The Anxiety of Living in a Military Family
By: Christine Hammond, LMHC, NCC
As a mom with a child in the military, every time a news story breaks of a military death, my heart and breathing literally stop. It doesn’t matter what branch, location/country, circumstance, on base, off base, or in the line of duty, life comes to a screeching halt. A flood of emotions takes over any logic at the moment as all five senses become hyper-aware of the potential crisis. It usually takes reading or listening to the story several times before logic returns and the anxiety diminishes.
Keeping the anxiety at bay is nearly impossible at the initial onset of news even though that would be ideal. The last thing that is needed in those moments is an emotional overreaction because it clouds thinking. By the end, the emotional toll from the rush of anxiety is exhausting, draining, and can be debilitating. However, there is a better way. Follow these steps to reduce the intensity of the anxiety.
1. Prepare. Mentally prepare ahead of time for the next anxiety attack. Take a few moments to mentally review a past incident of anxiousness. What happened? What were the circumstances? What worked? What did not work? This information provides clues as to how handle a situation going forward. At the end of reviewing these steps, imagine the same situation with a reduced level of anxiety. This provides the brain with a template for how to handle situations going forward.
2. Aware. At the first indication of breaking news, become aware of the basics such as breathing. Just before jumping out of a plane to skydive for the first time, my instructor reminded me to breathe. It sounded ridiculous at first but after jumping it became extremely practical advice especially since I was unconsciously holding my breath. It is a natural response during anxious moments to do likewise. Saying, “Don’t forget to breathe,” can be come as automatic with practice.
3. Stop. If driving a car when the news breaks, pull over immediately. Stop listening or paying attention to anything else in the moment so all attention can be focused on the information at hand. This is not a good time to multi-task because key information my go unnoticed which could prolong the anxiety attack. If stopping is not possible, slow down.
4. Absorb. In order to absorb all of the information, active listening must be done. Remove any random thoughts from the brain and repeat what was just said on the news. Sometimes it helps to speak it out loud especially for auditory processors.
5. Respond. This is the time to do a reality check. Is the military person stationed where the news hit? What is the likelihood that they were in that particular location given their job? When was the last time communication happened? For the sake of the military person, please resist the urge to reach out to them if none of this is likely. It makes their job much harder if family members are constantly communicating anxiety.
6. Release. The quickest way to release emotion is to cry. Get to a private place and let it out as soon as possible. Allowing anxiety to build can create an angry emotional response later which is likely to be more harmful to others. Crying is a far better and safer release of tension.
7. Hydrate. It is back to the basics again with drinking some water or another beverage other than alcohol. Drinking something ice cold to induce a brain freeze can be extremely useful because the brain shuts down the anxiety in favor of warming itself up from the cold beverage.
8. Extend. Reach out to a friend who is supportive and understanding. Pray for the other family’s loss. Go outside and stare at nature. The key is to look past the self for a moment to gain perspective and reestablish normality.
9. Create. Lastly, create a new ritual for how to manage upcoming news. Doing the same routine over and over every time creates a new pathway in the brain. This can greatly reduce future anxiety because there is a comforting process in place.
It is good to play with these steps and revise or modify as needed. Everyone is different with unique needs. But having established a habitual routine can go a long way to reducing the anxiety.
To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.