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Family Matters Blog: Coping With Holiday Stress

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2011 – Last week, President Barack Obama and other senior officials welcomed the final group of U.S. troops home from Iraq – just in time for the holidays.

But thousands of other service members -- deployed in Afghanistan or other locations around the world – won’t be so fortunate. They’ll be weathering the holidays far from home and away from their family and friends.

In a season that’s all about family gatherings, this can cause considerable stress, both for troops and their families back home. Dr. Vladimir Nacev, a clinical psychologist for the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, offered some great advice for dealing with this stress and weathering the holidays away from loved ones in a recent DCoE blog.

Deployed service members may experiences a range of feelings while away over the holidays, Nacev wrote, such as loneliness, depression, homesickness, frustration, stress or guilt. They may distance themselves from family and friends back home to avoid hearing about fun festivities they’re unable to attend, and even isolate themselves from their battle buddies.

But being alone is the worst path to take, Nacev said. “Being around others and socializing with friends and family are important steps for maintaining your well-being and future reintegration,” he wrote.

Nacev suggested deployed troops stay in touch with their loved ones via email, Skype or social media as often as possible. If possible, they should try to participate in some of the holiday activities in real time.

As for deployed parents, they can:

-- Write their 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 their child’s name on it.

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

Family members back home also face higher levels of stress, Nacev said. He suggested families continue their holiday traditions and create new ones that their deployed loved one can take part in too.

“Maintaining consistency and structure helps everyone who is affected by the separation, particularly families with younger children,” he wrote.

Nacev also pointed out the importance of taking time out to rest and recharge. Activities such as going to the movies, shopping, getting a massage or exercising are fun and can reduce stress. Getting involved in community volunteer opportunities can be emotionally and spiritually rewarding as well.

Whether deployed or not, people who are feeling sad or lonely should talk with someone, Nacev said. “Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution to successfully manage your stress,” he wrote.

A variety of support programs are available to troops and their families year-round, including the DCoE Outreach Center, Military OneSource, Military Homefront, Military Families Near and Far, Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program and Families OverComing Under Stress.

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