Military spouses always say their deployment journeys come in waves of different emotions and challenges. For my first deployment, I definitely experienced times of both highs and lows. In hindsight (it’s always clearer!) I can see a direct correlation between my study habits, stress levels, diet, and emotions.
I took on a particularly difficult course load at a local college about halfway through my husband’s deployment, and it really took a toll on me. I was staying up late and waking up very early. I often isolated myself to desperately get work done, once going three days without talking to another human face-to-face. My eating habits suffered as I tried to save time by substituting light snacks for meals or eating at odd hours. Generally speaking, I was not taking good care of myself. Add to that the stress, emotions, and lonely nights of a deployment – yeah, I was not in a place to be alone with my anxious, exhausted brain.
When extreme stress like that builds up, it doesn’t just go away. A couple months into the semester, I had a major panic attack and checked myself into the ER. That night, a good friend sat with me and helped me realize what I had been putting myself through for the past months. That was my turning point.
Honestly, it makes me cringe to type all of this, because what I went through is preventable.
I still struggled with anxiety through the rest of the deployment, since that’s what I’m prone to do, but I found that it was much more manageable when I actually made my health (both mental and physical) a higher priority.
What would I do differently to avoid panic attacks in the future? I would go into a deployment knowing that I absolutely must keep my health a top priority. Understanding this now, I thought of a few things that will help you thrive (or at least avoid the ER!) during your next deployment journey.
I list sleep first, because even though I wasn’t eating a horrible diet during the deployment, my lack of sleep brought me down anyway. And I don’t just mean because of late-night carb snacking (though that was an issue) — sleep is crucial to overall health. Sleep deprivation has been linked to anxiety, depression, and just an overall yucky mental state — all things that many spouses report struggling with during a deployment.
So whether it means turning down a commitment that will keep you up late or turning off the light instead of Netflix binge-watching, protect your sleep!
As a nutrition student, I know a good bit about nutrition, and I’m constantly learning about how the body works. However, the science I knew didn’t prepare me for the emotions and stress that would come with my deployment experience.
Here are two nutrition tips that will benefit you:
- Get enough calories. Your body needs a healthy amount of calories to survive and thrive. Going super low-calorie, skipping breakfast, or trying to survive on light snacks is only setting yourself up for a crash.
- Eat well. Now is not the time to live on cereal (though I know it may get tempting). One of the best ways to help your mind and body through a deployment is by eating whole, nutritious foods. Supplying your body with nutritionally-rich foods improves your sleep and energy levels, mood, and so many other things.
Sometimes you just need other people to help you get out of your own head. Of course, if you’re new to an area and don’t have a built-in community (like a church, coworkers, or play group), this can be one of the toughest challenges. That’s why I love what InDependent’s communities bring to the table. Spending time with other spouses going through a deployment with you can be so beneficial. Not only can you talk about the same challenges, but you can also cook together, count down together, and be each other’s support system.
During the deployment, I often said that structure and a busy schedule were my keys to survival. In fact, when my husband got home, it felt weird to actually sit down and watch a movie without multi-tasking. Of course, some structure can be good, but when we get so busy that we don’t have time for fun and relaxation, that’s a problem.
So take a break. Go for a walk with your dog in the morning and just breathe. Catch fireflies with the kids. Call a friend from home while you cook dinner. It sounds silly, but even a 15 minute happy activity (especially one that includes some sort of movement) can really make you feel better and give you some perspective.
What is your best deployment wellness tip?