Military spouses hear it all the time: “The best way to get through a deployment is by staying busy.” “If you are feeling sad during deployment, just keep yourself busy and distracted.”
Maybe you have even given this advice before, in an effort to encourage another military spouse who was struggling during a tough time. But have you ever stopped to think about how hollow and empty such words can be?
On the one hand, “staying busy” is good advice. Deployment can be a challenging time, particularly for any military spouse who struggles with depression or anxiety. Our natural desire may be to stay home, shut the blinds, snuggle up with a pint of ice cream, and binge-watch our favorite new show on Netflix. Obviously, staying busy by getting out of the house and spending time with friends is much healthier than this scenario. If someone is complaining about feeling bored or lonely during deployment, then staying busy can be helpful advice.
On the other hand, it’s hollow advice for someone who is already feeling overwhelmed by deployment: The new mother who is up all night feeding a newborn, someone with a full-time job who goes back to school, or the special-needs parent who lives far from family and never gets a break. Many people spend deployment juggling far too many responsibilities and don’t believe there is room for one more thing. For those who already feel like they are drowning in the numerous family and household responsibilities of deployment, advice to stay busy sounds about as useful as a life jacket made of lead.
Is there another way to encourage and challenge a military spouse besides telling them to keep busy?
Things to do during deployment instead of ‘just stay busy’
Explore your local area. Deployment is a great time to get to know your base, your town, and the area around you. Even a busy mom can plan out a few day trips, visit the zoo, or have lunch at a new restaurant. Many people make deployment bucket lists with all the interesting sights or military discounts in their area. When your spouse returns home, you can share your favorite places with them.
Set new fitness goals. Most people want to lose weight or get in better shape during deployment. It’s a chance to change your habits and routines and have more control over what you eat and when you exercise. Those goals may look different for everyone, though: Some people may aim to run a marathon during deployment, while others will be happy just to eat more vegetables and lose five pounds. The important thing is to set small, realistic goals that you can stick with for several months.
Share your talents. Everyone is good at something. Each person has something to offer the military community. Some people may claim they are already too busy to volunteer, but perhaps they aren’t aware of all the options. You don’t have to volunteer with your unit FRG group if that’s not your thing. But you can volunteer to watch a friend’s children for an hour or to help mow a neighbor’s lawn. You can cook a meal for a new mom, or write a newsletter to encourage other spouses. Volunteering for others is a great way to realize that you aren’t the only one struggling with deployment and military life.
Make a friend. It may be easier said than done, but deployment is easier when it is shared with a battle buddy. You may meet at a unit event, a playground on base, or at the gym. Maybe your kids go to school together, or you both walk your dogs at the same hour. When you talk to people around you, you may be surprised what you have in common.
Plan something. Many, many hours of deployment can be pleasantly spent planning. It doesn’t matter whether it is a big trip to another country or a small get-together at a local restaurant. I once spent a month planning a small Christmas party at my apartment! Planning a trip or an event can be fun, distracting, and rewarding.
Have a project. Everyone can benefit from setting goals or having a deployment project. For some people, that project might be having a baby or starting a college class. . . in which case, you are probably busy enough. For others, it could be craft projects, decorating the house, or learning new recipes. It doesn’t matter how big or small your project is. What’s important is that it satisfies you and gives you something to accomplish.
Feed your mind. Self-care is important, no matter how busy you are. It’s important to keep developing your brain to help you stay sane. Whether that is through online classes, reading a book each month, listening to audiobooks or podcasts–that is all up to you. Just do something that makes you think.
Plan monthly celebrations. Every month of a deployment should be marked with some type of celebration. It doesn’t have to be something fancy or expensive. You could meet a friend for lunch, go to the beach, visit a new cupcake shop, or buy something for yourself. Celebrate the little accomplishments and everything you have fixed or taken care of that month. Even the busiest person needs to take some time for themselves.
By Lizann Lightfoot
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.