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Mission: Family: Ease holiday stress by prioritizing, scaling back

Dec. 7, 2011 - 04:38PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 7, 2011 - 04:38PM  |  
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About the author

Staff writer Karen Jowers is the wife of a Navy retiree.

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous time. So why does it often seem to bring on stress and unhappiness?

Sometimes our expectations bring on the stress. They may come from a picture in a magazine or a book — or in our heads — of a smiling family sitting at the hearth in the glow of the fire, in beautifully decorated surroundings, plates heaped with sumptuous delicacies.

For military families, too often that picture is fundamentally altered because someone is missing, away on deployment. Other family members also may be far away.

It's already stressful worrying about your deployed service member, maintaining a household, keeping life on an even a keel for children, and balancing work and other priorities. So think about what the holidays really mean, and start to prioritize your activities with a goal of scaling back on some things.

Talk to your family about cutting back on gift-giving, which will save time and money. Think about simplifying your holiday menus or declining a few party invitations. And will anyone really notice if you let the vacuuming slide for a few days?

One priority may be connecting with your deployed loved one through a teleconference site such as Skype, by email, or social media sites. Schedule times that work for everyone.

The Defense Department's Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs recently published a newsletter with tips on coping with holiday stress — good, basic tips for everyone, not just special-needs families:

• Discuss what's important to you and your family. Give priority to the things that mean the most and can be accomplished realistically, within your budget.

• Consider delegating some tasks to other family members.

• If you're feeling lonely, try not to feel guilty about your feelings, and don't try to force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season. Consider volunteering to help others — another military family in your neighborhood or a local charity, or volunteer to help prepare a holiday meal for those less fortunate. Focusing on something positive by helping others in whatever way you can, big or small, can boost your spirits.

• Reassure children that the holidays will be celebrated again when your loved one returns from deployment. Take photos and videos to share with your deployed service member.

• Make use of available support programs to help you cope with stress and depression, such as your military chaplain, Military OneSource, and through Tricare or your nearest military treatment facility.

Declutter your holidays to make room for the people that matter — and celebrate the holidays for the right reasons.

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