Better health through relationships

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- People are affected by other people. It is, in part, up to us, whether or not our relationships will be construed as healthy or harmful.

Because we are socially integrated within the military, it is to our benefit to develop quality relationships that positively affect our behavior. As Air Force Reservists, with limited time working together once each month, this task may be more challenging for us than our active duty Air Force counterparts.

Think about it, you could operate with the mindset of functioning within parameters of a military norm for only two days of every month. But let me challenge your thinking, perhaps it would be to each member's advantage to exceed that expectation. This can be done by learning about those you interact with on a level that allows you to know more than just the military side of the people you work with. Learn about what makes them tick. Get to know their likes are their dislikes. What are their strengths? How about their opportunities for growth? Supervisors, it is definitely in your best interest to know your people!

Just a word to supervisors and those who are supervised within the military culture (this should include everyone)--supervisors cannot read your mind. I believe it is acceptable, sometimes even necessary, to talk with your supervisor. Supervisors, it is in your best interest to listen to what is being said as well as in what context it is being shared. I highly encourage this practice with those I supervise. Maintain respect. Tell them what you need so you establish a relationship that sets you up for success.

Supervisors may not always agree with you, but they may be looking at the situation from greater years of experience and previous learning opportunities. Tell them what you need, and let them guide you. At the end of the day, you are ultimately responsible for your own military career. And, if you have a trusted relationship with your supervisor, this can be mutually beneficial.

Quality relationships have the potential to bring us improved behavioral health.

"Many types of scientific evidence show that involvement in social relationships benefits health." (Umberson, D., Montez, J., Journal of Health and Social Behavior, "Social Relationships and Health," Nov. 2010, Vol. 1, No. 51, suppl. S54 - S66.)

This can be evident in our behaviors. If you belong to an organization that promotes smoking, excessive consumption of food and alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle, and drug use, how do you think that lifestyle would affect the members in that circle? Conversely, if you belong to an organization that promotes exercise, good nutrition, limited intake of alcohol, smoking cessation, and no drug use, those behaviors surely promote a more positive effect on those members.

An optimal scenario within our military circles is that because of an association with the military, we hope to gradually impart a sense of responsibility and concern for others that then leads members to engage in behaviors that protect the health of others, as well as their own. Social ties can provide information and model behaviors that further influence health habits. Thus, social ties may provide a connecting link to influence health habits that in turn affect physical health and mortality.

When you consider the element of social support, there are times during each Unit Training Assembly weekend that can be stressful. What if you were socially connected to someone in your unit or peer group who could help you reduce the impact of your stressors? The emotional support could be of benefit. In addition, social connections could foster a sense of meaning or purpose in life.

In addition to emotional health, keeping healthy social ties can contribute to our physical health. Healthy social ties have the potential to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones.

I believe that if we foster healthy social ties, we can reap the benefits of improved behavioral health, emotional health, and physical health. Unhealthy social ties can lead to negative outcomes. The healthy behaviors we foster during our military weekends can make us better citizens on our civilian jobs during the other days of the month as well.

What are you doing to promote healthy relationships within your unit?