The holiday season can bring people together for food, family, and celebration, but it can also be a stressful time of year. Luckily, there are resources available to ease the stress many families experience to help them relax and have a joyful holiday. This article will discuss how holiday stress impacts military families, as well as some tips and resources for overcoming stress during the holiday season.
Levels of Stress
Holiday stress is usually associated with positive or tolerable stress levels, but it can be amplified for military families due to deployments or other military-specific challenges. There are three stress levels: positive, tolerable, and toxic (Franke, 2014). Positive stress provides just enough pressure on an individual to drive them forward and keep them moving (e.g., hoping to get that job promotion). Tolerable stress in an unexpected or sudden event that causes stress on the mind and body but is not severe or prolonged enough to have any long-lasting effects (e.g., family coming together for the holidays). Toxic stress occurs when there is prolonged stress on the body and mind, causing poor health overall, the potential for the development of chronic illness, a compromised immune system, and a low sense of wellbeing (e.g., experiencing abuse/neglect) (Franke, 2014; Edwards, 2016; APA, 2018).
Deployments and Holiday Stress
While the holidays are a busy time of year for all families, military families may experience the added stress of being separated from their loved ones due to deployments. According to Maj. Saul Cardona, separation from loved ones around the holidays may create a sense of emotional emptiness that could cause deployed Service members to take unnecessary risks during missions (13th Sustainment Command Expeditionary Public Affairs, 2009). Unnecessary risks while serving in the armed forces can be life threatening, so maintaining focus is crucial.
Holiday stress may also be heightened even more so for civilian spouses, who are most often women, particularly during deployments. One study found that women were more likely than men to report high levels of stress during the holidays, especially those who took charge of preparing meals, making plans, and decorating (Greenberg, 2006). This suggests that taking on more tasks and responsibilities during the holiday season (in addition to an already full load) can create more stress than someone has the capacity for.
Tips for Overcoming Holiday Stress
Although stress is inevitable, the holiday season can still be full of wonder and joy. Check out our tips below to keep you and your family happy and healthy this season:
- Find balance: Don’t try to take on too much at one time! Make time for the preparations that go into the holiday season but build in time for self-care and quality time with your family and friends.
- Connect with the people around you: If you are separated from your family or your Service member, try to lean on others in your support system, whether that is other Service members, family, or friends. You could also take advantage of peer-to-peer support such as this option from Military OneSource.
- Don’t try to make up for your absence with overspending: For those who are separated from their loved ones, overspending or making extravagant plans could do more harm than good. Remember that nothing can replace the presence of a family member and know that there will be plenty of time for celebration when you are reunited.
- Engage in regular physical exercise: Staying active is an important part of being healthy and happy this holiday season. Exercise regularly to maintain your physical health and a positive sense of wellbeing.
- Practice habits that promote restful sleep: If you aren’t well rested, then you may not be at your best for the holidays. One quick tip to promote better sleep is to avoid eating a large meal and consuming caffeine or alcohol within 2-3 hours before bed.
Holiday Resources for Military Families
There are many resources out there for Service members and their families that provide support to those in need this holiday season. Check out the below resources for information on travel assistance, financial help, food insecurity, as well as general holiday season help for families and Service members.
Military OneSource-Travel Benefits for College Students Who Are Military Family Members
- The resource above discusses the available travel benefits for college students who are in a Military family.
Holiday Tree Assistance:
The Christmas Spirit Foundation-Trees For Troops
- The Christmas Spirit Foundation-Trees for Troops program delivers Christmas trees to Military bases around the country for Service members and their families who may need assistance securing a tree for the holidays.
The Christmas Tree Project
- The Christmas Tree Project helps to provide families in need with fully decorated Christmas trees.
Holiday Meal Assistance:
Operation Homefront-Holiday Meals For Military
- The Holiday Meals website is a resource discussing holiday meal programs at Military bases around the country.
My Brother’s Keeper-Christmas Gifting Program
- My Brother’s Keeper helps families in the Eastern Massachusetts area with holiday gifting, including children, teens, and parents.
Armed Services YMCA-Operation Holiday Joy
- The Armed Services YMCA-Operation Holiday Joy program provides holiday meal supplies and gifts to families and children near ASYMCA locations.
The Salvation Army-Angel Tree
- The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program helps to provide gifts to children in need during the holiday season.
Operation Homefront-Critical Financial Assistance
- The Critical Financial Assistance program is a resource available to Military families who are in critical financial need, and is available all over the country.
The Salvation Army-Brighten The Holidays
- The Brighten The Holidays is a resource that assists families in a variety of ways (e.g., paying a bill) around the country. Contact a nearby branch to see what services are available.
American Red Cross-Services for Military and Veteran Families
- The American Red Cross is available to Military families and provides 24/7 support all year long. Explore the website above to discover the services are available (e.g., financial assistance).
The holidays should be a magical time of year filled with wonder and joy for all, however people all across the country feel the added weight of holiday stress. Just know that you aren’t alone! There are people and resources available to help you and your family combat holiday stress and celebrate “the most wonderful time of the year”.