A breath of fresh air

Positive thoughts, sayings and phrases are displayed on the reception desk at Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston medical clinic, Aug. 28, 2014.

Positive thoughts, sayings and phrases are displayed on the reception desk at Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston medical clinic, Aug. 28, 2014.

Being a part of a military organization can be stressful. Coast Guard men and women deal with dangerous, high tempo, real-life evolutions on a daily basis. Whether it is a search-and-rescue case, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief or vessel inspections, the atmosphere we operate in is inherently stressful.

According to a 2012 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, more than one quarter of military personnel reported suffering from significant work stress and a significant number of these individuals suffered serious emotional distress.

But, there are ways we can combat these stresses and one solution in particular has caught on like wildfire at Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston.

As you walk into the sector medical clinic you can’t help but notice a small basket filled with colorful pieces of paper with a sign overhead saying ‘please take one.’ These neatly folded papers contain positive quotes, thoughts and phrases, geared toward getting Coast Guard men and woman through their day and hopefully brighten and encourage them.

It all started with Dr. Doris Forte, the optometrist at the sector medical center, who began printing out positive affirmations back in 2001 for her private practice and then brought the idea to the sector.

“When we moved to the new building in March, I decided to bring them here,” said Forte. “First, I just put a little bowl of positive thoughts in the break room and I noticed it created that same cheer and atmosphere as it did at my private practice. I knew we were onto something and then I put some in the reception area and something very funny happened, nobody touched them. I figured out what it was, the military is so disciplined; someone had to invite them to take one. So I just wrote a little sign saying, ‘please take one’ and now I have to refill it several times a day.”

Dr. Doris Forte offers positive affirmations to her patients at the Sector Houston-Galveston medical clinic, Aug. 28, 2014.

Dr. Doris Forte offers positive affirmations to her patients at the Sector Houston-Galveston medical clinic, Aug. 28, 2014.

Forte believes that the positive affirmations give us permission to connect with joy. What began as only a few quotes of positivity has grown to more than 30 pages of positive sayings that are printed and reprinted for daily refills.

“To me it was really important to put them here, because what we do is a very serious job,” said Forte. “When you’re in the military, it’s not always very positive. Just interjecting that moment and the process of unfolding that paper and reading and then it’s positive. It makes a difference; I’ve never seen anybody not be happy about it.”

Forte, who has been an optometrist since 1976, is no stranger to military life. She first came into the Navy as an officer and was in the Navy for three years.

“I don’t think it’s silly and I don’t think it’s a waste of time to focus on something that’s positive. We spend so much time focusing on things that are stressful and negative. It takes just as much time to focus on something that’s positive,” said Forte.

“A lot of people look forward to them,” said Chief Petty Officer Eric Taylor, the sector clinic supervisor. “They are like a breath of fresh air.”

“I think it’s safe to say that words are very powerful,” said Lt. Ken Espinosa, the chaplain at Sector Houston-Galveston. “In our jobs we’re trained to look with a critical eye, whether it is while inspecting a ship or conducting a rescue – and that can sometimes lead us to thinking negatively rather than positively.”

Espinosa says that the majority of his counseling sessions are more often than not directly tied to some type of stressor.

With our day-to-day stressors at an all time high, focusing on the positive can be the difference between a good day or bad day, productive day or a non-productive day and the positive affirmations have proved helpful to members in and around the sector.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Madison Renfro, a health service technician at the Sector Houston-Galveston medical clinic opens and reads her positive thought of the day, Aug. 28, 2014

Petty Officer 3rd Class Madison Renfro, a health service technician at the Sector Houston-Galveston medical clinic opens and reads her positive thought of the day, Aug. 28, 2014

“Sometimes you’re having a rough day and you grab one and it brightens you up, like the one I just read about an onion relating to life, its takes you away for a moment and you giggle and it’s a fun helpful way to get through the day,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Madison Renfro, a health service technician at the sector. “I know some people especially can be stressed out coming to medical, but they come and get a little pick-me-up; it’s a cool thing.”

Renfro admits she’ll go to the break room or reception area just for a positive thought.

“I believe that the essences of us as human beings is joy, but that getting through the daily management of things we get so bogged down that we don’t even think about it,” said Forte. “But, that moment that it takes you to unfold the paper and read it, gives you that second to connect with who you really are and it’s a joyous thing. That’s what I think works about it.”

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