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Holiday Stress and Deployment


The winter holidays can be full of lots of activities, preparation, and celebration. Yet, this can also bring on stress for anyone, especially when a loved one is deployed. You may experience a range of emotions, from worry to loneliness - even anger and disappointment. These emotions are not uncommon when you want to have your loved one there with you to celebrate and create memories. As you work together through these challenges, you may find that it presents the opportunity to strengthen your emotional commitment to your spouse, service member, and your family.

Plan ahead for the holidays

If possible, sit down together before the separation to talk about how you both will mark the holidays. If you are already apart, discuss your plans through letters, email, or telephone calls.

  • Get an early start with gifts and cards. When shipping package from or to a deployed area it can take a week or more for a package to arrive. Give yourself plenty of time to make or purchase and send your gift so your spouse will receive it in time for the holiday. If you have children, ask them to write their gift lists early to avoid last-minute purchases that may put you over your budget.
  • Record a holiday message. Borrow a video camera if you don't have one, and record yourself and other family members wishing the service member a happy holiday season. Do this far enough in advance so your loved one receives it in time for the holiday. Include a "Do not open until . . ." note on the package asking the service member to wait until the day of the holiday to view or listen to the recording.
  • Take lots of pictures. Take pictures of you and your family decorating for the holidays, celebrating, and opening gifts. Send these to your service member so he or she will feel included in the festivities.
  • Be flexible with phone calls. Calls home are unpredictable, so it's best not to count on a phone call from your service member on the holiday itself. You might want to aim for a call during the week of the holiday instead.

Celebrate with others

Look for opportunities to be with family and friends. Get together with others who are in your situation. Being with others who are going through the same thing can help prevent loneliness. It can also give you a sense of solidarity when you surround yourself with other people experiencing and managing the same challenges.

  • Plan to attend holiday events for families of deployed service members. You can find out about these by checking with your installation's Military and Family Support Center.
  • Attend holiday school events. If you have school-age children, volunteer to help your children's teachers. Even if you aren't able to attend the event, you can bake or help make decorations.
  • Help organize a holiday party or potluck for families in your loved one's command. This will help keep your mind focused on positive activities, provide you an opportunity to comfort others, and be comforted by others who are going through the same thing.
  • Visit friends or family on the holiday. If you live far away and funds are tight, ask those who would normally give you a gift to chip in for an airline ticket instead. If you prefer to stay home, invite family or friends to spend the holiday with you.
  • Volunteer for a good cause. You can collect coats for the needy, help stock shelves at the food pantry, or serve a meal at a homeless shelter. These helping activities offer an opportunity to focus on others in need and may help you put your concerns or fears into perspective.

Reduce holiday stress

It's easy to get caught up in all you have to do during this time of year, especially if you have always shared the work with your spouse or deployed service member. Acknowledging that things are different and planning for these changes can help you feel less stressed and be more successful. It's more important to take time out to enjoy the season.

  • Find ways to have fun. Drive or walk with your family or friends to see the holiday decorations. Give yourself time for activities that make you feel good. Go swimming, sledding, ice skating, or skiing. Go on a nature walk or start a new project. Even if these are activities that you have done in the past with your spouse who is deployed, they can still be relaxing on your own or when shared with other friends.
  • Do something you wouldn't ordinarily do. Instead of celebrating the holiday the way you have in years past, make an effort to keep busy in a memorable new way. If you have always stayed home on the holiday, this year go to the movies or spend time with friends or relatives.
  • Get plenty of rest and exercise. Remember to take care of yourself and keep your energy level high by eating well, staying active, and getting enough sleep.
  • Prioritize. Make a list of all the things you need to do and decide which ones are the most important. Do those first. You may not have time for everything on the list, but if you get the important things out of the way, you may experience less stress.
  • Ask for help. Many people in your life may want to help you during this time, but may not know what you need or how to help. Let people know exactly how they can support you. The support of friends, family, and others will not only lighten your load, but may also help you be more successful.
  • Prepare yourself for a post-holiday letdown. Getting through the holidays may not be as difficult as you imagine, especially if you keep busy and surround yourself with loved ones. Once it's over and things go back to normal, you may find it difficult to get on with day-to-day life. Prepare yourself for this possibility by keeping your support system in place in January and beyond.

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