Deployments and PCS moves put the stress in military life. Use this strategy to stay calm.
There are many levels of stress in military life. Sometimes it is surprise orders to another state or country. Other times it is a surprise deployment. Or a deployment that keeps getting pushed back. Or suddenly moved forward. None of these situations are easy for families to handle. They bring stress to the relationship, worries, arguments, and big decisions that must be made quickly. Honestly, it’s amazing that military families survive this much stress at all! Yet some families go through all of this stress in military life again, and again, and again…and emerge from it stronger. What is the secret?
My secret to handling stress in military life
I remember clearly the deployment when my 3rd baby was born. So many things felt beyond my control: what day my husband left (one month before my due date), when labor pain would begin (two weeks before the due date), and when the baby would be born (four days after the due date). To top it off, there was a hurricane that hit our city the day I gave birth, so I couldn’t even control who stayed with me in the hospital (no one) or when I could go home (one extra day in the hospital). The birth, the storm, and the deployment were enormous stressful things beyond my control, and I certainly felt swept up and knocked off my feet by all of them. It was an overwhelming amount of change in a short amount of time. And even after surviving all that and coming home from the hospital with a healthy baby boy, I still had almost an entire combat deployment looming over my head, with no control over my husband’s safety, or when he would return. Was I stressed? Hell yes. Was I depressed? Yes. Thank goodness my mom and sister took turns visiting me for the first few months, because without them I would have been completely overwhelmed and sunk into a very dark place.
But I believe there was a secret to pulling through one of the most challenging times in my life. I couldn’t focus on the things that were out of my control. I had to focus on the things I could control.
To handle stress in military life, find one thing you can control
With three little ones ages three and under, there was not a lot I could control in my house. So I had to start small.
At first, the only thing I could control was ME. So I started with that. I could control how often I wrote to my husband. Even if the baby was crying in my arms, I tried to write him something every night. I might not even finish the letter, but I wrote something. It was therapeutic, and made me feel connected to him (since he couldn’t call or Skype for most of the deployment). Every few days I would gather the letters and put it in an envelope to send to him. Not as glamorous as a care package, but that’s all I could do.
When the baby started sleeping in his own crib, I had the Master bedroom to myself. This became my relaxing haven to retreat to. This is where I could write letters in peace, look at my husband’s picture, cry, and dream. The rest of the house was a mess. With three little ones, there were toys and diapers everywhere! But the bedroom was the one space I could control. So I kept it neat. I didn’t throw laundry all over the bed. I had a kid-free zone to retreat to when I needed some peace. Having a peaceful space helped me leave stress at the door.
As my body recovered, I learned that I could control what I ate. Even if I wasn’t very effective at planning meals in advance, I could still measure and control my portions. Weight Watchers taught me a lot about healthy portion sizes. I didn’t have to buy special foods or follow a strict diet. I just had to measure out what I put on my plate and not take seconds. That helped a lot with losing the baby weight, and started to make me feel like I was capable of controlling some things in my crazy life.
As deployment went on and I adjusted to our home routine, I was able to take on bigger challenges and control larger projects. I started to set goals, like framing the family photos and hanging them on the walls. And painting the walls (with help from my sister). I started following a Couch to 5K training program, and signed up for a 5K race. At first it felt daunting, but when I looked at the first week of training, and it said “walk for two minutes, jog for one minute: repeat three times.” I thought, OK, I can do that! And I did. I kept on the plan, and I ended up running the 5K even faster than when I trained!
Did any of these activities erase the worry I felt over my husband’s safety, and the constant ache for a phone call? No, of course not. That knot of stress stayed in my belly for the entire deployment. But having these small goals and activities made the stress bearable. Without having small things to focus on and keep me in control, I am sure that I would not have been in a good mental state by the end of the deployment. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, like you cannot cope, there are a lot of things you can do.
First, breathe. This will pass. It feels like forever, but it won’t be. Then, reach out. Who will listen to you: a friend? Sister? Mom? Another wife in the unit? Connect with them for a chat, either on the phone or in person. Let them help you to regain control. Then, when you feel like you can breathe again, ask yourself:
WHAT IS ONE THING I CAN CONTROL?
- Is it a daily routine like writing or journaling? Or reading a devotional book? Or saying a prayer?
- Is it a fitness project like an easy workout, or going for a walk, or going to the gym once a week?
- Is it food? Can you control the recipes you make, the meals you prepare in advance, the portions you eat?
- Is it something in your house? Not the whole house! But is there one corner or area that can be yours? One space that will give you peace?
- Is it a project or craft? You don’t want to pick something too new or challenging because then you can’t control your success. Pinterest Fails are only funny if that wasn’t supposed to be your sanity project! But is there something you can control, like rearranging furniture, hanging pictures, or buying pillows?
If you can find the secret to controlling just one thing in your life, you will find that the other parts of your life start to spin around a little less wildly, and they may even settle into place. You can’t control the deployment, but you can CHOOSE to make sure that the deployment doesn’t control you!
You can also enter my free Facebook group for deployment support.