Now that the holidays are in full swing, there’s so much to do: there’s the endless shopping for perfect gifts, the perfect Christmas tree, dinners, holiday events and get-togethers, and New Year’s parties to plan for.
And then there are those spouses who are either alone, or alone in a new duty-station, or simply feeling depressed because their servicemember is deployed. I’ve had my share of holiday deployments, so I know what it’s like being alone this time of year.
Some military spouses naturally seem to know how to stay busy, but if you’re new to military life, or have difficulty making new friends, or this is your first deployment, or you’re just plain down-in-the-dump ... no matter what the reason, here are some general tips for coping with the season.
11 ways to face the holidays alone:
1. Take care of yourself. The Army's Deployment/Readiness Handbook suggest eating right, getting enough rest, and even getting involved in a new activity or hobby. That's pretty great advice no matter what service you're affiliated with.
2. Get out. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anger can intensify during the expected “joy” of the holidays. Don’t stay in the house. Get out, drive around and enjoy the sights and lights. Go to the movies or attend military events such as FRG and Spouse Club holiday activities. Check out local and military faith-based community events. Your FRG contact is a good place to find out what’s happening and so is your soldier’s rear-detachment chain of command. You can also look up your base Facebook page for information about upcoming events on post. At Fort Campbell, for example, the surrounding communities have so many holiday themed activities every week that it is difficult to pick which to attend and which to skip.
3. Revamp your workout regimen or begin an exercise program to help manage stress and beat (depending where you live) that bummer weather. Who knows, you might meet another spouse in the same situation. Find this and similar things you enjoy and incorporate them into your routine.
4. Acknowledge your feelings. It's okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holidays. If you don’t have anyone close to talk to, seek out the unit’s Chaplin or Military Family Life Consultants (MFLC) on-base. Talking about your fears, doubts, and feelings can make a huge difference. You can also seek out totally free counseling sessions through an indpenedent and confidential counselor by calling Military One Source and simply telling them you want counseling. Their number is 800-342-9647.
5. Develop a (deployment) holiday plan: read a new book each week or join a book club. Volunteer at local toy and food drives or help serve others meals in homeless shelters. Helping others takes your mind off your own troubles and makes you feel good about giving back.
6. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like they were last year when your servicemember was home. In military life, change is a constant so develop new traditions and rituals and if you can, hold on to old favorites. Make yourself feel good -- go for a massage or plan a spa-day. Do things that are easy and achievable.
7. Have an attitude of gratitude. You can’t be miserable and grateful at the same time so chose which one you give control to. Create a gratitude journal and list all the things you’re thankful for (instead of New Year resolutions you may not keep).
8. Stay in contact. Keep up with your spouse (Skype, emails, letters and calls) as much as you can and finds things that keep you motivated and connected over long distances. Don’t forget family and friends stateside -- even if they’re on a different coast. Maybe even plan a trip to visit them. If you can’t afford it, invite them to visit you for the holidays. If not, utilize social media to keep close; you can still share special time with loved ones.
9. Be merry. If you are really into Christmas, there’s no need to totally forgo the season. Begin a Kris-Kringle gift exchange with family and friends who live far away. With the post offices flat rate packages, you can fit a lot in one box. Make handmade cards, take pictures or shop for trinkets and send to your parents, siblings, cousins and close friends. Above all, don’t lost sight of the true meaning of the season. Research shows that if you act the way you want to feel you are more likely to end up feeling that way.
10. Give yourself the gift of reflection. Simplify your life (if you can) and focus on the true meaning of the season (whatever that may be for you). What does it really mean for you? Why do you celebrate and what values do you hold dear this time of year? Consider what really matters to you and look forward.
11. Plan for Christmas in July. If need be and whenever your servicemember returns home, celebrate the holidays then. If it tickles your fancy decorate your house (though the neighbors might think you’re nuts; not so much if you live in a military-friend neighborhood or on-base). The point is: freeze the turkey or ham, buy decorations for cheap (at after-holiday sales) and stock up for and plan your individual Christmas, even if it’s in July.
What was your most difficult holiday deployment to date? What did you do to compensate and how did you get through it?