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August 23, 2021 25 min

Listen as Tony Nash talks to Janell Hanf, athlete, mom, and US Marine Corps veteran, about lessons from the military and prioritizing one’s mental health.

One lesson from the military that she continues to practice this day is having the sense of personal accountability.

As a military officer who is responsible for anything that happens or does not happen to her team, she applies this belief in her own personal and professional life by being responsible, prioritizing time management, and keeping a planner, among others.

“We all have the same amount of time. It’s just how do we choose to use it?”

She spends a non-negotiable portion of her day, around 15 to 20 minutes, to assess and recalibrate.

On Prioritizing Mental Health

Janell opens up about the cumulative effects of stress and why we should seek help.

She recalls having a mental breakdown while working as a company commander. At the time, she did not know it for what it was, as she thought she was physically ill and just needed to take a brief break. She had non stop headache, loss of vision, and loss of speech.

It was a neighbor, who was also in the military, who convinced her to have a check-up. It was not a brain tumor, as she initially predicted. It was far deeper than that, as doctors found no medical problem. It was her mental health that was suffering.

She joined a Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) group class, which armed her with physical, mental, and psychological tips to get through tough times.

Thinking she needed to build up a wall around her to get through in life, Janell now values the importance of reducing stress and releasing it all.

Some of her actionable advice include: setting screen time limits for mobile apps, quitting alcohol, and limiting caffeine intake to improve focus and keep one’s mental health on track. These are lessons that she says she never learned from the many different leadership courses she was required to take as an officer.

“Just recognizing like ‘Hey you got a lot going on, you’ve only learned how to push through.’ That’s what the Academy taught us. There are breathing tools, physical tools, emotional, social, psychological. Eventually, when I went to the course 2 months later from when that first night happened, things kept happening after that – where I was breaking down at work, still not able to hold it together. It was clear that it wasn’t something that I can take a day off and go back and be normal.”

Her eye-opening experience prompted her to openly speak about mental health “because you never know who might need to hear it.”

“If we don’t talk about some of those tough times or some of the tools, we’re not being the lifeline to our buddies… If I can help one person, then it was a win.”

Trust the Timing

Janell considers this “crash and burn” phase as the lowest point of her life that eventually led her to succeed.

The breakdown and the therapy occurred before the pandemic, allowing her to indirectly prepare for what was to come because of the global crisis.

She shares that she sought help as she wanted to be strong for the family because her husband was getting ready to deploy then.

“Then COVID happened while my husband was deployed. That’s why I kinda look back and say, I’m grateful for the timing because I think so many people are in that situation that I just described, they face that during COVID…. So much uncertainty and so it really speaks to that. This isn’t just something isolated to military veterans.”


On Kindness and the Power of Showing Up

With the pandemic, one habit that she tries to do daily is practicing kindness and patience to people she is around the most – her son and husband.

“If I’m not being kind and patient to them, I really see it in my son. So I realized I need to model that behavior, authentically not fake because  kids see through that, and just really being able to have a conversation when you’re frustrated, talk something through when you’re not understanding”

“There’s been so much life change [in our family]. It’s like trying to be that sense of calm which I can only do by really having that sense throughout the day of keeping myself centered and being able to be kind and patient.”

She strives to be a better person every day by being gentle to herself, judging her success based on her own standards and not on any external validation.

It was one of her struggles during active duty, when success is based on external measures of what a job or rank should look like.

This change in mindset has allowed her to compete only with herself and to focus her time and effort on things that align with her future vision of what success is.

Her piece of advice for service members: consistently invest small portions of their time to an organization, activity, or career that they would like to focus on after transition or even retirement decades later.

Currently, she is volunteer social media manager for Beyond The Uniform podcast and a member of the Ocean Institute’s Associate Board of Directors.

She believes that daily little habits pay off and that half the battle is won just by showing up.

“It’s really easy to underestimate the value and impact of 30 to 60 minutes of your time compounded over weeks to months. I would start now.”

“One of the lessons I learned in life is if you want to be a part of something, just show up. You might not know how you can contribute, you might not see that there’s a place for your name or your skillset on it. If you care about an organization or event and you wanna help, you might be surprised how much you can contribute just by showing up.”

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