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What West Point Graduates Can Teach Us About Stress and Resilience

In May 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Melissa Thomas graduated Yale School of Medicine and immediately started work in the Emergency Department of Yale New Haven Hospital. She quickly noticed similarities between her new job and her two deployments to Iraq as a U.S. Army Medical Service Corps officer.

“Relying on teamwork, having strong bonds with people going through these experiences with you at the same time — that’s very similar,” Thomas said. “It’s why I was drawn to emergency medicine.”

But high stress can also have negative consequences for mental health, even among highly trained and experienced health care providers. To explore how to promote psychological resilience and prevent negative health outcomes among such individuals, Dr. Thomas investigated the long-term physical and mental health risks and resilience of her fellow graduates from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was the first study to focus on graduates and consider gender differences in these topic areas since the elite institution’s integration of women in 1980. It earned Dr. Thomas the William U. Gardner Prize for the most outstanding thesis in her graduating class.

Now published in the peer-reviewed journal Chronic Stress, the study surveyed 1,342 graduates from the classes of 1980-2011 to collect sociodemographic information and data on self-reported physical and mental health behaviors and conditions as well as details of their military service. Women’s Health Research at Yale Director Carolyn M. Mazure, PhD, and Dr. Robert Pietrzak, director of the Translational Psychiatric Epidemiology Laboratory in the Clinical Neurosciences Division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, served as Dr. Thomas’ mentors on her medical school thesis and published the Chronic Stress paper with her. Other authors include Dr. Steven Southwick at Yale, Dr. Dana Nguyen of the Uniformed Services University, and Dr. Diane Ryan of Tufts University.

After applying statistical models developed by Dr. Pietrzak, Dr. Thomas found that increased psychological resilience in the graduates was associated with a higher sense of purpose in life, social connectedness, and grit, which is defined as “perseverance and passion for pursuing long-term goals.”

“A lot of research on stress and trauma focuses on negative outcomes,” Thomas said. “But by focusing on successful resilience we can learn a lot about how to build prevention strategies.”

Notably, greater time in military service correlated with higher resilience for women but had little correlation for men. The authors suggest this apparent difference in resilience for women remaining in the service might be due to the relative reduction in resilience for those goal-oriented women trained at West Point who leave the service. This latter group may leave paid work in the process of raising a family or pursue a non-military career, and in so doing feel a reduction in their purpose in life or find difficulty adapting to male-dominated fields without the structure and stability of military formalities.

“There are many ways that people can build their mental health and prevent negative health outcomes,” Thomas said. “With this new research, can see the importance of enhancing purpose in life, social connectedness, and even grit to improve the capacity for resilience in the face of stress or trauma.”

Kate Hudson shares how fitness fuels her mental health: ‘If I’m not active, if I’m not moving, I don’t feel good at all’

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

There are many words to describe Kate Hudson — she’s an actress, a mom, a podcaster and a brand founder — but perhaps the most fitting word at the moment is simply busy. After all, Hudson — most recently seen in the juicy Apple TV+ series Truth Be Told — has a very big life. The daughter of Goldie Hawn and stepfather Kurt Russell balances spending time with her tight-knit family with her many projects, but when she does have a free moment, it’s rarely to sit still.

As Hudson tells Yahoo Life, she craves movement, be that a dancing session in her bathroom or a gravity-defying workout routine.


That’s why she needs a diet plan that works for her — which is what WW, the brand she’s been an ambassador for since 2018, can provide, thanks to its recently launched system of PersonalPoints. The program, which Hudson says helped her find balance, includes activity targets — ideal for someone like Hudson, who calls herself a "frustrated athlete."

Here, Hudson explains what wellness means to her, and why sometimes a girls’ night out is better self-care than anything else.

You became a WW ambassador in 2018. What made you interested in partnering with the company?

Mindy [Grossman], the CEO of WW, came to me. My mom had done it before when she was pregnant, but I hadn’t really done it before. Mindy said, “Try it, and get back to me.” So I did, and I was like, “How do people not know what this is?” First of all, I lost weight immediately, which is what everyone who is looking into this initially wants to do. But what I loved about it was how supportive the program was, and how thorough it is. For me, it just felt like, what a great partnership. People are always asking me, “What can I do?” And if you weren’t raised with the tools, it’s hard. You don’t know the best way for you to get strong, whether that’s mentally or physically. I just fell in love with the program and the science behind it and how well it works. I’ve been doing the partnership for years and I continue to use it. It just works.

How did your family help you embrace a healthy lifestyle?

When you grow up with actors for parents, it’s a very disciplined craft, especially if you’re an actor who really cares about what you’re doing, like my parents. I watched them be almost like athletes preparing for their roles. Whether it be how active they were, whatever the role entailed, they had to physically and mentally prepare for those things. When you see parents really care about their health and doing things right, it becomes what you know.

I feel really lucky that I have a supportive family through the ups and downs of life. Not everyone has a family as close and connected as we are, and that’s a huge part of my overall wellness. I think mostly, my mom and my dad have always loved being active. That was the biggest thing for me. More so than food — we love our food, we love our cocktails and we enjoy all aspects of life. But we’re very active, and that’s what keeps our mental health really stable. That’s why I love WW, because they encourage the fit points. They want you to stay active. It’s about your sleep, your fitness — it’s motivating you to take care of those things.

Your brother, Oliver Hudson, opened up about his own battle with anxiety for The Unwind. What was your reaction to him being so open about his struggles?

I really admire him for his openness on the subject. I think people sit with anxiety and they don’t talk about it, and it’s so common. We’re living in a time that’s exasperating anxiety. We’re living in an anxious time that’s really affecting people, especially young people. I notice it with my son, and the young people around him. I admire that Oliver is like, “Hey, this is what’s happening, and this is what I’m doing about it.” It makes people feel like they can go get help. They can have a sense of humor about it.

Oliver has really hardcore panic attacks, and I think the thing that you learn is that you need a holistic approach to anxiety. If you need medication, it’s going to a doctor and seeing a professional for guidance. There’s also activity, what you eat. It’s a huge part of how our brain functions, and how it can function, for better or worse. Food is what speaks to the rest of our system. If we’re not putting good things into our body, our body is going to shut down. All of these things matter. Turning off your phone, doing a digital cleanse. I think we should be doing that more. Getting off social media. Taking those breaks are really important. Remembering to look up and connect is a huge part of our mental health.

What does self-care mean to you?

For women, we need to tune in for ourselves. Self-care may be sitting at a wall for three minutes by ourselves. For women, especially — and I can only speak to women because I am a woman — we manage so much. We manage not only the practical side of things, but the emotional side of things, as well. It doesn’t mean there aren’t men who do the same things, but for women, it’s ingrained in us. We have to manage the emotional needs, often while also having careers and being the breadwinner. We have to be everything to everyone.

Those moments, to me, when I want to take care of myself, I have to tune in. It’s different every time. I try to listen to myself, because I think every woman understands when they’ve had it and are at the end of their rope. When that moment happens, it’s usually because we’re not doing things for ourselves. That happened to me last night, and I went to dinner with my friends. I had a crying toddler who was like, “Mommy don’t go,” and it was terrible and hard, but I had to do that. And you know what? It filled my soul. You just have to tune in what you need in the moment.

How does your fitness routine fit into your overall well-being?

Fitness, for me, is my number one. I grew up dancing and moving. Kelly Ripa and I had a funny conversation one time, where we both called ourselves “frustrated athletes.” Growing up, whether it was dance or soccer or volleyball, I loved it. If I’m not active, if I’m not moving, I don’t feel good at all. I literally came home from my dinner last night, and I hadn’t really moved, so I just did some weird dance moves in the bathroom. I needed to get my energy flowing and things moving.

To me, my mental health and stability can be very tied to how active I have been. It truly changes my brain. When I’m done working out, I just feel a thousand times better. It’s why I started [fitness clothing brand] Fabletics. It doesn’t mean you have to be some great athlete or gym shark. To me, it could be going for a walk. They’re showing all this amazing research about people who walk all the time. The areas where people live the longest, they just walk. They walk to everything.

I see fitness as being active, not like being some sort of Olympian. As an expression, when we ride our bikes, when we hike, when we get into nature, when we dance, all of those things connect us to something outside of ourselves. It kind of lifts your spirit, on top of the science of fitness. It connects you to what’s outside of yourself. When you get too caught up in your own ego, it’s nice to see how small we are compared to all the other things in the world.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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