Deployment and separation is a part of military life. Having to separate emotionally and physically from loved ones is challenging and stressful. Each stage of military activity has its own unique stresses:
- Pre-deployment: As you prepare for departure, you may experience anxiety, fear, uncertainty, in- creased emotional distance, and family conflicts. Some of those being deployed may emotionally distance themselves from family and friends to create a psychological buffer against feelings of loss and sadness. People who are close to a with- drawn individual may feel cut off, resulting in hard feelings, resentments, or conflicts.
- Deployment: At first, new activities and surroundings may keep you occupied. However, in quieter moments, it is common to have emotional reactions, including sadness, uncertainty, and difficulty concentrating, as well as physical reactions like sleep and appetite disturbances, headaches, and increased vulnerability to colds and flu. Over time, these normal stress reactions may diminish, though it is not unusual to feel a persistent home- sickness, especially if you have young children, a spouse or significant other, or a loved one who is elderly or unwell. Being unable to quickly intervene should the situation worsen is a common cause of worry for deployed individuals.
- Re-deployment: It is common to feel a great deal of anticipatory anxiety and nervous agitation when you are about to be re-deployed home. Being fixated on the date you will return is a nor- mal part of the process of disengaging from one situation and preparing to re-engage in another.
- Post-deployment: After the initial joy and celebration of the homecoming, reality sets in. It may be challenging to settle into old routines and re- connect with family and friends. You may have to deal with problems and family situations that have been on hold in your absence. It may also be difficult to talk with loved ones about your experiences, especially if you have been involved in intense or traumatic events, including combat. It is often easier to talk with others who have gone through similar experiences.
Many post-deployed personnel talk about the unreality of being back in “normal” life. This is particularly true when the transition time from active duty has been very rapid. Usually, this sense of being “out of place” goes away with time.
The Stress of Deployment
Being called to duty can be stressful. There seems to be no end to the things that one has to complete prior to departure. Also, as departure nears, loved ones and friends will begin having their own emotional reactions. Below are some ways to understand and cope with stressful emotions:
- Carve out time to relax or engage in a favorite activity.
- Realize that you are not alone, that others are going through the same stresses, and that it’s important to find a healthy way to cope.
- Maintain as normal a schedule as possible. Familiar routines are often comforting, particularly when facing a period of change and uncertainty.
- Establish a support system of friends, family, and other military personnel/families.
- Practice good self-care: eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, and avoid excessive use of alcohol.
Often, your family members will not know how long you will be gone or where you will be (and sometimes, neither will you). It can be a scary time for your children, spouse, parents, and friends. Some suggestions for helping your loved ones to adjust include:
- Talk about the situation with family and friends. Use your best judgment (and follow military rules) on what details to share about your activities while deployed.
- Spend quality time with your loved ones prior to departure. Communicate your feelings and demonstrate your care and concern.
- Involve family members in planning for your departure.
Squaring away the logistics of your life will lessen your worry and stress during your absence. Create a pre- deployment checklist to ensure a family member or friend will be taking responsibility for:
- Monthly budget and banking decisions (such as bills and debts).
- Vehicle paperwork and how to remedy car problems.
- Legal issues such as guardianship, wills, and the location of important documents.
- Special needs such as medications, after-school care, caring for pets, etc.
- Child and adult dependent care arrangements.