JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – As restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic continue, Soldiers, civilians, and their families are trying to adapt to a new normal.
Families with children may feel stressed during this time of forced togetherness and uncertainty. In some areas, schools have been closed since mid-March and won’t re-open until next fall. Washington’s governor recently extended the statewide ‘stay-at-home’ order to May 31.
What this all may mean is that Regional Health Command-Pacific personnel, geographically dispersed along the West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, Japan and Korea, might find the situation more stressful than most.
Lt. Col. David Sensiba, a social worker and chief of RHC-P’s Family Advocacy Program, said stressors on significant relationships can make conflict resolution difficult and worsen communications problems.
“When couples clash, the stress of being at home together for an indefinite period can amplify the fault lines that may already exist in the relationship,” Sensiba said. “Old disagreements that couples thought they had resolved can suddenly return.
“It is important when emotions begin to escalate that the couples take a step back, take deep breaths, and it may be a benefit to go another part of the house to regain a sense of calmness before considering reengaging with the other person,” Sensiba added.
Sensiba said keeping a positive mood mindset and sustaining a resiliency focus are critical, and for many people, there’s a tendency to avoid negative emotions and to pile negative self-judgment on top of their stress. He suggested taking a break from what’s going on in the outside world and focusing inward on family and friends, since activities that distract people from current events can be helpful.
“This is a pandemic, so decrease the focus on self-criticism and judgment about what you’re not getting done,” he said, “or how you’re not doing as much as you should be doing with your kids’ lesson plans.”
Sensiba said Soldiers and families, especially those with children, should talk about what’s going on during the pandemic.
“Talk to your kids about scary subjects,” he said. “Even if kids aren’t talking about it, we should broach the topic and create the space for questions to be asked and answered. Kids can be surprisingly aware of what adults are talking and worrying about behind closed doors.”
Sensiba said by not talking directly with them about something that is potentially frightening, children’s feelings of fear and uncertainty can increase.
“Ask your children what they have heard about COVID-19, how they are feeling about it, and what concerns they might have,” he said. “You can also remind them that you are available to talk about thoughts and feelings and continue to check in with them over time.
“You are certainly not alone,” Sensiba added.
Families can do a number of things to build resiliency while stuck at home during the pandemic, Sensiba said.
“Work to counter negativity through game nights, family activities, arts and crafts,” he said.
Sensiba also recommended keeping a regular exercise routine, getting eight hours of sleep a night, and watching what you eat.
“Physical activity fosters normal growth and development, improves overall health, can reduce the risk of various chronic diseases, and can make people feel better, function better, be less stressed and sleep better,” he said. “Some health benefits start immediately after activity, and even short bouts of physical activity are beneficial.
“Work with your children, and spouses, too, on eating heathier,” he said.
Sensiba also said a little kindness can go a long way.
“Don’t beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself and your partner,” he said. “Treat yourself with kindness, the same way you would treat a friend.”
The Army’s Resilience Directorate, in Washington, D.C., also offered some tips to building and maintaining psychological readiness:
- Talk about your day.
- Participate in your children’s activities.
- Bring back family game night.
- Make and stick to a budget.
- Care for your pets.
HELP IS AVAILABLE
The Army has a variety of resources available to help build and maintain resiliency. These resources are there for Soldiers, civilians, retirees, and their families. Many are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Because so many Regional Health Command-Pacific staff members are working long hours, working from home, or are self-quarantining with their families, we’re sharing their contact information to reach a wider audience.
Family Advocacy Program, Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic: Lt. Col. David Sensiba; 808-433-8579, email@example.com.
Regional Health Command-Pacific Behavioral Health: Lawrence Edwards, firstname.lastname@example.org; Warren Aoki, email@example.com; Michael Martella, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regional Health Command-Pacific Chaplain: Chaplain (Col.) David Deppmeier, 808-594-8031, email@example.com; Staff Sgt. Michael Kuehne, 808-741-3049, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regional Health Command-Pacific Master Resiliency Trainer: Sgt. 1st Class David Baker, 808-800-1450, email@example.com
Army Resilience Directorate: https://readyandresilient.army.mil/index.html
Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness: https://readyandresilient.army.mil/CSF2/index.html
Military Crisis Line (U.S.): (800) 273-8255 or DSN 111; Press 1. Text: 838255
Military Crisis Line (Korea): 0808-555-118 or DSN 118
Military OneSource 24/7 Support: 800-342-9647
Psychological Health Center of Excellence: 866-966-1020; 24/7 outreach