from MCRP 6-11C/NTTP 1-15M, Combat and Operational Stress Control
- Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center Health Promotion Home Page Stress Management - Resiliency
- Naval Center Combat Operational Stress Control Resilience
- American Psychological Association - The Road to Resilience
- Marine Corps Reference Publication 6-11C/Navy Tactics Techniques and Procedures 1-15M, Combat and Operational Stress Control
- Relax, Relax Toolkit