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Easing Holiday and Reintegration Stress for Service Members

Father and Son

Photo by John Crosby

Holidays can be difficult for anyone. For service members coping with invisible wounds, and members of the National Guard or Reserve who return to civilian lives that do not involve those with whom they served, this time of year can be especially stressful. “Citizen warriors may feel isolated following deployment, and large events such as holiday parties can be overwhelming,” Col. (S) Christopher Robinson, senior executive director of psychological health at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), said.

To help service members and families reintegrate and manage stress, the Real Warriors Campaign, an initiative through the Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE), provides tools, tips and resources, such as the ones below, to encourage service members, veterans and military families coping with invisible wounds to reach out for support. 

Reconnect with Family

“When service members return from deployment, friends and family may want to celebrate their return,” Robinson said. “If large parties feel overwhelming, service members should talk about their anxieties and what friends and family can do to celebrate their homecoming.”

It is common to feel frustrated during the reintegration process, but it takes time to reconnect. It may help service members experiencing stress to schedule time with their partner, children and parents to learn about new routines and to talk about experiences during deployment. Talking to friends and family may ease frustrations.

Service members, veterans and military families can also reach out to health consultants at the Psychological Health Resource Center (866-966-1020) for free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Mentally Prepare for Parties and Events

People may be curious about deployment, and some of their questions may make service members uncomfortable. Service members may want to try to anticipate questions and think about their response before events. Service members can decide what they feel comfortable sharing and should know they do not have to go beyond that.

It is not always possible for service members to anticipate anxiety and emotions, so if a conversation or event becomes uncomfortable, service members should remember that it is okay to excuse themselves.

Limit Alcohol

From cider to eggnog, alcohol may often feel like a holiday tradition. It is important, however, to limit alcohol consumption. Studies show that drinking alcohol can cause serious problems that could negatively affect service members’ health and relationships in the long run.

Overcome Isolation

After deployment, service members may feel alone, especially if they are separated from their unit,” Robinson said. “Service members may feel like no one understands how they feel.”

While service members may want to isolate themselves from family and friends, being around others is important to their well-being. It may help to make plans to socialize with friends and family in comfortable places, and to stick with the plans. The Internet may be a valuable way for service members to stay connected to their unit, but they should not let online interactions replace socializing with friends and family.

Reach Out for Help

“Many warriors feel isolated after deployment, and those feelings are increasingly common among members of the National Guard and Reserve who return to a civilian job and may not maintain relationships with those with whom they served,” Robinson said. “Our warriors aren’t alone, though, and I encourage service members and their families to reach out for support through resources like the Real Warriors Campaign, which provides tools and tips for warriors at http://www.realwarriors.net.”

Service members, veterans and military families can also reach out to trained health professionals at the Psychological Health Resource Center for support 24/7 by logging onto Real Warriors Live Chat or calling 866-966-1020.

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