Bend, don’t break: A guide to resiliency from military spouses


Posted: January 19, 2021 | Word Count: 1,059

What do you do with uncertainty? Much less a year of it or more? The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with challenges, hardships and instability of every kind — important events canceled, travel put on hold, businesses striving to stay open, kids and parents adjusting to virtual learning and work. Above all, the threat of a loved one falling ill has remained ever present.

The only thing certain is that this past year has required a critical skill: resiliency. But as with any skill, resiliency doesn’t always come naturally — becoming more resilient takes work. Something military families know well.

For servicemembers, resiliency is part of their training. The U.S. Department of Defense Master Resilience Training Course teaches them to master energy management, emotion awareness and regulation, impulse control, de-catastrophizing and more to prepare for the challenges they may face. But for military spouses, resiliency is a skill gained through their lived experience managing life at home while their husbands and wives are deployed. “If you embrace the need for resilience, you also embrace the fact that life is full of highs and lows,” says American Legion Auxiliary National Headquarters’ Veteran Affairs & Rehabilitation Program Manager Chrystal Daulton, whose husband has been stationed away from home for half of their 24-year marriage. “When you’re flying high and everything is great, resilience helps you navigate the inevitable bumps in the road with grace.”

The military spouses at American Legion Auxiliary National Headquarters supply advice they like to share with others about navigating times of uncertainty and the unexpected. Here are some of their key tips:

Keep going. Don’t focus on the obstacle; think about the next step you can take. Maybe you’re reeling from disappointment or feeling like life is a little unfair these days, but the reality is, dwelling rarely does us any good. Try to turn your initial reaction into an action. And if you need a little help on your way, call your doctor to talk about breathing or calming techniques that may help you process and move past those initial feelings.

Make your bed every morning. Small tasks like this one can have a big impact on your day — providing a sense of control over your circumstances and a sense of accomplishment. No matter what else may have gotten in the way of your day, when you climb into a well-made bed, you’ll know you conquered something.

Look on the bright side. Always try to find a positive in every negative, no matter how hard that can be. Does your world feel like it’s crashing down? Maybe the weather forecast is saying otherwise — maybe get outside for some fresh air and fresh perspective. Your child has a cold that just won’t go away, and you’re feeling exhausted? Think of this as extra snuggle time with your little one; they won’t stay that way forever. Finding the silver lining is a creative exercise you can do for any issue.

Connect with friends and family. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s how difficult it is to be isolated from those we love. While getting together in person may remain a challenge, there are always video calls, phone calls or even classic letter-writing to stay in touch. Be sure to reach out and talk to others; don’t wait for them to reach out to you. If you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, call a friend and commiserate, complain, share support and remind yourselves that you’re not alone. Staying connected to others is one of the most important steps in resiliency.

Have a plan. Even though things can change, make goals and hone new skills that make you feel more confident and capable. Whether you’re planning a far-off event or discovering a new passion, working on a plan can be an ideal way to stay occupied and take your mind off of anything stressful.

Memorize a mantra. A prayer, a favorite quote or an expression that you come up with all on your own — having a mantra to recite can be a useful calming technique and a way to recenter when you feel yourself losing your cool. "The Serenity Prayer" is an example of a step toward resiliency: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”

Take a break from the outside world. Unplug from your devices for a while and find another low-fi way to occupy your time, hands or mind. A good book, a puzzle, a long walk. In a world where we’re inundated with new information and stories, it can feel overwhelming, sometimes without us even realizing it. Let your family know you’ll be turning on your “Do Not Disturb” and disconnect for a bit. After all, it’s not just our devices that need power; you need to “recharge” too.

Don’t be everything to everybody. With all of the incredible responsibilities you can feel as an employee, friend and family member, it can be hard to remember to take care of yourself first. Take time for you and treat yourself to things you enjoy, whether soaking in a hot bubble bath or bundling up with a cozy blanket and binge-watching your favorite TV show. Allowing yourself to unwind is not only gratifying, it also ensures you’re able to be more giving in other facets of your life.

Volunteer and become involved in your community. Acting in service to others is one of the best ways to feel like you’re making a difference in challenging times. Look for volunteer opportunities in your community. A great place to start is by contacting your local American Legion Auxiliary unit. Ask about ways you can volunteer or if you are eligible to become a member. You can also visit www.ALAforVeterans.org to find out more. You’re sure to see the positive impact of that volunteer work in your own life, as well as the lives of others.

Take it from those who know best — resiliency is the key to managing uncertainty and change. By employing these small, simple actions, you can build a significant new skill that will serve you well through this challenging time and beyond.

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