Help spread holiday cheer during the most wonderful time of the year

Help spread holiday cheer during the most wonderful time of the year

Trees for Troops Christmas 2016, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California (Photo by Keith Hayes, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow)

By Tracy Fuga

Holidays can be a wonderful time for families to gather, reconnect and celebrate. It is often the one time a year that we see some family members. For others, the holidays are stressful as they have to factor in a family member who is deployed, stationed outside the United States or lives across the country.

There are over 150,000 U.S. troops stationed outside our borders on more than 800 bases in some 70 countries. And many more service members live on bases far from their extended family. The exact number of deployed service members is unknown. As of March 2016, there were 3,800 American forces officially on the ground in Iraq, and in February of this year there were nearly 10,000 in Afghanistan. That’s a lot of folks who don’t have the option to go home to see their families for the holidays.

Deployed service members and those stationed far away from their families may experience a range of feelings during the holidays — loneliness, depression, homesickness and stress, among other things. Sometimes they may find it necessary to temporarily isolate themselves from their own family or fellow service members because hearing about festivities can be painful. However, being around others and socializing are important steps for maintaining your well-being during the holidays.

Here are some ideas for service members and their families to get through the holidays:

  • Maintain traditions even if you can’t be home with everyone else. Does your family go to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve? See if the chapel on base has a service or get together with those around you and have a candlelight service wherever you are.
  • Try to connect with your loved ones back home. If possible, call or Skype with your family while they’re celebrating the holidays. It won’t be exactly the same, but you can still spread joy through the phone or computer.
  • Get in the spirit of the season. Bake some fun holiday treats (or just eat some) and watch a classic movie such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
  • Engage in other activities to get your mind off not being with your loved ones and reduce stress by exercising, going to the movies or shopping.
  • Get involved with the Morale, Wellness and Recreation, Airman & Family Readiness or Fleet & Family Services, depending on your branch of service. These on-base or on-post services generally have holiday parties or programs to keep you busy and keep you from getting lonely or stressed out.
  • Send a care package to your loved ones stationed or deployed abroad. Make a special ornament or keepsake or have your child make something special for a deployed family member.
  • Give back to those in need. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or nursing home and help others less fortunate. Volunteering can be incredibly fulfilling, and you can spread holiday cheer to those who need it most.

Getting through the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful if you have a plan. What are you doing for the holidays? Will you get to spend time with family or friends?

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