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Spouse Deployed? Keep Holiday Stress at Bay

A military spouse and her son watch as her husband prepares to deploy
Amanda Palmer and her son Brayden watch as her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Palmer, takes off for a deployment at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. (Colorado Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf)

Below is a blog post from the Navy Operational Stress Control’s “Navigating Stress” blog, written by Elizabeth Winters, a Navy wife and stay-at-home mom of three.

The holidays are fast approaching, and even when not dealing with the heightened emotions and stress of a deployment, holidays are rarely what we think of as “stress-free.” Add in the pressure to keep the holidays special while your loved one is absent, and you can very easily become overwhelmed. It’s vital to take active measures to avoid overworking yourself. For me, it comes down to three things: priorities, traditions and efficiency.

Before the holiday season is in full swing, sit down and decide what’s important to you and your family. Don’t feel badly about declining invitations. Friends and family will understand if you need to pare down social obligations. Eliminate gatherings that only add stress to your schedule and choose your priorities. Let go of everything else.

For our family, traditions are very important; we look forward to doing the same activities every year. However, carrying out holiday traditions can be difficult and sad to think about when missing a key part of your family. You can make this easier by creating a new way to do your old favorites. For example, while we love driving through the local botanical gardens to see their light displays, I didn’t want to do such a special family activity without my husband. Therefore, this year, we’ll buy tickets to ride the tram. The kids still get to make holiday memories, but we reserve the “real tradition” for when Daddy’s home.

Another way I cut down on holiday stress is shopping from home. This way, I avoid the crowds and long lines. If you love to shop, this may not be ideal. However, I don’t enjoy shopping or the added expense of finding a sitter for my children. Thus, to streamline our holiday shopping, I purchase gifts primarily online, using sites and stores that offer incentives for free shipping. I also love using the postal service self-serve kiosks, which are available 24/7 and rarely have lines.

All things considered, when trying to de-stress the holidays, the most important part I find is to include your spouse where possible. I make my list of priorities with my husband’s help, and ask his advice on ways to make our traditions special even in his absence. Together we decide on gifts, and I take every opportunity possible to take pictures and short videos so the family can stay connected.

During deployment we walk a fine line between wanting to keep life at home “normal” and acknowledging the fact that there’s nothing normal about carrying on with part of your heart across the world. But, sweeping the clutter from your holiday plans and keeping your deployed loved one an active presence in your celebrations, keeps you from getting too overwhelmed and hopefully gives you a little extra energy and peace.

Deployments can be stressful for a family at any time of year. Check out this blog post highlighting a new deployment resource for families and friends of service members. If you have tips for those separated during the holidays, share them below.

Additionally, returning from a deployment right before, or even during the holidays can be stressful. Check out these resources from the Real Warriors Campaign for some tips on how to make the reintegration process a little easier: “Easing Holiday and Reintegration Stress” and “Tips for Coping with Stress During the Holidays.”

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