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Easing Holiday and Reintegration Stress

Updated December 2023

The holidays are a great time to reconnect with family and friends and spend time with your loved ones, but the holidays can also present challenges. For service members who are coping with invisible wounds, as well as other personal and family stressors, the holidays might be a difficult time.

At times, reintegrating after deployment causes emotional highs and lows while service members and their families adjust to their new normal. Recent research has found that when reintegration goes well, service members and civilian partners are likely to experience their family as more cohesive and connected. Additionally, service members appear to get better sleep, and their civilian partners report they have better moods, with healthy reintegration. See tips below for the reintegration process this holiday season and help your family keep 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. Learning how you, your family, and your friends have changed or grown while being apart will help you ‘feel like yourself again’ after a deployment. 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 family and friends.

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 your loved ones and share your concerns so they can welcome you home in a healthy and supportive way.

Mindfully 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. It is common to experience some form of anxiety at holiday events — even for non-military personnel. Consider the following when preparing for holiday celebrations:

  • Check that your expectations of yourself during this holiday time are manageable and realistic.
  • Prioritize what’s important to you and your family and how much time you have to do the things you care about the most.
  • Have a suitable budget for the holiday season and remember that good memories made together may bring you joy.
  • Think through the questions that may make you feel uncomfortable and decide how you will answer them before they are asked.
  • Be patient with family members when they ask questions, as they are likely just curious and want to learn more about your deployment experience.
  • Identify typical causes of stress so you can be prepared to cope with them.
  • Maintain a healthy balance between socializing and down time.
  • Keep track of how you are feeling and your methods for coping — including what works and what doesn't.
  • Stay away from overindulging with alcohol or other substances. Too much substance use over the holidays can have a negative effect on your reintegration process and your ability to reconnect with family.

Stay Connected to Others

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 it seems easier to avoid being around people and experiences, the latest research shows that reaching out to others may strengthen social support and enhance overall reintegration. 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, socializing in person with friends and family can be more rewarding and help you adjust after deployment.

Reaching Out for Help is a Sign of Strength

We all experience stress and have psychological health concerns at some point in our lives. Every service member should feel comfortable receiving care or support if they need help. Some available resources include:

  • The Military & Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 988 and press 1 to speak to a professional, 24/7 for confidential crisis support.
  • Psychological Health Resource Center: Service members, veterans, family members, clinicians, commanders, or anyone with a question about psychological health in the military 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. To connect instantly, anywhere in the world, visit health.mil/PHRC and click “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: The inTransition program is a free, confidential program that offers specialized coaching and assistance for active duty service members, National Guard members, reservists, veterans, and retirees who need access to mental health care when relocating to another assignment, returning from deployment, transitioning from active duty to reserve component or reserve component to active duty, preparing to leave military service, or any other time a new mental health provider is needed. Call 800-424-7877 (toll-free inside the U.S.) or 800-748-81111 (DSN, toll-free outside the U.S.) or visit the  inTransition website.

Additional Resources:

Sources:

  • Clark, M.A., O’Neal, C.W., Conley, K.M., & Mancini, J.A. (2018). Resilient family processes, personal reintegration, and subjective well-being outcomes for military personnel and their family members. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88, 99-111.
  • Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. (n.d.) Understanding Post Deployment Stress Symptoms: Helping Your Loved Ones. https://www.cstsonline.org/resources/resource-master-list/understanding-post-deployment-stress-symptoms-helping-your-loved-ones
  • Kelly, M.M., DeBeer, B.B., Meyer, E.C., Gulliver, S.B., & Morissette, S.B. (2019). Experiential avoidance as a mediator of the association between posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and social support: A longitudinal analysis. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 11, 353-359.
  • Military OneSource. (2021, Sept. 20). Returning Home From Deployment: Helping Your Family Transition. https://www.militaryonesource.mil/deployment/reunion-reintegration/returning-from-deployment-helping-your-family-transition/
  • Nolan, J., Lindeman, S., & Varghese, F.P. (2019). Mobile app interventions for military and veteran families: Before, during, and after deployment. Psychological Services, 16, 208-212.
  • O’Neal, C.W. & Lavner, J.A. (2021). Military-related stress and family well-being among active duty army families. Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science, 70, 1280-1295.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Returning Home After Disaster Relief Work: A Post-Deployment Guide for Emergency and Disaster Response Workers. (n.d.). https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/resilience_resources/support_documents/postdeploy/er_disaster_workers_nmh05-0219.html
  • Sayer, N.A., Orazem, R.J., Mitchell, L.L., Carlson, K.F., Schnurr, P.P., Litz, B.T. (2021). What the public should know about veterans returning from combat deployment to support reintegration: A qualitative analysis. School of Public Health, 91, 398-406.
Last Updated: February 07, 2024
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