Nobody is unaffected by war. In military families, however, there is the added fear for the safety of loved ones who have been deployed or who may be deployed in the future.
When a loved one is deployed, fluctuating emotions such as pride, anger, fear, and bitterness can add to the distress of uncertainty. Some people will try to get back into the routine of life as soon as possible to regain a sense of control, but others will have difficulty focusing for some time. Both reactions are common responses to crisis and/or stress. The intensity of your feelings will decrease as time passes and you focus attention on day-to-day activities. Because everybody experiences stress differently, don’t compare your “progress” with others around you or judge other people's reactions and emotions.
You or someone you know may already be experiencing some of the following signs of the emotional impact of this stress, or these symptoms may arise over the coming weeks and months. Many of these feeling are “normal” during times of stress:
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Trouble concentrating
- Fear and anxiety about the future
- Apathy and emotional numbing
- Irritability and anger
- Sadness and depression
- Feeling powerless
- Extreme hunger/lack of appetite
- Difficulty making decisions
- Crying for “no apparent reason”
- Headaches or stomach problems
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive drinking or drug use
- Feeling withdrawn
Suggestions for Families of Those Going to War
- KEEP UP DAILY ROUTINES. Try to stick to everyday routines. Familiar habits can be very comforting.
- UNDERSTAND YOUR FEELINGS AND TAKE TIME TO LISTEN TO THOSE OF OTHERS. Know that deployment will be a painful, frightening, and stressful time. Emotions such as fear, anger, and feeling “numb” are normal and common reactions to stress. Spend time listening to family members and friends without judging or criticizing what they say. Family members need to make sure these emotions aren't turned against one another in frustration. It will help family members manage tension if you share feelings, recognize that they are normal, and realize that most family members feel the same way. Don’t forget that your other children need your love and attention too.
- SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE. By talking with others, particularly other military family members, you will relieve stress and realize that other people share your feelings. If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help. It's not a sign of weakness. Talk with a trusted relative, friend, family services staffer, minister or rabbi. Military chaplains can be helpful, as most receive training in pastoral counseling and crisis. Don't let yourself become isolated.
- JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP. BE SURE TO ATTEND THE BSM MEETINGS. It is comforting to be able to bond with others who are going through the same worries and concerns, and to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Get together with other local parents; attend Support the Troops rallies; and write letters/emails on a regular basis. Communication with others who know how you feel is vital. Contact organizations that can help with problems (ie, the Red Cross, USO, Navy/Marine Relief Association).
- WRITE DOWN THINGS YOU WANT TO ASK OR TELL YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER. Communication with your deployed son/daughter during war may be minimal. It can be a while before you get a phone call and it may be at any hour of the day or night. Try not to let them know how you worry, because it hurts them to think they are causing you pain. They need to focus on their jobs. They want to know how you and their loved ones are. Do not press for information from your son or daughter - accept the fact that there are things they can not tell you. Let it go and Trust in God! Always end every conversation with I LOVE YOU.
- DON’T BECOME A NEWS JUNKIE. Often, family members will turn to the media for any information they can get about that area of the world where their loved one is deployed. Although it’s tempting to watch the news 24/7 when your loved one is in a combat zone, families should minimize their exposure to media speculation. News programs often emphasize fearful content and frightening images to create a “story.” Watching a lot of TV news programs can create needless distress and waste valuable time you could be doing things like walking, being with friends, reading inspirational books, etc. Online discussion groups can also be a source of unreliable information that creates needless distress. Learn what you can about the issues from trustworthy resources, such as public libraries and published books. Put the risk in proportion so that you are in a better position to think realistically. For example, remind yourself that even though you hear regularly about deaths in the military, the overwhelming majority of deployed troops are not harmed.
- REMEMBER THE DEPLOYED MEMBER IS STILL A PART OF THE FAMILY. Find ways to keep a symbolic representation of the deployed member visible to the family. Keep photographs of your loved one in prominent locations. Keep a family journal of family events for the deployed member to look at when he or she returns. Make a booklet of emails sent and received during their deployment to share with them when they return home.
- CONTINUE WEARING YOUR PRIDE. Proudly display your “Support our Troops” magnets, blue star banners, t-shirts, pins, and flags. Have a few extra yellow lapel ribbons to hand out to people. It can start up a conversation at the grocery store or at the post office while you are waiting to send a package overseas. These encounters enable you to encourage others to continue to support our troops and pray for them.
- TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. One of the best things you can do is to take care of yourself so that you’ll be healthy when your loved one returns home. Take walks, share ideas with friends on finding ways to stay active, be it swimming, jogging, dancing, or whatever you enjoy to keep fit and handle stress. Get plenty of rest, avoid excessive drinking and medications, and eat properly. Avoid foods that are high in fats and calories.
- TAKE TIME OUT FOR FUN. Don't forget to do things that feel good to you. Take a walk, spend time with your pets, or play a game you enjoy. Plant flowers, attend a concert, visit an art gallery, or take a long bath. Be kind to yourself and don’t feel guilty.
- DO SOMETHING FOR THEM OR OTHERS. It is beneficial for everyone to find ways you and your family can productively channel energy. Get involved in activities that encourage togetherness and reassurance. Helping other families and organizing neighborhood support groups or outings can help everyone involved. Contact community volunteer organizations to see how you can help. Support a friend or neighbor who is having a difficult time. Write and send care packages. The smaller priority mailboxes from the post office get forwarded faster than larger care packages. Contact teachers and ask for students to write letters. Cards and letters from children work wonders for the soldiers.
- STAY IN THE “NOW.” “As far as I know, he’s okay now.” Focus on the positive. Instead of focusing on the latest casualties, focus on the positive strides our troops have made and give thanks for that. Keep a daily Gratitude Journal, listing 5 things you are blessed and thankful for: blue skies, children/grandchildren, a good night’s sleep, a nice meal, a good book, etc.It takes a conscious effort, but avoiding the “What ifs” is important. “FEAR means Forgetting Everything’s All Right.”
- INSTEAD OF WORRYING, PRAY FOR YOUR DEPLOYED LOVED ONE AND RALLY OTHERS TO PRAY AS WELL! Our soldiers wear body armor, but we are here to cover them with spiritual armor through our prayers. In addition to loving them and sending cards and care packages, praying for them is the greatest influence and gift we can give them.
- GET PROFESSIONAL HELP IF NEEDED. When stress becomes overwhelming, don't be afraid to seek professional help. Ongoing difficulties such as exhaustion, apathy, worry, sleeplessness, bad dreams, irritability, or anger-outbursts warrant the attention of a professional counselor. If you have strong feelings that won't go away, you may want to seek professional help. The military employment assistance program provides free counseling for family members impacted by the stress of deployment. Contingency planning personnel are available on bases around the country to help families handle stress related to deployment.
- A RETURNING SERVICE MEMBER NEEDS TIME TO REBALANCE. Usually the service member wants to feel involved. There’s a real adjustment when they return. Make the first response positive. If things seem really different at home, have a good laugh, and realize that you are learning a whole new side to your loved one. Put deep personal or financial discussions on hold – they can wait.