JULY 15, 2023 – Moving season is in full swing for many military families! The process of a Permanent Change of Station, or PCS, can be both exciting and stressful.
Saying goodbye to what was familiar, and adjusting to new housing, employment, routines, social activities and schools can at times feel overwhelming.
Logistically, some changes can be more time-consuming than others, such as the time spent in temporary housing, delivery of household items, and childcare enrollment.
Using healthy coping skills during times of transition is key to reducing stress and managing your mental health prior, during and after a military move.
Coping With Stress
Moving is a long process which often takes individuals and families several months to complete. On average, military families move every three years – about four times more often than civilian families. A PCS can be physically, financially and emotionally demanding, even for military families who have moved several times. Although there are benefits to a new moving experience, the challenges can take an emotional toll.
Here are some tips to help cope with emotional stress following a PCS season:
- Manage expectations – Making practical to-do lists, a to-do binder, and an unpacking timeline can help with outlining realistic scenarios. However, despite making plans, it is important to maintain a flexible mindset for times when schedules don’t go according to plan. In addition to creating to-do lists, it can also be encouraging to make a list of completed tasks to foster a sense of accomplishment and progress.
- Have a positive mindset – Even if you are experienced with moving and can anticipate expected challenges, maintaining a positive mindset can be rewarding. Reframing negative thoughts and not expecting the worst can be mitigated by practicing positive self-talk. For example, in the midst of a frustrating day, telling yourself “This is temporary” and “I can do this” can positively impact your mood and behaviors.
- Self-care – While you’re unpacking boxes and creating new routines, it’s important to take time to decompress. Making the time instead of attempting to find the time (i.e., to exercise, go for a walk, eat healthy, journal before bed, and engage in enjoyable activities) can help you to not feel overwhelmed.
- Be patient, and acknowledge your feelings – Moving can be emotional. No matter how well prepared you are for a PCS move, it is important to recognize the different feelings that you may experience. Whether you have feelings of nervousness, grief, eagerness, or sadness, feeling emotional following a period of change is 100 percent normal, and it is important to accept your feelings as being part of the moving process.
- Talk to someone – Confiding in a friend, family member, chaplain, and/or behavioral health counselor can help manage emotional stressors following a PCS move. Maintaining contact with your support system from a previous duty station and/or finding a new counselor to talk to, whether over the phone or by video chat, can be helpful for families dealing with a stressful PCS move.
Additional Support Recommendations:
- Attend an orientation – Numerous duty stations host a newcomers’ orientation to aid in adjusting after a move. Orientations generally include a wealth of information related to housing, schools, social services, spousal employment, and medical and mental health resources.
- Join a community Facebook page – This is a great way to learn about your new community and connect with fellow military families.
- Sesame Street for Military Families offers relocation resources and downloadable activities to help families maintain a sense of comfort through the changes associated with military life. Link: https://sesamestreetformilitaryfamilies.org/
- Military OneSource lists relocation assistance planning tools, free resources, and support to help plan a PCS move. Link: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/childcare
The Defense Health Agency supports our Nation by improving health and building readiness—making extraordinary experiences ordinary and exceptional outcomes routine.
By Army Lt. Col. Melissa Boyd
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Defense Centers for Public Health–Aberdeen