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How to Handle Holiday Separations

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Holidays are often a wonderful time for families to gather, reconnect and celebrate. But for families experiencing a military separation, holidays can be yet another reminder that a deployed family member is not at home to share in the festivities.

The November DCoE webinar, “Holidays Apart From Family: Coping with Increased Stress,” provided ways deployed parents can connect with their children and discussed approaches to help individuals manage stress during the holiday season.

Deployed servicemembers may experience a range of feelings while away during the holidays -- loneliness, depression, homesickness, frustration, stress or guilt.

Sometimes they may find it necessary to temporarily distance themselves from their own family because hearing about holiday festivities may be too painful.

Additionally, some servicemembers may find it emotionally uncomfortable to be around their buddies and choose to isolate themselves. However, being around others and socializing with friends and family are important steps for maintaining your well-being and future reintegration.

Non-deployed family members face similar challenges during this time such as experiencing higher levels of stress. During the webinar, I emphasized the importance of continuing family traditions associated with the holidays and the idea of incorporating new ones deployed family members can take part in.

Maintaining consistency and structure helps everyone who is affected by the separation, particularly families with younger children. If you’re a deployed parent, you might try these ideas:

** Write your child a brief letter about all the different ways they’re loved and appreciated, consider several letters to be read on different days.

** Create a holiday ornament with your child’s name on it.

** Record a reading of a favorite holiday book or story and send it to your child, which can be part of a holiday or year-round bedtime routine.

** Stay in touch through email, Skype or social media as often as possible to communicate and participate in some of the holiday activities in real time, remotely.

Holidays are like a coin; happy times on one side and stressful times on the other. To cope and enjoy the holidays I encourage you to take time out for yourself. When you are rested and free of stress, it actually helps those around you. Here are a few ideas:

** Engage in activities to help recharge your batteries and reduce stress such as exercising, going to the movies, shopping with family or friends, or getting a massage.

** Consider doing something fun as a family for your servicemember, like assembling a care package containing their favorite goodies and pictures or mementos from home.

** Get involved in volunteer opportunities in your community as this can be emotionally and spiritually rewarding.

We also need to remember to have realistic expectations and understand that no holiday celebration is perfect -- we should stay focused on what’s really important to us and why the season is meaningful. The constant barrage of holiday advertising can make us forget what the holiday season is really about and negatively impact our stress levels.

Dealing with a deployment at any time of the year poses difficulties. Talk with others about feelings of loneliness or missing a family member. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution to successfully manage your stress.

The webinar highlighted resources that servicemembers and their families can reach out to for support including: DCoE Outreach Center; Military OneSource; Military Families Near and Far; Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program; and FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress™).

For more information and resources on their webinars, please go to the DCoE website.

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