Taking Care of Yourself During Times of Stress and Grief

Woman relaxing at home

This past year has been a difficult one for many, with the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it has brought. Caring about someone in the military can add another layer of stress and grief. You may be concerned about your service member’s health and safety, as concerns about travel keep you apart. When stress doesn’t let up, it can affect your overall well-being.

It’s important to acknowledge your stress or grief, so you can take steps to address it. Taking care of your emotional well-being will keep you strong for your service member and the other people you love.

How to overcome stress

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by things outside our control, like the pandemic or a service member’s deployment. A good first step is to focus on what you can control.

Sometimes we can’t do anything to change a situation and the only option is to learn to accept it. When you recognize the signs of anxiety or stress in yourself, try the following:

  • Take a break. Turn off the news, put down your phone, stop what you’re doing.
  • Breathe deeply. Sit still or lie down. Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand over your heart. Inhale slowly through your nose until you feel your stomach rise. Hold your breath for a moment, then exhale slowly through your mouth while your stomach falls.
  • Take a brisk walk. The combination of physical activity and fresh air can be a powerful stress reducer.

Practicing self-care every day

Practicing healthy habits can improve overall well-being. Be sure to:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Avoid processed foods and drink plenty of water.
  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need eight hours a night. If you have trouble sleeping, make sure your room is cool and dark. Turn your phone and television off before getting into bed. Get out of bed first thing upon waking, and don’t get back in until you’re ready for sleep.
  • Exercise regularly. Do something you enjoy, like running, dancing or shooting hoops. Whatever you do, aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five times per week.

Self-care resources

Military OneSource offers free tools and resources to help service members and their families manage stress.

  • Breathe2Relax: This app offers deep-breathing techniques to relax and unwind. Use it on the go to tap into your breathing.
  • Virtual Hope Box: This app includes personalized tools to help you cope, relax, avoid distractions and connect to others. There’s plenty here to help you learn how to handle stress and anxiety during self-care breaks.

You can find these resources and more on the Recommended Wellness Apps page.

The Defense Health Agency also recommends the following podcast:

  • Military Meditation Coach: This podcast offers relaxation exercises and tips to keep your mental health on track. Tune in during your self-care breaks to relax and clear your mind.

For more ideas on practicing self-care, check out these articles on Military OneSource:

If larger issues outside of your control, such as national or world events, bring you stress, chances are your service member is affected by them, too. Check in to see if your service member needs your support. And continue to take care of yourself, because when you give yourself the gift of self-care, your loved ones benefit as well.

Travel Restrictions Ease, but May Vary by Location

People with suitcases going into airport

Current as of Nov. 19, 2020

The Department of Defense is reviewing local conditions by place to determine personnel movement and travel as the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic continues. This replaces previous broad restrictions until further notice. This is part of the department’s measures to preserve force readiness, limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect lives during the global outbreak.

Two main factors determine when unrestricted travel can resume:

Things could change in some areas and not in others, depending on conditions. Because conditions and understanding of COVID-19 are rapidly changing, continue to check our Coronavirus Updates for Our Military Community page for updates. Visit the Military OneSource homepage for a weekly status update on installation travel restrictions.

For areas where previous restrictions remain in place, here are the answers to some questions you might have.

Exceptions to the travel restrictions

Check with your supervisor before traveling. Currently, travel is allowed for:

  • All Global Force Management scheduled deployments and redeployments
  • Service members whose temporary duty ends while travel restrictions are in effect and are returning home
  • Authorized travelers who departed their permanent duty station, are awaiting transportation and have already initiated travel (including intermediate stops)
  • Service members and their families who must travel for medical treatment
  • Medical providers who must travel to treat military personnel or their families
  • Scheduled deployments/redeployments of U.S. Navy vessels and embarked units that are in transit for 14 days and meet restriction-of-movement requirements for current force health-protection guidance
  • Service members who are retiring or separating from duty while travel restrictions are in place

Exemptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis for travel that is:

  • Essential to the mission
  • Necessary for humanitarian reasons
  • Warranted due to extreme hardship

Here’s what the restrictions may mean for you and what steps you can take if you are currently preparing for, or are currently in the process of, a permanent change of station:

  • You are just about to PCS: Contact your chain of command.
  • Your belongings are packed and you have moved out of your residence but your travel is on hold: Contact your chain of command right away to receive information about entitlements, such as lodging, that may apply to you and your situation. The services also have relief societies that may be able to provide some emergency support.
  • The moving company has already picked up your shipment: Contact your shipping office to check the status of your shipment. It may be in storage in your local area, on its way to your destination or in storage there. To find contact information for your Household Goods/Transportation Office, visit the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS website, an online information directory for military installations worldwide. You can search for information by installation, program or service, or by state.
  • You have confirmed that the travel restrictions impact your PCS, but already submitted your movement request to your personal property office:
    • If your shipment does not have a moving company award, it will be put in a hold status pending further guidance — such as the end of the travel restrictions or approval from your chain of command to continue.
    • If your shipment does have a moving company award and pack-out or pick-up dates have been scheduled, your moving company will contact you about postponing those dates.
  • Your lease is expiring or you have already sold your home: Contact your chain of command and personal property office. The travel restrictions provide flexibility to allow pack-outs and pick-ups to continue and household goods to put into storage locally.
  • You have an appointment coming up at the Vehicle Processing Center: If you don’t know whether the travel restrictions apply to you, contact your chain of command. If the travel restrictions do not apply to your PCS or your chain of command has approved an exception, keep your Vehicle Processing Center appointment.
  • You have already dropped off your vehicle, but your PCS now has a delay: If you would like to pick up your vehicle, contact the Vehicle Processing Center. Staff can help you make an appointment, retrieve your vehicle and answer questions. For more information on your personal vehicle, visit Move.mil.
  • You have other questions about your personal property shipment:

Travel Restrictions & PCS

If you entered into a rental or purchase agreement at your new duty station but are unable to PCS due to travel restrictions, you still have options.

 

Travel restrictions may affect Basic Allowance for Housing entitlements

Travel restrictions may impact your PCS and your eligibility for BAH in one of the following ways:

  • If you’ve moved, but your dependents had to stay behind, you may be eligible for BAH with-dependents at the old location and Family Separation Housing allowance at the new location.
  • If your dependents have moved but you had to stay behind, you are entitled to BAH at the old or new duty station, whichever is more equitable, but not both.
  • If you have not yet started your PCS, you will be eligible for BAH at only the old location.

If the travel restrictions are affecting you and your family in one of the ways listed above, you may do the following:

  • Contact your personnel or housing office and the gaining command to see if there are any options for temporary lodging.
  • Check with your housing provider to see if your lease or purchase agreement can be delayed.
  • Check to see if you may be exempt from the travel restrictions or if you could receive a hardship exception to proceed with the PCS.
  • Ask your legal office if you have options under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the rental/purchase contract’s military clause, which may permit you to cancel the contract.

You may also keep up with ongoing changes to travel and housing policy due to COVID-19 at the Defense Travel and Housing Policy website.

Travel restrictions may affect your pays

Special or incentive pay(s): If you receive special or incentive pay(s) that require performance of specific duties, such as Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay, Aviation Incentive Pay, etc., and are unable to perform those duties due to COVID-19 restrictions, you should know that the assistant secretary of defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs recently announced that the service secretary can waive those performance requirements. This means that you can continue to receive these special and incentive pays during this emergency period.

You can speak to your chain of command to find out if you qualify.

Hardship Duty Pay-Restriction of Movement: The Department of Defense has newly authorized HDP-ROM in response to the COVID-19 emergency. If you are ordered to self-monitor somewhere other than your home and are not on official travel orders, you could be eligible for this pay. Contact your chain of command to find out if you qualify for this pay.

If you are eligible for this pay, you can receive up to $100 per day and $1,500 a month to compensate you for the hardship of having to pay out of pocket for lodging while in isolation. You must be paying to stay somewhere other than your own residence, a government lodging facility or a hotel that is paid for by the government. This pay is intended to defray the hardship incurred when service members have to pay out of their own pocket, without reimbursement, for lodging due to orders from their command to self-isolate.

Understanding of COVID-19 continues to change, so continue to check our Coronavirus Updates for Our Military Community page for updates.

Want to find the phone number for your installation’s housing office or Military and Family Support Center? Find those and more on MilitaryINSTALLATIONS, an online information directory for military installations worldwide.

For updates and information specific to your location, visit your installation’s official website. You can also follow your installation’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram platforms. For Department of Defense updates for the military community:

 

Draw Strength From Family Routines During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Family of three doing pushups

Current as of Nov. 12, 2020

Reliable routines can be important tools to help children learn to manage day-to-day life. But in uncertain times such as the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, having reliable routines is even more important to help both children and adults handle daily challenges and continue to thrive. Here are some tips to consider as you navigate your military family’s routine.

Maintain Aspects of Your Normal Routine

With many parents still working from home, some children being taught remotely, others attending school in person, and others participating in hybrid classes (mix of remote and in person), it may be hard to tell what normal life looks like these days. In the midst of all the change and uncertainty, maintaining basic routines can help life feel more normal.

  • Remind yourself that your child probably looks forward to certain routines and relies on them for a feeling of security. That may include evening baths, calling out-of-town loved ones and reading together at bedtime.
  • Let babies and toddlers nap at their normal times. If you are a parent unaccustomed to being home with your young children, try to organize your work around their sleeping schedules.
  • Keep school-age children on a normal weekday schedule as much as possible. Stick to regular times for waking up and going to bed and having meals, snacks and playtime.
  • Have children do any required homework during normal school hours, and save screen and playtime for after they’ve finished assignments.
  • Maintain normal family routines such as eating together and sharing other evening activities.
  • Keep your routines simple. The more complex the routine, the harder it is to maintain.
  • Make time for your relationship. The current situation can be incredibly challenging. Here are ideas for keeping your relationship strong and communicating as a couple.
  • Make time for yourself. Self-care is more important now than ever, especially if you are questioning the safety of your relationship, or currently experiencing domestic abuse. Here are resources for support and next steps.

Create New Routines

Although it is important to keep basic routines in place, this can also be a time to come up with creative ideas to help everyone handle being at home more often. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a daily schedule for each child if they are stuck at home. Plan hourly activities, and post the schedule somewhere visible such as the refrigerator. Make sure to include scheduled family activities.
  • Engage children in household chores. Toddlers can clean up their toys. Older children can set and clear the table for meals. Teens can be responsible for taking care of younger siblings. Everyone can help fold laundry and plan and prepare meals.
  • Encourage tweens and teens to reach out to their friends. Challenge them to learn about the virus, or research positive things that have resulted around the world from people staying inside. They could also suggest creative ideas for socializing from a safe distance.
  • Work together as a team. Include the whole family in brainstorming ideas for managing chores and planning activities, and try to keep things as positive as possible. Make a list of fun things to do, post it where everyone can add to it, and decide what to add to your daily schedules. For more ideas, check out resources from the morale, welfare and recreation Digital Library.
  • Be flexible. It might be helpful to let go of some of your normal expectations for family life. For instance, if you don’t usually allow screen time on school nights, you might allow exceptions as long as everyone understands that the rules return once life returns to normal.

These are challenging times, but having a plan and working together can help you manage. Understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly changing. For updates and information specific to your location, visit your installation’s official website. You can also follow your installation’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram platforms.

Stay up to date on all the latest information on COVID-19. For Department of Defense updates for the military community regarding the virus that causes COVID-19, view the following sites:

Strengthen Your Coping Skills With Building Healthy Relationships Specialty Consultations

Couple stand in airplane hanger

Current as of Nov. 6, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has upended lives everywhere. Staying home and away from usual support systems can challenge even the strongest relationships.

If your family is feeling the strain, Military OneSource can help. Our Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultations offer coaching sessions, practical tools, resources and problem-solving techniques.

Individual tracks are available by phone and video to improve connections with your children, your partner and others during these uncertain times.

Cope With Stress as a Couple

The COVID-19 pandemic can strain even the strongest relationship. Review our guide for ways to cope.

Specialty consultations for all of your important relationships

The Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultations offer a variety of tracks that are customized to different relationships. When you call Military OneSource to arrange a specialty consultation, your consultant will help you identify the track — or tracks — that are right for you.

  • Building Healthy Relationships with Your Significant Other. This track includes personalized coaching sessions, educational resources, guidance and tools to support a stronger partnership during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
  • Healthy Parent-Child Connections. You will work with a consultant to identify goals for your relationship with your child. Your consultant will also give you education and resources to enhance your bond. If appropriate, your child may attend sessions with you.
  • Communication Refreshers. Good communication is at the heart of healthy relationships. This track focuses on improving the way you communicate with others and is helpful for couples, as well. It offers educational webinars, inventories and services.
  • Staying Connected While Away. If you’re away from your partner or family during the pandemic, this track might be right for you. A consultant can help you identify goals and resources to help you cope emotionally and stay connected with your loved ones.
  • Blended Family. This track focuses on co-parenting when you and your partner have children from previous relationships. It may be especially helpful for those who are learning new family roles at the same time their children are feeling isolated due to school closures and other precautions.
  • MilSpouse Toolkit. If you are a new military spouse away from your family and support system, this track may help. It can help you adjust to the military lifestyle, develop coping skills and identify resources in your new community.
  • Reconnecting After Deployment. A major shift can occur for the entire family when a service member returns from deployment. Coming home amid the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic may cause additional strain. This track can help you identify goals for this reintegration period. It also includes materials that can ease stress and boost your family’s resilience.

Healthy Relationships resources

Find information and tools to keep your relationship strong.

Call 800-342-9647 or start a live chat to schedule an appointment with a Building Healthy Relationships consultant. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

Our understanding of COVID-19 is changing rapidly. Stay up to date by checking the Coronavirus Information for Our Military Community page for updates.

It is natural for all relationships to feel tested during an emergency or crisis. If your spouse or partner has made you feel unsafe or afraid, help is available through the Family Advocacy Program. Speak to a victim advocate to explore next steps, or call or chat with the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7, at 800-799-7233 or thehotline.org.

Try These Home-Schooling Tips, Resources

mother painting with kids at home

Current as of September 25, 2020

Many schools across the continental United States and the globe have temporarily switched to online learning to help keep students, their families, administrators and teachers safe and slow the spread of coronavirus disease 2019. Here are some tips and resources you can use to help your child learn at home.

Need More Parenting Resources During COVID-19?

You may be looking for new ideas for managing children at home during the pandemic. Try this updated list of extensive parenting resources.

Talk with your child about the pandemic

Children may know more about the virus than you realize, even if they are young and are not talking about it. Here are ways to address the topic:

  • Speak with your child, in an age-appropriate manner, about COVID-19 and its impact on their normal routine and the routines of those around them. Start the conversation by determining what, if anything, they already know.
  • Reassure your child that you are doing everything you can to protect their well-being and that of the family.
  • Encourage your child to come to you with any questions or concerns. You might start a journal together to document your experiences and emotions during this time.

Establish a routine for learning at home

  • Consider your child’s age. The home-based learning experience will be very different for a preschool student than a middle or high school student. Discuss your expectations for learning at home and go over any concerns so you are on the same page.
  • Set and follow a weekday schedule for starting and ending the school day and going to bed. All children benefit from structure, even if they try to resist it.
  • Build in flexibility to accommodate your own work and other responsibilities. You may be teleworking, for example. See if you and your spouse, partner or another adult in your household can share some of the teaching. It might also help to set aside time in the evenings to check over assignments or work together on reading and other skills.
  • Take breaks. Schedule time during the school day for lunch, snacks and age-appropriate breaks. Think physical education, recess, etc.
  • Build in time for creativity. Make time for music, art and other creative subjects. This may include time for your child to practice an instrument, draw, paint, try their hand at drama or develop other skills. Have younger children practice counting by stacking blocks, or build a fort from sheets.
  • Help your child safely connect with friends and relatives. Connecting with friends and family members outside your household is important. Work with your child’s school, their friends’ parents and others to help them stay in touch. Consider taking turns leading virtual lessons or hosting virtual play dates. Have your child write letters to people they care about while practicing handwriting and grammar.
  • Create a designated learning space. Set up a designated learning space that is comfortable and in an area with minimal distractions. Allow children to personalize their space and ensure it contains the equipment and materials they need and can access independently.

Tap resources through your child’s school

  • Embrace online assignments and virtual lessons. Many schools are offering online assignments and/or virtual lessons in place of traditional in-person learning. Monitor your child’s assignments and make sure they complete all work and log in on time for online sessions. Provide any help they need, such as reading instructions and using laptops and other devices.
  • Ask for teaching advice. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s teachers, guidance counselors and administrators for advice as you support your child at home.
  • Seek assistance. Contact your child’s teachers or school to resolve issues that may come up with technology, connectivity, assignments and more.

Tap installation and community resources

  • Explore home-schooling resources on your installation. These can include installation school liaisons, Department of Defense Education Activity school activities, and programs for children, youth and teens.
  • Check out Head Start and Sure Start programs. Head Start teaches reading, math and other developmental skills to children 5 and younger before they start school. Sure Start is a Department of Defense Education Activity program open to command-sponsored military children at overseas installations who meet age requirements and other criteria.
  • Reach out to Military OneSource education consultants. They can assist you with questions about your child’s education. These one-on-one sessions are free and confidential and can provide you with referrals to resources in your area. Call 800-342-9647 at any time to schedule an appointment. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.
  • Turn to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library. This is your source for free online resources for children, teens and adults — including eBooks and audiobooks on virtually every topic. Use the library to help your children learn and stay engaged and entertained.
  • Connect with other parents. Stay in touch with parents in your existing network and work together to widen your circle. Share resources, try teaching virtual group lessons and more.
  • Celebrate reading. The Department of Defense Education Activity joins the National Education Association and schools across the nation in celebrating Read Across America year-round. Check out the campaign’s tools and resources to help your child read, experience its joy and feel valued and welcome.
  • Take advantage of remote learning opportunities. Nonprofit and other educational organizations are offering free resources, such as instructional videos, live streams and webinars, that parents and students can use.

Tap resources in the arts, sciences and more

  • Have a blast with Kennedy Space Center. Inspire a love of science and space by joining Kennedy Space Center’s Facebook Live sessions for young children and young adults.
  • Explore the Smithsonian Institution. Places like the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are reopening as pandemic conditions allow, but can always come to families virtually. Meet the animals, watch them on live cams, check out the Smithsonian Learning Lab, discover museum treasures in 3D, play a wide variety of games and much more.
  • Serve up science lessons. Turn to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library for resources including ScienceFlix, which offers more than 50 complete units of study with thousands of science-related assets. It uses hands-on projects, videos, interactive features and more to give children and teens a better understanding of science concepts and ideas.

Stay informed

Understanding of COVID-19 continues to evolve. For updates and information specific to your location, visit your installation’s official website. You can also follow your installation’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram platforms.

For Department of Defense updates for the military community:

Certification Process Eases for Student Recipients of Survivor Benefit Plan

Mother helping daughter with homework

Current as of May 15, 2020

The certification process has gotten easier for students age 18 and older covered as a child annuitant under the military Survivor Benefit Plan.

The changes went into effect in May 2020, highlighted by the following:

  • A simpler certification form
  • A student’s ability to self-certify
  • An extension of the certification deadline to annually instead of each term/semester

SBP annuity payments for qualifying high school and college students are not affected by school closures in the wake of coronavirus disease 2019.

A quick SBP overview

The Department of Defense sponsors and subsidizes the SBP, which provides an ongoing monthly annuity (up to 55% of the service member’s retired pay) to military spouses and/or children when a military member dies while on active duty, inactive duty or after retirement.

Coverage is automatic and at no cost for members on active duty and for Reserve Component members while performing inactive-duty training. Active-duty members can purchase coverage upon retirement. Reserve Component members can elect full-time coverage, whether on duty or not, when they reach 20 years of qualifying service for reserve retired pay.

The department’s fiscal year 2020 budget made changes to the amount of the survivor benefit. The change, which takes place over three years, specifically affects those spouses and children of service members who died on active duty when the surviving spouse previously elected to transfer the SBP annuity to a child or children.

Student eligibility for the military SBP

The SBP’s child annuity payments typically end when recipients turn 18. You are eligible to continue receiving payments until the end of the school year during which you turn 22, as long as you remain unmarried and you attend one of the following full time:

  • High school
  • Accredited trade school
  • Accredited technical school
  • Accredited vocational institute
  • Accredited college or university

Easing the certification process

The DOD simplified the process of students becoming certified in other ways, including:

  • Students will now self-certify. So they will no longer need a school official’s signature or school documentation when they certify full-time attendance. With COVID-19 school closures, this truly simplifies the process.
  • Simpler Child Annuitant’s Certification for Previous Attendance Letter for certifying past attendance.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service details the new certification process on their website, including all the changes. Make sure to complete the updated Child Annuitant’s School Certification form.

The DOD is taking steps to make it easier to validate each student’s eligibility with an online option for uploading and submitting school certification forms. Use the AskDFAS online upload tool.

How to submit certification forms

Here are three no-cost ways you can submit your school certification form each term/semester. (Be sure to keep a copy for your records each time.)

  • Online: You now have a convenient online option. DFAS created a submission module, https://go.usa.gov/xymaH, where you can upload a school certification form through AskDFAS on the DFAS.mil website. This is accessible on mobile browsers. Simply fill in the required information in the online screen, and upload a PDF of your completed and signed DD Form 2788.
  • By mail:
    Defense Finance and Accounting Service
    U.S. Military Annuitant Pay
    8899 E. 56th Street
    Indianapolis, IN 46249-1300
  • By fax: 800-982-8459

If you would like to receive email reminders when it is time to submit your school certifications, follow the simple directions to create a profile in myPay.

Questions?

Look for additional information about military benefits on the DFAS website. You can also speak with a customer service representative at 216-522-5955 or 800-321-1080, or write to the address above.

Military OneSource and the Office of Financial Readiness have more resources and tips to help you and your family members prepare for your financial future. Follow FINRED on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and look for more on YouTube (streaming YouTube is currently blocked from DOD networks) and the FINRED website and blog.