Many of us have been there. We’ve had to endure the holiday season while our service member is deployed. Once past Halloween, panic settles in knowing that holiday parties, photo ops and precious seasonal memories will happen without our spouse. Panic soon molds into sadness as lights are strung and stockings are hung. Mothers often find it hard to keep the spirit alive when she’s dealing with her own heartache and loneliness. Some advise not to look at this time of year as a “holiday season” since that can feel overwhelming, and to only focus on the one day. However, for someone like me who has two family birthdays and a wedding anniversary in addition to Christmas all in the same week, it’s often hard not to feel the impact of braving the month of December alone. To help combat the holiday blues, here are 4 ways to better manage those depressed feelings that often arise when a spouse is deployed over the holidays.
1.) Let go of “doing it all”
Break free from the rigid to-do list. Actually imagine letting go of the reigns. Now is not the time to be the “warrior spouse” by doing it all. Instead, take a step back to appreciate what you have accomplished, rather than what still needs to be done. For example, if you’re unable to add lights on the outside of your home when it has been done traditionally, try thinking about the clothes that were washed and put away or the story you read to your children before bed. Focusing on small accomplishments relieves the stress of what didn’t get done.
Also, ask for help. It’s sometimes easier said than done because vulnerability can be difficult, but no one can “do it all” with or without a deployed spouse. Call up friends who are in the same situation and organize a casual potluck dinner for your holiday feast. Ask a neighbor to shovel snow from your driveway. Ask a friend to help with gift wrapping. Seeking help from friends and fellow military spouses in a challenging time eliminates feelings of isolation and strengthens female relationships. In the words of Gloria Steinem, “Superwoman is the adversary of the woman’s movement.”
2.) Practice healthy coping
Free yourself from overindulgence with food, alcohol and spending as those tend to increase feelings of depression. Instead, keep your thoughts focused on lighthearted tasks to help you unwind. For instance, get in deep with a classic novel or a Netflix series. Try the Pinterest recipe or craft you’ve been meaning to create. Expunge your deepest feelings onto the pages of a journal. Or, relax with a single glass of wine and a hot bath.
One of the fastest ways to lift your mood is through exercise. Even a brisk neighborhood dog walk can increase endorphins and send your brain into a meditative state. Endorphins are chemicals in the body that, when interacting with receptors in the brain, “reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep,” says WebMD.com.
3.) Claim your demand-free time
A spouse acting as a single parent (not is a single parent -- there is a difference) has a great deal of daily demands placed on her while her service member is deployed. Holiday stress can only pack on the feelings of overwhelm. Give yourself permission to be alone. And try not to feel guilty about it. Make it a priority to set aside time to be demand-free from children, work and the holiday have-tos.
There are several ways to be kid-free. For instance, SitterCity.com offers free access into their database of reliable, local babysitters with a valid DOD registration. You can even request a free background check to verify an identity. Also, many base Child Development Centers (CDCs) provide hourly care with some offering Saturday Getaways. You may even want to try contacting your local YMCA for a babysitter referral. “Call them for names and phone numbers of reliable sitters who live in your neighborhood to cut down on travel time. If you can afford a helper, consider having a high school student come occasionally to play with younger kids while you help with homework or just have some time to catch up on errands or housework,” suggests Healthy Exchange, a Dartmouth College publication specializing in health and wellness.
Healthy Exchange goes on to suggest setting realistic boundaries inside and outside the home. To prevent burn out at work, try setting your hours and the amount of responsibility you feel comfortable taking. Sheryl Sandberg notes in her book, Lean In, that many employers won’t stop making demands on their employees’ time. It’s up to us to know when to draw the line and determine how many hours we work in a day. In other words, the best way to make room for demand-free time is to make the choice deliberately.
4.) Talk to your spouse
Talking to your spouse can certainly boost your mood through the holidays. There’s a reason why many wives and girlfriends are glued to their cell phones so that they don’t miss the rare phone call home. They’re a family who cares very deeply for one another. Sharing holiday experiences with your spouse can make you feel that deep sense of connection that you’re longing for.
There are many creative ways to feel connected to your spouse over the holidays. For instance, if Skype is available, try arranging family traditions around a Skype-chat so that you (and s/he) don’t feel as isolated. If Skype isn’t an option, hand write a letter describing your feelings. The other person in the relationship is likely to understand those feelings since s/he is going through the same separation you are. Also, you don’t need to be under the same roof to do the things you love – together. Many couples read books together, pray together and even exercise together. All of these are spirit-lifting ways to feel less alone and better connected to the one you love.
To feel free from the holiday ho-hum during a deployment, drop the to-do list, do more of what you love, claim your demand-free time and share the experience with your spouse. Braving a deployment in December can be tough, but this circumstance shouldn’t rob you of your happiness – of which you’re 100% in control.
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