The holidays are a great time to reconnect with family and friends and spend time with your loved ones, but the holidays can also be difficult. For service members who are coping with invisible wounds, the holidays may be stressful – especially for members of the National Guard and reserve who may not have the same deployment support networks as their active duty counterparts. Read the following tips for warriors and families going through the reintegration process this holiday season, which can help keep you and your family healthy and strong.
Take Time to Reconnect with Your Loved Ones
It is common to feel and act differently when you return home from deployment. Your family and friends may have changed as well. An important part of the reintegration process is reconnecting with your friends and family and learning how you and your loved ones have changed and grown while being apart. Although it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the following tips can help you find quality time to spend with your friends and family:
- Schedule time with the people close to you. Share what’s on your mind with your loved ones, which may help ease some of the stress you may be experiencing. Remember to be patient, as it will take time to reconnect and rebuild relationships. Some good activities for reconnecting with family and friends include:
- Taking a walk, hike or a bike ride together.
- Talking about your experience living in a different country.
- Making a scrapbook or photo album of your lives together, with your deployment as one chapter in a larger story.
- Asking your family what they did while you were gone.
- Be strategic about who you spend time with and don’t be afraid to decline invitations for activities that might make you feel uncomfortable. Your friends and family will want to celebrate your return, especially during the holidays, but large parties may feel overwhelming. Talk with them and share your concerns so they can welcome you home in a healthy and supportive way.
Mentally Prepare for the Holiday Season
The holiday season is full of family gatherings, parties and other social events. A great way to cope with stress and anxiety surrounding these events is to mentally prepare for different types of situations. Be mindful about what makes you feel uncomfortable, and be aware about how you think and behave in response to different scenarios. Consider the following when preparing for holiday celebrations:
- Family members and friends are often curious about what deployment is like and some may unintentionally ask inappropriate questions about your service.
- Do – Think through the questions that may make you feel uncomfortable and decide how you will answer them. Consider sharing your responses and any concerns you have with a loved one or a professional before a holiday gathering.
- Don’t – Get angry with family members for asking questions. Most likely they are just curious and want to learn about what your deployment experience was like.
- It is common to experience some form of anxiety at holiday events – even for non-military personnel.
- Do – Identify typical causes of stress so you can be prepared to cope with them. For example, crowded holiday events can be a common cause of anxiety for recently deployed service members who have had an intense combat or operational experience.
- Don’t – Feel obligated to go to every event you are invited to. Maintain a healthy balance between socializing and down time.
- All service members should pay attention to symptoms of post-deployment stress and report them to their health care provider.
- Do – Keep track of how you are feeling and your methods for coping – including what works and what doesn’t – and report them to your doctor.
- Don’t – Cope in an unhealthy way by consuming alcohol. Although cider and eggnog may be a holiday tradition, drinking too much over the holidays can have a negative effect on your reintegration process and your ability to reconnect with family.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
After returning from a deployment, some service members may feel like no one understands them. This can be especially true for members of the National Guard and reserve who are separated from their units and may be the only person in their community who deployed. While you may want to be alone as you reintegrate, being around others is important to your well-being as it can strengthen your social network of support. Make plans to spend time with friends and family in places where you feel comfortable and try to stick with your plans. Also, keep in mind that while the Internet is one way to connect with people and find resources, it should not replace socializing in person with friends and family.
Reaching Out for Help is a Sign of Strength
Experiencing stress and psychological health concerns is common. Every service member should feel comfortable reaching out for care or support if they are experiencing a psychological health concern. Some available resources include:
- Psychological Health Resource Center: Service members, including members of the National Guard and reserve who aren’t located at or near a military installation can always call 866-966-1020 to speak with a trained health resource consultant. They are available 24/7 to talk, listen and provide confidential guidance about resources for getting help. You can also connect instantly, anywhere in the world, with the Real Warriors Live Chat from your computer or smartphone.
- Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program: Offers access to resources, benefits information and referrals for health, well-being, financial management and employment issues through one- and two-day events. National Guard and reserve members and their families can find out more about program events by contacting their chain of command or by visiting the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program website.
- inTransition Mental Health Coaching and Support Program: If you are currently receiving psychological health care, and are looking at an upcoming transition, transferring to a new provider can be easier than you think. The inTransition Mental Health Coaching and Support Program will assign you a personal coach who will provide one-on-one support, connect you with your new provider and empower you with tools to continue making healthy life choices. For inTransition coaching and tools call 800-424-7877 (toll-free inside the U.S.) or 800-424-4685 (DSN, toll-free outside the U.S.) or visit the inTransition website.
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. (n.d.) Understanding Post Deployment Stress Symptoms: Helping Your Loved Ones. [PDF 219KB]
Military OneSource. November 5, 2019. Returning From Deployment: Helping Your Family Transition.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health. (n.d.) 5 Things You Should Know About Stress.
Returning Home After Disaster Relief Work: A Post-Deployment Guide for Emergency and Disaster Response Workers. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/resilience_resources/support_documents/postdeploy/er_disaster_workers_nmh05-0219.html