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10 Tips for Military Families Coping with the Emotional Stress of PCS

Moving is stressful. This is especially true in the military community as we tend to move often! On average, a military family moves every three years, about 4 times the amount of civilian families. On a scale of the most stressful life events that we can endure, moving comes in as the third most difficult and stressful experience. So given the frequency of moves and high stress, it comes as no surprise that military families have extra challenges for which they have to cope and learn how to manage. 

Coping with any change is challenging, but the frequent moving and changes that the military family endures are quite difficult. While there are many benefits to the adventures of moving and having new experiences, there are also struggles that can take an emotional toll. Here are some tips to help you cope with the emotional stress of moving and the upcoming PCS season.

10 Tips for Coping:

1. Engage in Self-Care: 

This is probably one of the most important aspects of coping with any sort of challenge. Engaging in self-care and using your coping strategies can make all the difference. A positive self-care routine includes things such as good nutrition, getting adequate sleep, staying physically active, and maintaining positive mental and emotional health. Coping strategies can include incorporating activities into your daily or weekly routine such as journaling, taking a relaxing bath, listening to music, or even taking a quick walk. The idea is that you should regularly engage in coping strategies that help you best manage your self-care and this is especially true during a move or other stressful period.

2. Process Your Feelings:

One of the most important parts of coping with emotional challenges is to be present and mindful of your feelings. Often when people experience high stress or challenging situations, they can try and stifle their feelings or pretend they do not exist. This can actually worsen the situation and create deeper and more difficult emotions. So during the PCS season, be sure to be open, honest and present with how you are feeling. Talk to your friends and family or even keep a journal to write about your experiences. The military community is a strong one, but we can and should explore our feelings as this helps create better healing and processing emotions in a healthy manner. 

3. Lean on Your Support Network: 

Be sure to share with family and friends how challenging this time can be and ask for some support. It is common that civilian family and friends may not fully grasp the life of a military family, but it can be important to lean on family and friends when you need it. So try explaining a bit to others what you’re going through. Also, leaning on your military support network can be essential. The military community knows all too well the difficulties that are faced with constant changes and unique challenges that most civilian families do not experience. So reach out to your military friends as they can be some of the best support during these times. 

4. Look at The Positive: 

While this may seem impossible at times, think of the new opportunities and advantages to your new location. Perhaps you’ll be living a closer distance to extended family or it will be a city that’s more affordable. Or if you aren’t looking forward to your new location or feel there’s not much to do, maybe you use this duty station as a time to do more traveling or stay home and work on some personal or home projects that you’ve been intending the accomplish or find a new and exciting hobby that you’ve always wanted to try. Having a change in one’s mindset and altering your perspective can actually better help you to move through a difficult or dreaded situation so try your best to find the positive. One activity that can promote this positive mindset is focusing on something that you are grateful for and engaging in a regular gratitude practice. By forcing yourself to find something that you are grateful for, it can really help alter your overall mindset to something more positive.

5. Remember Why:

Sometimes it helps to focus on the bigger picture of exactly why you are doing this, whether that is dedication to your spouse, family or this country. We all make sacrifices in our lives, but when we really understand the importance or feel passionate about the reasoning, it can feel much less like a sacrifice and more like a situation that you can successfully push through. So think about your reasoning and why it’s important to you. Perhaps this is a decision that was best for your family and this gives you, your spouse or your children advantages. Reflecting on whatever your reasoning may be, can help to put your mindset in a space that is again about pushing through for the cause versus focusing on the sacrifice.

6. Embrace Your New Community:

We can often move to a new environment and feel negative about the move, all of the change, or hesitant in embracing our new community. This can cause us to shut down and not be responsive to the new location. Be sure to be open to your new community and attempt to embrace it and get to know others. This can be a scary step as it requires us to be open and vulnerable, but this is also a key in handling an emotionally tough situation. This is also a key part of having the right mindset in order to best cope with a stressful situation. Join spouse networking groups, meet your neighbors, attend events with coworkers, and just get out there and meet new friends in your community. There are various Facebook groups, Meetups, community events or activities to try or get involved in. This can also demonstrate good modeling for your children as they may also be struggling with meeting new people and getting to know their new community. By showing that you, as the role model and parent, can put yourself out there, in a vulnerable way and be brave and courageous, they can also.

7. Think of The Ease of Connection: 

We can stay connected with friends and family via social media and other means so much easier than ever before. Be sure to take advantage of all of the opportunities to stay connected online with sharing photos or talking to friends and family through FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts or other online means. Today’s technology allows for a better opportunity to stay well connected with people all over the world, which is especially important if your new move is OCONUS. So be sure to remember and work on changing your mindset again, if you are feeling lonely, sad or stress regarding your move, you can connect with people from all over at any time!

8. Take Advantage of The Opportunity: 

One big advantage of moving often is that we get to learn about so many new and different places to live. In our family, we have really taken advantage of exploring the new states or regions in which we live. This is especially true if we’ve never lived there before. We take advantage of quick weekend trips to explore areas outside of our new city. It allows us to learn new things in the state and perhaps get to know an area that we may never live again. So again, focusing on altering your mindset to find positive opportunities to make the best of your situation.

9. Make the Move More Fun for the Entire Family:

While moving is absolutely stressful, try to focus on making the move more fun! One example could be to make the PCS a site-seeing trip across the country while you drive to your next destination. This could hopefully be a fun family vacation that’s worth remembering. This also lowers the stress for children, which is really important. Your kids have the opportunity to remember a road trip vacation that was fun versus the stress and tension of a move. The point is to ease the emotional stress of PCSing versus staying focused only on the challenges. The process can actually have some perks and create some fun memories for families! 

10. Use Your Resources: 

The military community is loaded with resources to help with the stress of PCSing. Although this particular blog doesn’t focus on the actual details of moving, there are many wonderful blogs written by military spouses and others that give you quick tips to packing with ease, how to work with TMO, and also several PCS checklists that help you to organize and better manage the move. Some other resources include Military One Source, Family Readiness or Military Family Resource Center as well as local base Spouse Groups that all have useful information. 

Resource Links:

Military One Source:

Milspouse Fest: The Colossal List of PCS Resources & Advice from Military Spouses: Articles:

Military Spouse: 7 Ways Military Spouses Can Hack a PCS Move:

Blog written by: Dr. Shelley Sommerfeldt, Clinical Psychologist, Relationship Coach, Military Spouse & Founder of the Loving Roots Project, an online wellness practice specializing in personal growth, mental wellness, & relationship betterment.

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