If you are like me, you probably read that headline and said “But who has time for that?!?” While many spouses might not think of self-care when preparing for deployment, taking care of ourselves is essential to surviving (and thriving) during this stressful time. Many spouses tend to focus more on their children through family separation. Some might think that self-care is selfish, others might feel shame about taking time for themselves. However, if you are not taking care of yourself, it is very difficult to take care of others.
I like to think of self-care as the emergency oxygen on an airplane. They always tell you to put your own mask on first before helping others with their mask. That’s not because you are selfish and want the oxygen first, it is because if you don’t put that mask on first, you will not physically be able to help others. Personal self-care is very similar. In order for us to support our family and their emotional/physical well-being, we need to pay attention to what we can do to replenish ourselves.
Self-care can take a variety of forms and does not have to be time consuming. Some self-care activities you might do every day; others might just be occasional. It is important to tune into yourself and really think about what you can do to support your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Because of this, everyone’s “self-care” plan will be different. Self-care is not one size fits all. Everyone approaches the topic differently, and what works for you might change throughout a single deployment.
Here are some self-care tips and practices to help you take care of yourself during stressful times:
Time for Yourself
It is important to take time for yourself. This could be meditating, reading a book, taking a bath, listening to music, enjoying an art project, or going for a walk. Try to carve out a little bit of time for yourself each day. It could be as little as five minutes, but it should be a time where you are free from other distractions and focusing on yourself. I like to wake up a little early each day and enjoy the sunrise by myself with a cup of tea. Sometimes this is the only time I get for myself all day.
Physical activity is a great way to help combat negative emotions and boost positive emotions. Physical fitness does not have to be intense. It could be going for walks with a buddy or doing a family cycling activity on the weekend. I personally like to participate in fitness challenges. During a particularly difficult six month deployment, I started a 52 Hike Challenge. During a more recent underway, I started training for a half-marathon. If you prefer to have structured workouts, there are many apps that can guide you through workout routines and schedules.
The occasional pampering can be nice to help relieve the stress of deployments. I like to get massages, particularly sports massages if I have been race training. But this could also be going out to get your hair done, or maybe a pedicure. Pampering yourself could include a meal delivery service, or joining one of those subscription services that deliver new samples of things to your house.
Peer support is crucial at all times, but especially so during deployments and underways. Peer support could be attending FRG meetings, participating in a base club and/or being involved in group activities. Your peer support group does not need to be people from the same boat, and you don’t need a huge support group (unless you want one). Having peers who understand what you are going through, and who can be an emotional “sounding board” can be very helpful. I find it helpful to have a range of friends in my peer support group, both who are military and civilian friends. Need tips for virtual get togethers? Click here.
Help Around the House
This is a practical one, but also a self-care tip that could help you feel better about your physical surroundings. During the first few weeks of an underway or deployment, I often feel overwhelmed with the amount of housework that I have to complete on my own. My spouse is the one who does more of the daily clean up, whereas I tend to do weekly “deep cleans”. To help me feel like I have a little help around the house, my spouse got me a Roomba (which my kids affectionately call “Swiper”). I also hire someone to come mow my lawn. I actually like mowing my lawn, but not having to do it every week is a big help during deployments. I know other spouses who hire housekeeping services, dog walkers, or hire their babysitter for extra hours. Just having an extra set of “hands” around the house can be helpful by taking a few things off your plate.
Deployments are a great time to continue hobbies, or start new ones. This could be gardening, dancing, hiking, playing an instrument, or joining an art or theater class. Check out your base’s MWR for classes, such as those at the Arts and Crafts Center. Many MWR also have group sports that you can join. One hobby that I tend to start back up during sea duty is pottery throwing.
If you are religious, or if you have spiritual beliefs, deployments are a good time to utilize this community for support.
We live in a world where we have instant access to news, social media, and the ability to contact friends and family at almost any time. Disconnecting or “unplugging” for a little bit of time can help reduce stress. This is something that I have in my weekly self-care plan. Usually one weekend day each week, I disconnect for the majority of the day. This could be turning the TV off, leaving your phone at home, or signing out of social media for part of the day.
Know when you are over-extended
This is a self-care tip I learned from my mom, a former military spouse. Sometimes we are tempted to make ourselves really, REALLY busy when our spouse is out to sea. Maybe we think that if we are really busy, we won’t realize they are gone. However, over-extending ourselves with lots of personal commitments and activities can actually be counterproductive and draining (physically and emotionally). It can be difficult to say “no” to some opportunities, but everyone has limits. We need to learn how to balance our need for connection with our need to recharge. Notice when you feel overwhelmed and look at the activities you are participating in-are you trying to do too much? Would it be helpful to take a step back from a few things for the time being? These are questions only you can answer.
If you find yourself struggling significantly and having a difficult time functioning, please reach out to your primary care physician or an appropriate mental health professional. There is no reason to struggle alone. This article from Military One Source provides information on 7 Counseling Options that are available to service members and their families.
If you are just starting to get into a self-care routine, start small and add one thing into your routine at a time. Otherwise, you might feel overwhelmed and stop participating in valuable self-care activities.
What is your self-care plan? What activities help you lower your stress level during deployments, underways, and patrols? Comment below to share tips and ideas with others!