Capt. Cody M. Curin, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychology Resident
EAMC's Outpatient Behavior Health Services
According to the United States Census Bureau, the average American can be expected to move 11.7 times in their life. For service members and their families, this stat can be reached quickly over a 20-year career.
From a behavioral health perspective, a permanent change of station can upset habits and routines that are essential to daily functioning. But there are some simple ways service members and their families can address the stress of a PCS for minimal hardship and maximum adaptability.
Network to find a sponsor
One of the greatest aspects of the military is that you are not alone and you are not the first. Someone has most likely come before you and can point you in the right direction of available resources. If you have not already been assigned a sponsor, reach out to friends on social media or other installation welcoming programs to find someone to guide your transition. There are no-cost resources out there, including apps and websites that can give information and pointers on how to talk to family members of all ages about the move.
Plan, plan, plan
Humans have a drive toward control. Although all aspects of a move cannot be controlled, detailed planning can greatly reduce stress. Every member of the family should be included during the planning process, even young children. Take the time to sit down and think about the important aspects of your current situation, including what you would want to stay the same and what you want to change at the new duty station.
Plan and sign up for activities you and your family want to continue doing, such as sports, social clubs and hobbies. Having activities and events planned before moving can help to reduce loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Also, planning medical appointments in advance can make sure there is no gap in your care, especially in behavioral health.
Schedule time for settling in
Even the best-laid plans can have unexpected delays, cancellations and curve balls. Try to plan household appointments (i.e. cable, WiFi, utilities) either before or shortly after arriving to your new duty station and leave several days before beginning your new responsibilities for unplanned or unexpected appointments. It can be nice to have a few days with nothing on the schedule after the move to let yourself relax.
Set expectations for travel
Because of the physical and emotional energy it takes to travel, it can be important to set expectations for each family member. Giving family members the opportunity to express when they are feeling frustrated or annoyed, and having a plan on how to handle this situation can help to avoid unnecessary stress and arguments. If a family member struggles with a quick temper, set a word or phrase they can say that will express exactly how they are feeling and how the family is expected to react. For example, if a family member says "my volcano is full," the plan may be to let that family member tune out from the conversation, leave the room or take a walk before the situation gets worse.
Incentives and reinforcements are powerful tools for fueling human behavior. For children and adults alike, knowing that you will get to do an enjoyable activity or get a reward for good behavior can make the most boring chores and tasks doable. Chore charts can be a helpful tool to make sure the house is taken care of. A word of caution with incentives however is that they must be followed; as soon as a reward is not given when expected or the rules change, the incentive will fail.
Put dates on the calendar
Having things on the calendar makes a new environment feel more normal. Family movie night, a trip to the mall or pizza Fridays can give something to look forward to and help settle into a routine. Writing these activities down on a calendar in a high-traffic, visible place like the kitchen gives everyone a little jolt of good energy every time they see it. This is especially important for young children as it can create a sense of excitement and stability.
Use the move as a fresh start
Moving can be a great way to analyze your life. It can be used to de-clutter the house, set new expectations for behavior and try something new in a new environment. Making small changes such as setting a chore list, having a certain day of the week to do groceries or scheduled self-care can become habits that enhance daily functioning and happiness.
Use the PCS process to make positive changes that will enhance your daily functioning. Make sure to schedule 7-8 hours of sleep at consistent times, exercise at least five days per week and schedule regular healthy meals. These life tasks are essential to making sure your mental and physical health are ready for the challenges of your new environment.
If you feel yourself getting too stressed over the move or find that your mood has been different after moving, visit Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Behavioral Health at 706-787-3143. We would be happy to discuss your challenges and ensure a successful transition.
Editor's Note: Here are some helpful links and apps:
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