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Social Fitness – Building Healthy Social Ties

picture of 2 men shaking hands

Photo by Defenseimagery.mil

“Social fitness” involves building and maintaining healthy connections with others.1 It plays an important role in supporting optimal performance and resilience. A warrior who is socially fit grows trusted and valued relationships with family, friends and fellow service members.2 Having a clear understanding of service values, the mission and its meaning is key in supporting healthy social networks. A socially fit warrior is able to engage in effective and respectful communication with others.3

Though each warrior uniquely expresses these traits and skills, the success at the end of the day is not about the individual – it is about the group.4 When a warrior, along with his or her fellow unit members, exhibits healthy social connections and behaviors, the unit thrives.1 The unit is the center of gravity of social fitness in the military. The stronger the unit is socially, the more resilient it is.4 Unit solidarity aside, individuals also benefit greatly from being socially fit. Social activity can help individuals relieve stress, build connections with others, and ease the strain of missing family and friends. The military offers many opportunities for getting involved in base and community activities, such as sports, music or volunteering with a service community program.

Social Fitness Tips

Each service has its own social programs and resources for families and communities. Find out from your Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program or base services coordinator, leader, chaplain or peers how to tap into the activities available to you – both while deployed and at home. You can also take these steps to build social strength:1,3

  • Know your personal strengths and which traits strengthen the character of those around you. Use those strengths to work well with others in a give and take manner. This can lead to good working relationships and strong friendships.
  • Communicate in a confident, clear, controlled and respectful way. Clearly express what you would like to say and then be sure to listen well to the other person.
  • Respond to others with constructive feedback. Criticism alone doesn’t help. Provide concrete suggestions and praise to others so they can strengthen their skills and excel. People can be motivated to do well when they know they are on the right track and that their efforts are appreciated.
  • While deployed, make sure to spend some of your downtime around others – even if it’s something as simple as playing a game of catch.
  • Look out for your friends. If you notice anyone isolating him or herself, try to draw that individual into group activities.
  • Take on leadership roles whenever possible. Building leadership skills is helpful at all stages of your military career and helpful in life outside the Service.
  • Reach out to others you think may need someone with whom to talk.

In short, being social helps build resilience.3 You will be able to be there for your unit to get the job done, and you will be resilient to cope well at home when the job is finished. And during those times when you need a hand, your efforts to strengthen your connections with others will pay off – you will have the support you need.

What Line Leaders Can Do

Line leaders can play a significant role in helping service members develop strong ties. They can foster a sense of camaraderie, encourage strong relationships through unit cohesion, as well as promote a clear understanding of the mission and its meaning. Check out these tips on how you can reinforce unit cohesion.  

As a leader, you can also spot problems early and intervene to prevent them from getting worse. If you see service members isolate themselves or withdraw from their buddies or unit, reach out to offer support. Isolation can be a sign of combat stress or other factors, such as relationship problems. Take note of these stressors as a leader and step in when someone shows signs that he or she may be struggling. It is important for line leaders to remain attentive and refer a service member to a chaplain, health care provider or other resource for more help if needed.  Get more tips on managing personnel under stress.

Additional Resources

Sources

1 DCoE in Action Vol.3/No.10, [PDF 3.72 MB] Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Published October 2010.
2 Novotney, Amy. “Strong in mind and body,” American Psychological Association. Published December 2009.
3  “Building Resilience,” [PDF 14 MB] Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, U.S. Army in Europe. Published December 15, 2010.
4  Ian Coulter, CPT Paul Lester and LTC Jeffrey Yarvis. “Social Fitness,” [PDF 5.4 MB] Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century, Supplement to Military Medicine-Volume 175. Published August 2010.
5 "Families and Friendships," afterdeployment.org. Last accessed June 27, 2013.

Last Reviewed: 06/14/13
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