Coping With Stress

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hey there folks!

It's been awhile, and to be honest, it's taken some serious motivation to get back into the swing of things again. I have probably been thinking about blogging for about a week now, but couldn't push myself to do it until this morning when I woke up a full hour before my alarm was set to go off.

It's nearly the tail end of September, and my recap for the month is the following:

  • Jeff is officially 27! We celebrated his actual birthday here at home with a home-cooked meal by yours truly (smoked cheese and bacon stuffed into breaded chicken with cheesy grits and asparagus, yum yum) and presents. I bought Jeff the entire Munchkin Zombies card game, which we are both enjoying immensely. 
  • I applied for a third job, which would keep me busy on weekends and holidays. This would be a huge help, especially after Jeff leaves for Basic Training. I'm waiting to hear back, and I'll be sure to post more about the position if I get it (fingers crossed!). 
  • We have had to endure an incredible amount of stress in the last couple of weeks. I don't plan to mention the details here, but it's been enough to get me really thinking about what our strengths and coping strategies are as a couple. 
Generally, Jeff and I talk about everything. We hash, and then rehash. It helps us gain perspective (and maybe a tiny bit of control) to be able to look at a situation objectively and consider the possibilities, options, and outcomes. We also try to be positive, which sometimes gets us a little too hopeful, but there it is. Staying emotionally and physically connected is also key when either of us is under a great deal of stress.

With our current stressor, there is a great deal that is out of our control. We've done all that we can, and now we have to wait and see.

Ah, the dreaded wait and see. (Insert Sean Connery voice-over.) It is a beast that requires patience and acceptance. Try to confront it, it may run away and hide for a time, or it simply find a way to bite you on the ass.  (End voice over.)

I'm sure you have been through a time or two like this before.

What if you and your partner deal with the wait-and-sees differently? Myself: I tend to be a get-out-all-my-fears-and-frustrations-at-once-kind-of-gal, which can sometimes mean sobbing hysterically for a few several minutes. Afterward, when I've gotten out the irrationality out of my system, I approach the situation with a keen mind and a solution-oriented outlook. Jeff, on the other hand, tends to simmer. He doesn't have the initial freakouts, and tries to parcel his stress out over the long term.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of each of these coping styles?

For myself, they are obvious. In those first moments, I feel like a basket case. The stress truly tears me down, and sometimes I feel like a broken person if the stressor is great enough. However. when it's all over, I become a machine designed solely for identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, and implementing strategies. I like structure and organization, and being able to review the positive steps I have taken toward fixing a situation is soothing.  By the end, I am not feeling stressed so much as readied for whatever consequences or outcomes may result.

Jeff, on the other hand, is able to stay cool and level-headed in the beginning, which helps me get through my freak-outs. Instead of needing that initial upset to get his noggin' working, he is already calculating the risks and benefits of various scenarios. In this way, he's not getting smacked with it the way I am. Over time, however, without the appropriate strategies, it builds up for him. For short term stressors, his technique is great because parceling it out helps him avoid getting overwhelmed. For long-term stressors, Jeff struggles toward the end as his resources get depleted. Luckily, he's already done the processing needed to help remind himself that there is an end in sight.

Every military couple out there experiences these differences in coping styles and approaches to stress. The important thing is knowing what your individual and team approaches to stress are. If you have a good sense of how you work alone, you can better prepare for how to tackle future stress together. In the beginning, Jeff helps me calm down, and I help keep him afloat toward the end. In this way, we complement each other.

I know this approach is going to be tested when Jeff finally leaves for Basic, and we know there are going to be some tough times ahead. We won't be able to balance each other so easily because of the geographical distance and the lack of communication we will have to endure for the first three-six months.

In many ways, I am thankful that this stressor came when it did, because it prompted me to have a serious conversation with myself about how we are going to handle stress when we are apart and on our own. We have officially known each other for 12 years, and we have been best friends the entire time. Sure, we've been apart for several years at a time, but this is the first time that our communication, the key to our relationship success, will truly be diminished.

This is definitely an issue that requires continued reflection and discussion. When I've had some time to think it over, I will report back on my thoughts on how we plan to cope. You can expect that I'll also be doing a healthy heaping of research, gathering advice and input from other milspouses.

I guess the nugget that I want you all to take away today is that whatever your plan is for coping, make it a shared plan. Create a team approach for you as a couple (and as a family, if you have children), as well as a plan for yourself. Don't wait until your spouse deploys or something goes wrong before you evaluate which strategies need some fine-tuning. Finally, having a coping strategy applies to everyone, not just milspouses. Including your military spouse in on the creating this plan will give him or her better skills for coping with the unique stressors that befall military service members.


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