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Don't cross into the deployment 'blues'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mindy Bloem
  • 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
Everybody has experienced the "blues" in some shape or form. But what can people do to boost their spirits when these low feelings hit in a deployed environment?

According to Lt. Col. (Dr.) Stephen Cook, 506th Expeditionary Medical Squadron psychologist, there are three stages of stress in regards to deployment, and each one can trigger feelings of anxiety.

The three stages are pre-deployment, mid-deployment and post-deployment.
In the pre-deployment stage, he said people are mainly concerned with questions like, "Am I prepared? What's going to happen there? What's going to be happening to my family while I'm here? What am I going to be doing?"

During the mid-deployment stage people tend to feel restless and bored and worry about when they will be returning home and what's going to happen once they get home.
And finally, the post-deployment stage is about blending back into life, he said.

"When servicemembers deploy, they step out of their stream of life," Doctor Cook said. "However, life goes on without them, and they must find a way to blend back in once they return. You aren't going to be able to step back in where you stepped out."

Doctor Cook listed several negative feelings that can arise for an individual who is currently deployed:

- Too much or not enough work
- Displaced, underutilized, unnecessary
- "Familiarity breeds contempt"
- Early concerns about reuniting with family
- Boredom
- Resentment over missing family moments
- Concerns over problems at home

In conjunction with the above feelings, he listed several coping strategies:

- Maintain sense of purpose, mission focus
- Remain focused on personal goals
- Set new goals (or modify existing ones) to accomplish before rotation ends
- Balance social and solitary activities
- Focus on "here and now"
- Get physically fit and eat healthy
- Talk about your feelings with someone you trust

Senior Airman Blake Draper, 506th Air Expeditionary Group Commander's Support Staff, deployed from Pope AFB, N.C., has felt the anxious feelings on his deployment here but says it's important to focus on the positive instead of the negative.

"I can get down when I think about being away from all my friends and missing out on all the fun things that they are doing," he said. "I usually combat these feelings by remembering a funny story of something that has happened in the past."

He said it also helps to use something you have a passion for as an outlet.

"I have stayed positive through this deployment by taking every advantage that has been offered to me to play guitar," Airman Draper said. "I have played for the chapel, KRAB's got Talent and taught people how to form chords during Thursday guitar lessons."

Doctor Cook also advocates being a good wingman for others who may be feeling down.
"Be alert to extreme behavior," he said. "For instance, if someone sits in the office by themselves or has irritable moods and avoids social contact, that could be behavior to watch out for. Or if they exhibit extreme changes in daily habits like eating, sleeping and exercising."

He said you don't have to have a degree in psychology to help someone feel better.

"It's amazing how simply listening and understanding can help a person," Doctor Cook said. "You don't have to agree that what someone says is true, but to just understand that's how they see it and validating their experience can really help things. People just want to feel understood."

He also advises helping someone else who seems to be in the same situation.

"The first thing to do if you're feeling down in the dumps is to find someone else to lift," Doctor Cook said. "Take a deep breath, put yourself aside and ask yourself how you can help them."

He said if that recommendation doesn't work, seek someone out with whom you can talk.

"Your best friend may not be here with you, but there is someone you can talk to, perhaps a co-worker," the doctor said. "Don't close the door on a potential person because you don't know them. We all share common experiences in life, so make an active effort to search someone out."

Finally, he advises seeing a chaplain or mental health professional for people who can't shake the "blues."