Tag Archives: navigating holiday stress

#BeThere For The Holidays


According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, it is a commonly-held misconception that suicides increase over the holidays. This is not the case. However, the holidays are an ideal time to strengthen your connections with shipmates and loved ones – a protective factor against suicide. Whether catching up via phone, social media or at a holiday gathering, pay attention to the subtle signs that may indicate someone is having difficulty navigating stress. Those signs may include expressing feelings of hopelessness or burdensomeness, increased substance use, withdrawal from usual activities and sudden mood changes. Even if it seems like they’re joking or being casual, if something seems out of the norm trust your gut and ACT (Ask Care Treat).

ACT is Navy’s call-to-action to encourage early intervention when a Sailor is experiencing difficulty navigating stress or may be at risk for suicide. All Sailors and members of the Navy community should be able to recognize the risk factors and warning signs that indicate a potential suicidal crisis, and should feel confident in their ability to ACT:

  • Ask – Ask directly: are you thinking of killing yourself?
  • Care – Listen without judgment. Show that you care.
  • Treat – Get the Sailor immediate assistance. Escort him or her to the nearest chaplain, trusted leader or medical professional for treatment.

Annual case reviews consistently reveal missed opportunities to “connect the dots” when a Sailor is experiencing the negative effects of stress, psychological health concerns or exhibiting uncharacteristic behavior. Active communication and ongoing dialogue about stress, psychological health and suicide can motivate positive action and open the door for help.

While the holiday season may be a busy time, remember that 1 Small ACT can make a difference. In addition to knowing the signs and when to intervene, encourage Sailors to get ahead of stress by practicing self-care this season, like eating a balanced diet, making time for exercise and getting adequate sleep. Like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @NavStress on Twitter for healthy holiday tips from the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

Strengthening Connection While Miles Apart

While the holidays are usually a time for family gatherings, many USS Samuel B. Roberts departs for a deployment.Navy families will be celebrating the holidays apart from loved ones due to deployment, temporary duty status, relocation or other circumstances. While Sailors may enjoy the spirit of the season through camaraderie with their shipmates and celebrations within their commands, maintaining connections with those back home is important too. With a little effort—and a little bandwidth—you can stay engaged with your loved ones this holiday season. Here are a few tips:

  • Enjoy a cherished holiday movie or book “together.” Perhaps you and your children watch the same holiday movie each year, or you and a sibling or parent built memories watching a seasonal classic growing up. If you are able to locate this film on DVD locally, schedule time with your loved one(s) to watch it and chat online through social media or email. Similarly, you may choose to share a book together over the course of a few weeks and write each other emails about each section you’ve read. Activities that you can enjoy together while apart build connection and add new dimension to your communication.
  • Schedule a Recipe-Share Night. This one is particularly fun if you’re in staying in a barracks with limited access to a full kitchen. Share your favorite barracks-recipe with your family and pick a night that you can both prepare that meal and enjoy it “together.” Give them a call to hear their experience preparing the meal with only the ingredients and resources you outlined for them. The simplicity of the meal is sure to be a conversation starter! Ask them to create a new barracks-friendly recipe for you to try next time.
  • Use Social Media to Stay Connected. Get creative with your social media posts this season! Find an item like a toy elf or teddy bear that you can photograph in unlikely places on your ship, or start a new hashtag that you and your loved ones will use to post photos based on a selected daily theme. You could also submit a new photo to the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery and tag a friend or family member asking them to post one and pass it on. This is a great way to engage in something meaningful during the holidays while showing support for your shipmates.

Being apart from friends and family is an opportunity to find new ways to connect and put a spin on existing traditions, but separation can be stressful. Remember, help is always available. Call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (option 1). In Europe, call 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118. Those stationed abroad can also utilize MCL’s online chat services.

Taking the Stress Out of the Holidays while your Spouse is Deployed

This blog is the second in a series submitted to NavyNavStress by Navy spouse, Elizabeth Winters. Deployments can be stressful for a family at any time of year, but can be especially difficult during the holidays – not only for those back home, but also for Sailors away from their loved ones. Applying the Principles of Resilience can enable us to stay in the holiday spirit and get ahead of stress. Predictability (managing others’ expectations based on what you’re able to do), relationships (maintaining strong connections and preserving traditions) and meaning (keeping the deployed Sailor involved) can help us maintain a sense of normalcy and thrive during the holidays, despite separation during a deployment.
                                         NavyNavStress.com Note

The holidays are fast approaching, and even when not dealing with the heightened emotions and stress of a deployment, holidays ahomere rarely what we would think of as “stress-free.”  Add in the pressure to keep the holidays special while acknowledging the absence of a loved one, it can be very easy to become overwhelmed.  It is vital, for your sanity, to take active measures to avoid overworking yourself!  For me, it all comes down to three things: priorities, traditions and efficiency.

Before the holiday season is in full swing, sit down and decide what is important to you and your family.  Do not feel badly about declining invitations!  Friends and family will understand the necessity of paring down social obligations – eliminating those gatherings that only add stress to your schedule will immediately add peace to your holiday season.  Commit fully to those things that are a priority for you and your family and just let go of everything else.

For our family, traditions are very important; we look forward to doing the same activities every year!  During deployment, this can be difficult or sad, since we’re missing a key part of our family.  A way to ease this difficulty is doing your old favorites in a new way!  While we love driving through the local botanical gardens to see their light displays, I did not want to do such a special family activity without my husband. Therefore, this year, we will buy tickets to ride the tram.  The kids will still get to make holiday memories but we reserve the “real thing” for when Daddy is home.

Another way that I cut down on holiday stress is finding ways to stay home, avoiding crowds and long lines.  If you love to shop, this may not be ideal. However, I personally do not enjoy shopping or the added expense of finding a sitter for my children.  Thus, to streamline our holiday shopping, I purchase gifts primarily online, using sites and stores that offer incentives for free shipping.  I also love using the postal service after-hours…the self-serve kiosks are available 24-hours a day, rarely with lines!

All things considered, when trying to de-stress the holidays the most important part is including my spouse.  I make my list of priorities with his help, I solicit his advice on ways to make our traditions special in his absence, we decide what gifts we will be giving, and I take every opportunity possible to take pictures and short videos so we can stay connected.  During deployment we walk a fine line between wanting to keep life at home “normal” while honoring the fact that there is nothing normal about carrying on with part of your heart across the world.  Sweeping the clutter from your holiday plans will keep you from getting overwhelmed and hopefully give you a little bit of extra energy and peacefulness to keep your deployed loved one an active presence in your celebrations.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Winters is a Navy wife and a stay-at-home mom to three children ages 6 and under. She and her husband, a Surface Warfare Officer, know what it means to build resilience as a family through stressful transitions and exciting changes–they are expecting their fourth child in a few months while he is deployed. When she’s not busy at home with their three children, she enjoys crocheting, reading and expressing herself through writing. This is Elizabeth’s second guest blog post for NavyNavStress. She hopes to offer relatable perspective for families during the many stresses and excitements of Navy life.

Spring Forward, Fall Back… and THRIVE!

This week is a sweet one with HaBahlloween, Daylight Savings and the kick-off of the annual N171 holiday campaign, Thrive During the Holidays!

Earlier this year, we announced the concept of NavyTHRIVE as the umbrella for the OPNAV 21st Century Sailor Office, encouraging Sailors, commands, families and civilians to empower themselves by taking personal responsibility for their health, wellness and growth—the next step in building resilience. Following the announcement, we piloted the concept for 2013 Suicide Prevention Month’s campaign, “Thrive in your Community.” The responses and community participation throughout the campaign were tremendous, with dozens of commands sharing details of their efforts with us.

With this growing momentum (and the extra hour of sleep this weekend!) we want to prepare you for the holiday season with tools and resources to get ahead of holiday chaos, while focusing on building resilience for the New Year.

Traditionally, the holiday season is a stressful time for Sailors and families. Uncertainty surrounding deployments, time off and finances, combined with well-intentioned but sometimes unrealistic expectations of loved ones and friends, often result in Sailors and their spouses pushing themselves to extremes to meet overly ambitious goals. Planning ahead for the holidays can offset potential negative impacts to relationships, finances, physical health and emotional wellbeing to help Sailors and their families truly enjoy their holidays and do so responsibly.

The Thrive During the Holidays campaign expands upon our efforts to promote a sense of community, offering something for everyone this year. Some of the new initiatives you’re sure to enjoy include a blog series authored by a Navy wife, Elizabeth Winters, geared toward families with a parent or loved one on deployment during the holidays, engagement with NORAD/NORTHCOM’s annual family venture “Tracking Santa,and more.

Keep watch on this blog, Navy.mil and our Facebook and Twitter pages for great tools and resources to help you and your family Thrive During the Holidays …and share your ideas to get ahead of holiday stress with us!

December: A Season of Goodness

The holiday season is a time of hope, renewal, kindness, and good will.  It’s a time when we see the best of people and can enjoy the rich traditions of Christianity, Kwanza, Hanukkah, and Santa Claus. It’s the season marked by great gestures, unique customs, and charming, magical memories.

How we celebrate depends on our personal and cultural heritage.  However, the time and effort we spend decorating, shopping, cooking, gathering, and celebrating can prevent us from taking the time to reflect on “What are we trying to accomplish?” during this season.

I believe that if we go into this holiday season with well-defined goals, we just might prevent the all too frequent and unintended consequences of exhaustion, disappointment, emptiness, or just relief… I invite you to focus on accomplishing the following for a more fulfilling holiday season:

  1. Emphasize and focus on a spiritual meaning, elaborate on your personal beliefs and find the best application for your personal and family life.
  2. Use the occasion to re-kindle relationships which tapered off or became shallow.
  3. Make new friends;  expand your circle of family and acquaintances.
  4. Find and involve isolated people in your sphere of influence.
  5. Mend wounded relationships; offer and/or seek forgiveness.
  6. Create pleasant memories for yourself and those with whom you hope to share many more years.
  7. Try to do all the above… J

Try to be purposeful in the way you allocate your resources.  Base your decisions on what you want to accomplish, but be realistic and don’t try to please everyone or do everything.

It is easy to be manipulated into a shopping frenzy, or a decorating overkill, getting stuck in the kitchen constantly cooking or running from one party to the other.  Alone, any of these can wear you out but try keeping them in perspective.  Stop and think about what you’re doing and how it fits in with the importance of this wonderful, magical time, so full of rich meaning and memories.

This season feel good by helping others to feel appreciated. Be mindful of those in your circle of friends and co-workers who might be alone this time of the year. Make an attempt to include them, even if it is just a random phone call wishing them something joyful. Make this holiday season count, a season that you, and those whom you love, will cherish for many years to come! That could be the best blessing you can find!

Andrew P. Sholtes
Naval Medical Center San Diego