FACTS FOR FAMILIES: Tips to help military families cope with stress | Health, Medicine and Fitness

CHERI BURCHAM Family Life Educator

Although our military’s family members are not actively serving, they have a very important job – keeping the fort together.

Military service members risk their lives to protect and serve our country while their families adjust, miss loved ones and support them from home.

Kayli Worthey, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, wrote this article which contains some very valuable advice for military families. Kayli says: In 2018 my brother-in-law was deployed to Germany for 9 months and left behind his wife and son. Although the deployment was shorter than some, it still had an impact on my sister and their 2-year-old son, who missed him dearly. Having a family member on the other side of the world can be extremely stressful, but luckily my sister was able to adapt and rely on her family members to help her during those nine months.

For military families, stress is a common occurrence, but that doesn’t make it easy to manage. A big part of being in a military family is learning how to deal with stress and be resilient. Here are some ways military families (particularly parents) can cope with the stress and adjust to the deployment of a loved one:

Personal care is essential when a family member is deployed. Take a few moments and reflect on what helps you feel strong and calm. Everyone’s self-care is different, but make sure the activity you choose is healthy for you and your family. One can choose to exercise or take a walk. Others may choose to visit an art gallery, plant flowers, or take a long bath.

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It’s okay to ask for help, especially if you’ve been struggling for more than four to six weeks. Professional help is readily available to service members and their families, as each military base has a Family Support Center or Community Service Center where family members can access counseling, resource referrals and crisis intervention services. Asking for help does not mean you are weak and in fact it shows how strong you can be for your loved ones.

Use your support team

When your loved one is deployed, it is important to use your support team. This may include your family, your loved one’s family, friends, other military spouses, or the military community.

The military community often has support groups for military family members that provide the opportunity to share your feelings, connect with others who may feel the same way, and reduce your stress. The military community also provides resources such as counseling, childcare, and additional support for the whole family during this stressful time.

In the face of stress, maintaining similar routines can help family members feel a sense of control. For children in particular, routines provide consistency and structure that help them adjust to a family member’s deployment. Try not to stray from normal homework times and bedtimes. It can be difficult when a parent is away, so consider asking an older child to help keep the family on track.

Don’t be afraid to add things to your family’s normal routine. For example, plan to video call your loved one once a week or create a weekly family event like movie night. If you have kids, you can even set aside time once a day for family members to journal or write letters to loved ones.

Communicate openly and honestly

In every family, communication is essential, but for military families, communication plays an even more important role. Before deployment, it is essential to talk as a family and share feelings, concerns and information about the family’s next steps. Encourage open and honest expression of concerns, feelings and questions for each family member. If you have children, what and how much you share with your children is at the discretion of the parents. Be aware of your child’s developmental level, ability to understand, and how they handle stress when sharing bad news.

For the full article with references, visit extension.illinois.edu/blogs/family-files

For more information about University of Illinois Unit 19 programming and to read more helpful articles, visit our website at extension.illinois.edu/ccdms, call us at 217-345- 7034 or contact Cheri Burcham at [email protected] Also visit the Family Files Blog at extension.illinois.edu/blogs/family-files

Cheri Burcham is the Family Life Educator at U of I Extension.