The military seems to be governed by rules, standards and routines, but in reality it is a constantly changing beast that thrives on ruining any plans you have set at the very last minute. For a person with anxiety, this can be a nightmare. This article will help you wrangle this beast and start to tame it.
1. Make connections early.
Try to find friends in the area. This can be in person with people in your spouse’s unit or in the Family-Readiness Group (FRG) as well as online. There are many online groups that are for spouses all over the world and specific to certain bases. Join a few and see who you meet. I’ve seen a lot of posts that basically say, “Hey I just moved to Fort such-and-such and I’m looking to find some new friends. Here’s a little about me…” After being a spouse for a while, the concept of having to start over and meet new people is really common, so people are supportive of adding new people to their friend group.
2. Know your triggers.
Knowing what triggers your anxiety will help you manage it. Think about when your anxiety starts to flare up. Write down the thoughts that go through your head when you’re anxious or having a panic attack. Once you write these things down, you can start to look for patterns. When you figure out what triggers your anxiety, you can be more mindful when you go into those situations. You can use your coping skills to reduce the effect of the anxiety and try to help keep you calm.
3. Create a coping skills toolbox.
This is basically a list of things that help you cope with your anxiety. Certain things work better depending on the person and can sometimes be situation specific. For example, rocking out to your favorite upbeat song can work when you’re feeling nervous in a car, but not so much in the middle of a meeting. It is good to have a variety of coping skills that you can use, so you can tailor to your situation. Some things that you can add to your toolbox might be journaling, taking a walk, listening to music, belly breathing, fidget toys or using a progressive muscle relaxation script. There’s this great article by Haley Quinn where she compiled coping strategies that you won’t necessarily find by searching online.
4. Be honest and ask for help.
Sometimes our coping skills don’t work as well as we hope. We still get overwhelmed and anxious in certain situations. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I find that telling people that I have anxiety before asking for something gives me more leeway to ask for help on something that seems minor. Enlist your friends for help. Let them know what your triggers are and what helps you. For my friends that have anxiety I give them specific directives and make sure to give them lots of details. This helps them to control their anxiety since they know what to expect. Find out what helps you control your anxiety better and ask for it.
5. Follow a self-care plan.
Anxiety likes to rear its head when we’re stressed out and tired. The military can easily make you overwhelmed and create a sensory overload with everything happening at once. A self-care plan allows us to recharge and re-center. It can be hard to take the time out for ourselves when we have a lot of other responsibilities. Common self-care activities are exercising, taking a bath, drinking tea, or creating some type of art. Self-care activities can be anything that allows you to relax and handle life’s stressors. When we are recharged, we are able to have more patience, stronger ability to cope and are more resilient to life.
6. Expect plans to always change.
A big trigger for anxiety is not knowing what to expect. A lot of people with anxiety like to plan and have everything in place ahead of time. The military is known for changing plans at the very last minute, even big things like a PCS (permanent change of station AKA moving). Always expect the military to change the plans. By expecting it, it takes some of the fear out of it. It can also allow you to create plans B and C…and maybe D, E and F and not cling so much to the plans you have already made.
7. Create routines but be flexible.
Creating routines can help ease anxiety. As mentioned above the military likes to change things, so learn to be flexible. One of the ways you may need to be flexible is when you go shopping, because unless you love crowds never go to the commissary on payday. Just don’t do it. Routines in the morning can help you start your day without running around and stressing out because you’re late. Give yourself some extra time as well since plans can always change. While routines can help, it is important to be flexible. Being ridged in the military life will cause you more stress and anxiety.
8. Check your thoughts.
Sometimes anxiety causes us to think irrationally. When you start to feel anxious, see if your thoughts are based in actual evidence or starting to run wild. You can even write out your thoughts and determine if there is evidence for or against your thought patterns. Over time this will come more easily and you can quickly do a check-in with yourself to make sure you’re on track. Another thing to consider is where you are getting your information. Are you watching the news too much or are you getting your information straight from the unit? The news sells stories. It is their job to get viewers to have an emotional reaction so they continue to watch. You may need to remove yourself from certain activities if they are a trigger for you.
9. See a therapist or do check-ins.
Sometimes anxiety might start to overtake your life. Going to see a therapist might help reset your baseline. They are trained to help identify where your anxiety is stemming from and how to help you tackle it. Sometimes it just helps to get an outside perspective on what you are going through. Even if anxiety isn’t overtaking your life, it can be helpful to do check-ins to make sure that you are maintaining and not starting to slip back into old habits.
10. Don’t be a hermit.
Lastly, get out and enjoy your life. It can be scary to move to a new place with lots of written and unwritten rules to follow. Don’t let that stop you! Military spouses understand the struggles and problems that are commonplace in the lifestyle and thus can be your best source for friendship and support. Go to events and get involved in the community. It has a lot to offer if you take advantage of it. Embrace the culture and thrive!