Military families are no strangers to stress. Last-minute orders, unexpected deployments, and school transitions loom as major stressors, but daily tasks can compound into huge, overwhelming knots too. Financial struggles, geographic isolation from family and friends, and lengthy periods away from your service member can all be grounds for a meltdown—unless you approach stress differently.
Kendra Lowe, an Air Force veteran, military spouse, and licensed psychologist, says that military spouses can break the stress cycle by learning to understand, respond to, and manage their stress. After nearing her own breaking point on an overseas assignment, she made the decision to change how she viewed her stress.
“I stumbled across an email for décor words you can place on your wall that read ‘Wake Up, Kick Ass, Repeat.’ I immediately ordered it in the largest, darkest letters and adhered it to our wall where it remained for four years,” Kendra says. “Initially it served as a daily challenge. What I later discovered was that by adding this mantra to the wall, I was actively shifting my negative thoughts to positive ones.”
Understand Your Stress
The first step for Kendra was recognizing she had a stress problem. Once she identified it, she could begin understanding where her stress originated and focus on the causes that she could control. If her stress was internal, she could control it. If it was external—like learning her husband’s tour would be extended from two to four years on the first night of their overseas assignment—should most likely could not control it.
“For military spouses this distinction is profound, as we are required to function in a world with very little control. Take comfort in knowing something, especially something with the potential to have a negative impact like stress, is within your control,” Kendra says.
Respond to Your Stress
Kendra began to take control of her thoughts, feelings, and expectations—her internal stress—which gave her the opportunity to shape her stress into a neutral or even a positive experience. As she reframed her stress triggers, she responded differently to the stressful situations, beginning to break the stress cycle.
Tactics like meditation, journaling, and physical exercise can help with stress management, but learning to identify and address the “thieves” in your day can have a profound impact on the stress cycle as well. “Time thieves” such as excessive social media scrolling, phone interruptions, and procrastination all contribute to later feelings of stress and lack of accomplishment. Kendra recommends creating a priority list for the day and even muting your cell phone for periods of time to eliminate distractions. “Emotional thieves” include individuals who leave you feeling put down, anxious, sad, or even depressed. Kendra recommends limiting time with these kinds of people and, when possible, eliminating them from your life altogether so you can spend more time with loving, nurturing people.
Turn Your Stress into Strength
Though military spouses may dream of a stress-free life, breaking the stress cycle won’t eliminate current stress or stop new stress from developing. Instead, reframing mindsets and reforming habits related to stress responses become tools in managing stress.
“The goal is not to solve the problem, but rather to acquire tools to manage stress you may be experiencing now or as it arises in the future,” Kendra says. “Through better management of stress you can begin to experience challenges without suffering as opposed to remaining calm while suffering. A simple, yet profound difference.”
Kendra, MSC, EdS, EdD, NCSP, LSSP, is the author of Milspouse Strength: Changing the Way You See and Respond to Military Life Stress, a friendly guide to help military spouses assess, respond to, and proactively manage the cumulative stress of military life. The book will release January 11, 2022 and is published by Elva Resa Publishing.
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