Recent studies delving into the wellbeing of military families suggest that the stress of service extends well-beyond the battlefield: A 2017 study by the Department of Defense on the impact of deployment on spouses found that 92% reported increased stress levels.
As soon as families enter the “deployment countdown” ― the period of time when relatives must count down the days until their loved one returns from deployment ― the luxury of companionship can quite suddenly disappear. Partners at home might face shouldering the entire burden of domestic life on their own while worrying about their loved one’s safety; they may become single parents or endure loneliness at home.
“More spouses struggle with things like anxiety and depression during deployment than we realize,” explains Becky Hoy, founder of Brave Crate, a deployment countdown subscription box for military spouses.
Hoy, a military wife who has been separated from her husband due to deployment for roughly half of their nine-year marriage, says, “There tends to be this unspoken rule of ‘putting on your big-girl panties and just dealing with it.’”
Hoy’s husband, Randy, was first deployed to Afghanistan just four months after the couple’s marriage in March 2011. They were a young couple; Hoy had just graduated from college in December 2010. Initially, Hoy was inclined to put life on hold while she counted down the days until Randy’s return. “What I did in the very beginning while I was still on that struggle [was] I tried to keep things the way they were. I tried to do the same things and live life in the same way as I did when he was home,” she says.
The pressure to project normalcy for military families can come from both internal and external forces, Hoy explains. “One of the things we hear as military spouses all the time is, ‘Well, you knew what you were signing up for. You chose.’”
Hoy describes how she felt guilty when she considered taking time for herself. “I was afraid when I first started making an intentional effort to invest in my own happiness and wellbeing while he was deployed. I felt a certain amount of guilt that he wasn’t able to do the same thing.”
But Hoy found that her feelings of guilt were unnecessary and even in direct conflict with Randy’s mindset. “What I found out in talking to him is that it made him feel such a sense of comfort to know that I wasn’t opting out, that I hadn’t decided to resign myself to the fact that this was going to be a terrible experience for us. I think that’s probably the number one thing that allowed our relationship to thrive and really grow during that season.”
Self-Benefit Is Everyone’s Benefit
“Investing in military spouses and the military family is mission critical,” Hoy says.”Part of having a functioning military is being able to let people know that their spouses at home are going to be OK, that there is a community here for them.”
When Hoy was able to approach deployment with a more positive mindset, suddenly the time apart became an opportunity to focus on herself. The more that Hoy was able to positively benefit on a personal level, the more she recognized the importance of self-development for her marriage and her community, as well.
When a friend needed to prepare for her spouse’s deployment, Hoy wanted to provide encouragement. In support, Hoy put together a package of self-care items to help her friend make the most of her time during her husband’s deployment ― and the idea of Brave Crate was born.
The Brave Crate subscription box is designed especially for military spouses who remain at home. Each curated box (what Hoy calls a “deployment countdown” box) arrives monthly and includes four-to-six items intentionally selected to empower the recipient to embrace self-care, personal development and marital growth during deployment.
“We try to really focus around actual pain points for military spouses during deployment, rather than picking what makes sense to us. We try to take the time to connect with everyone in our community and say, ‘What is the struggle or what are you excited about when it comes to your deployment countdown?’”
Through conversations with members and with the advice of colleagues and bloggers in the military spouse community, as well as through her own experience, Hoy drills down to ensure that she’s providing her membership with products that will empower them in their unique challenges.
To Hoy, “Self-care looks a lot like life management.”
Getting Serious About Self-Care
Life management is critical for military spouses because the feeling of being overwhelmed can easily develop when routines ― even the most mundane ― are disrupted, according to Hoy. She uses a project management tool to track all of the tasks that Randy normally handles when he’s at home, so that they don’t surprise her and overwhelm her when he’s deployed.
Hoy suggests thinking about normal processes that will change during deployment and going so far as to write down a new routine, if necessary. Morning routines, meal routines, sleeping routines, holiday traditions ― things that might seem insignificant, but dramatically impact your life when fielding alone.
“One of the things that I encourage is for people to think about that before they happen,” she says. “Think about how you’re going to approach these different moments in your day, your month and your year.”
Communal-Care For Self-Care
Self-care practices also extend beyond personal initiatives ― support networks are critical during the deployment countdown. The 2018 Military Family Lifestyle Survey by Blue Star Families found that military spouses report feeling significantly less connected than other surveyed groups to both local civilian communities and military communities.
Hoy stresses the importance of community and she credits online social networks dedicated to military spouses as being critical during deployment. Brave Crate members characterize its online community as such a resource. Emily Hibbett, a military spouse and Brave Crate community member, describes how the social group is “hands down, one of the best assets for a deployment ― it brings such a positive and uplifting light to the whole experience.”
Even though Hoy developed a business to support military spouses and finds herself in a position to offer advice, her circumstances still feel challenging at times. “I think this is a constant choice that we’re making and a constant struggle. Some days are better than others.”
Hoy compares the experience to how she imagines it must feel like to run a marathon, the positive perspective needed for a strenuous journey. “No one at mile two of a marathon is like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a ton of fun.’ No, they’re like, ‘This is probably going to be difficult at some point. I’m going to get blisters. Things are going to be sore. Who knows what could happen?’ At the end of it, you look back and you’re like, ‘Okay, that was good for me. I’m glad I did that.’”
Brought to you by USAA. Proud supporter of the military community. What you’re MADE of, we’re MADE for™. Visit USAA.com to learn more. USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its affiliates.
This article was paid for by USAA and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.