Your military family: The key to beating holiday blues
Haul out the holly; another holiday season is here. In addition to military life, add to your list decking the halls at home, taking little ones to visit Santa, picking out presents, wrapping gifts, baking treats, and attending special events at work, school, and in the neighborhood. With so much going on, it’s easy to run out of time, money, and patience.
Maj. Aimee Ruscio, U.S. Army psychologist for the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, recommends relieving some of the holiday pressure by remembering to do basic things that can help maintain balance: get enough sleep, exercise, talk with a friend, and eat nutritious foods.
"When I think about stress around the holidays, one part of it is the increased pace,” said Ruscio. “People are trying to do so much in a short period of time."
Travel and getting together with your family could create anticipation, with positive or negative expectations. "Spending time with family can be very rewarding,” said Ruscio. “It can also be a very stressful experience. There is a range of how people respond to that togetherness."
Ruscio says since family relationships are so important, spouses, parents, children, and others can trigger stronger emotional responses. According to Ruscio, we can choose how to respond and decide if we are going to be upset or if we can “let the experience be what it is.” She said, “If you’re feeling a little down or stressed out around the holidays, just know it’s a totally normal reaction - even when you love your family."
If you’re feeling more blue than merry, Ruscio recommends reaching out to someone you trust to talk about it. Memories of deceased family members or friends can leave you feeling sad that they’re not here for holiday gatherings. If you’re going through a divorce or another major life change, songs of joy and love may feel overwhelming. While deployed, or if your family member is away, “the years you are apart can be difficult,” says Ruscio. “It can also help you value the time you are together. You won't take it for granted as much."
"If you're feeling down, there is a lot of data that says getting out and doing something fun is a great way to boost your mood," Ruscio said.
According to Delilah Wieman, an Army spouse since 1993, military members and their families need only look within their community to connect with others and shake off holiday stress. "Don't stay home,” said Wieman. “Don't be locked in your house with the kids over break just sad and bummed that you can't go home, whether it is due to lack of funds or because a spouse has to work.”
Early on, Wieman plugged into a Family Readiness Group, or FRG, and has remained involved through 16 moves, all while raising five children with her husband, Col. Jason Wieman, director of Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. "The military family has been the key for me, whether it's been during the holidays or outside of them," she said.
Most recently, Wieman was part of an effort to establish the Defense Health Agency’s first hospital FRG at Fort Belvoir. While an FRG has a social aspect, it helps members find resources, offers volunteer activities and other opportunities to build relationships, and serves as a voice of the community for the command and unit. Wieman says the FRG is helping take care of families so service members at the hospital can focus on their mission of caring for patients.
"The military family is always there, whether you’re single or not. We change out every couple of years with different people, but we are still the same family, there whenever you need something,” Wieman said. “I recommend people get together with others, like the neighbors or the unit members who are not on shift. Ultimately, these relationships make the holidays more fun and memorable."