Military life is a stressful ordeal for even the most resilient of spouses. We are expected to be resilient, adaptable, and patient, not to mention hold down the fort when our spouses are told to leave at the drop of a hat. If you ask me, that’s a lot of pressure.
That pressure is something that I have felt I could never live up to. You see, I have severe generalized and social anxiety as a result of diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. My main way of coping? Routines. I have routines for every single day. However, the constant upheaval of military life makes my main coping strategy almost impossible. Sure, I can have my coffee at the same time every morning, keep my chore schedule, and take my kids to their extracurriculars everyday. But when it comes to making any sort of future plans – date nights, vacations, etc. – I’d better hope the military cooperates. Joke’s on me, right?
It took some doing, but, with the help of my therapist, I have come up with some coping strategies that help me overcome my anxiety in tough situations. Here are some coping skills I use both in the moment, and as part of my daily routine:
When your spouse tells you they are deploying for six months next week and you feel that sense of dread coming on, try this exercise, known as the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, to bring yourself back into the present. Start by taking four deep breaths – in through your nose, hold for four seconds, then out slowly through your mouth. Once you find your breath, take these steps to help ground yourself:
- Look for five things around you that you can see
- Acknowledge four things around you that you can touch
- Listen for three things you can hear close to you
- Acknowledge two things you are able to smell in your vicinity
- Acknowledge one thing you can taste
After you try this exercise, it will be easier for you to navigate the way ahead.
2. Get active.
Daily exercise has become one of my main coping strategies in battling daily anxiety. I used to sit around and let my mind come up with imaginary scenarios that would make my anxiety swell (not to mention, hurt my own feelings). When I am active, I find that I have less time to think about those scenarios – not to mention the added bonus of looking and feeling better physically. You don’t have to have a whole exercise routine to use this strategy (though I wouldn’t advise against it, either). When you’re feeling that familiar worry or sense of dread coming on, start by going for a walk – your body and mind will thank you. You can worry about the rest later.
3. Write it down
You’ve probably seen “journaling” as a way of dealing with many other things and are probably about to dismiss this, but hear me out! Writing down what is making you anxious actually helps because it gets it out of your head and onto paper. That short-notice deployment that’s coming up? That family meeting you need to call to tell your kids their parent is leaving? All of the things that you have to do that seem overwhelming at the moment? Write them down! Seeing it written out on paper (or typed, whichever you prefer) helps everything seem less daunting, and more doable. This way, you can move forward and do what you need to do without anxiety getting in the way.
4. Eat and hydrate!
I’m not telling you to sit down and have a pint of ice cream and a bag of Doritos everyday (though if you’ve had a particularly bad day, I say go for it). I am saying this – don’t skip meals. Skipping meals has a profound effect on your mood and can lead you not only into anxiety, but also depression. Eating well can increase your energy, and help you function so that anxiety doesn’t take over. Try to incorporate more fruits and veggies in your diet, as well as more water. Good hydration is important, too!
5. Be social.
This one has always been hard for me to stay consistent with. I am a huge introvert, and I tend to bottle things up and keep to myself because I don’t want to “burden” anyone with my feelings. As you probably have guessed, this does not bode well for me when it comes to my anxiety. I have a few close friends that I talk to when I am having a hard time processing the next “big thing” the military throws our way (and we socialize regularly, too!) Talking to someone helps a lot more than you think, and I promise you, your friends will never feel like you’re burdening them. Don’t have any friends where you are? You can also seek out volunteer opportunities with your local FRG or spouses club and meet people that way!
6. See a therapist.
As I mentioned at the beginning, my therapist has been instrumental in helping me deal with my anxiety, especially when it comes to military life. A therapist can help you develop your own coping skills, as well as an individualized treatment plan for your anxiety. The good news about this one is TriCare fully covers mental health services without a referral, so it is easier than you think to find a therapist in network in your local area. You can also seek out your local chaplain or Military Family Life Counselor (MFLC) if you feel like you need to talk to someone more well-versed with military life.
I know that military life is extremely challenging and can often send your anxiety into overdrive. I also know how lonely and isolating it can be when we feel paralyzed by it. But if I can give you, fellow anxious spouse, any encouragement, it’s that you are NEVER alone, and that you are worthy. I hope these tips help you, and I hope you can come up with some of your own coping strategies, too!