JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
The holidays should be a time of peace and joy, an enjoyable respite from the grind of everyday life, but it is often marked by overwhelming stress created by the demands of the season, from shopping and decorating to social events and family gatherings.
For young Airmen away from home for the first time and for deployed active-duty members and their families, the absence of loved ones can cause additional stress. However, there are ways to ease the pain of separation and enjoy the holiday season, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph community readiness and mental health professionals said.
"Young Airmen away from home can carry on their family traditions," Gina Ramirez, 359th Medical Operations Squadron psychology technician, said.
Examples of these include baking goodies and taking them to unsuspecting people, being a secret Santa to those less fortunate, caroling, collecting special ornaments every year, sending Christmas cards and letters, decorating and observing religious traditions, she said.
"We have so many Airmen who come from different cultural and geographic backgrounds, so bringing those various traditions together is a great way to share in the holidays and learn about those traditions," she said.
The holiday season also provides opportunities for breaking away from a routine, whether it's traveling or engaging in other activities that allow people to improve their mood.
"Do something different," Ramirez said. "Get some friends together and go on a trip. Take time to do what you want to do."
Although loved ones may be many miles away, it's still possible to engage with them, thanks to technological innovations like Skype.
"You can use this technology and see them, no matter where they are," Ramirez said.
This technology benefits Airmen away from their families as well as deployed members and their families.
Families with deployed members should also carry on their holiday traditions, Ramirez said, but spouses should be careful not to overcompensate for the absence of their partners.
"Keep up the same things you've been doing, but do not commit too much," she said. "Be mindful of your time and energy."
Ramirez said it's also important to keep your absent loved ones "in your thoughts and in your conversations."
The JBSA-Randolph Military and Family Readiness Center assists families with deployed members throughout the holiday season, offering workshops and events such as Hearts Apart, which helps families stay connected while their loved ones are away, Master Sgt. Joe Ugarte, 902nd Force Support Squadron readiness NCO in charge, said.
For deployed members and their families, communication is "key," he said.
"Deployed members like to hear stories from family members, and families like to hear deployment stories," Ugarte said. "Communication keeps marriages strong through deployments and our support for deployed members is key. We want our deployed members to concentrate on the mission at hand and not worry about things on the home front."