Don’t Give Up Your Gym Membership Just Yet!

spin-classIt was a typical stressful morning getting the kids out the door in time for school. In the back of my mind, I was already feeling anxious about our upcoming cross-country PCS and a new challenge of completing my last two graduate school classes in the middle of the road trip. I dropped my older kids off at school, and took my 2 year old with me to the gym. As I opened the door to the gym, I almost walked right into a giant dry erase board where someone had written, “You are only one workout away from a good mood.”

I knew in an hour, I would be just fine.

For years, I have been relying on exercise to combat stress and negative emotions. It’s kept me balanced and helped me work through the most challenging problems. Even if I walk into a workout full of negativity and stress, I will always come out feeling calm and clear-headed.

Part of me believed this calming effect that exercise brought was because it felt like I was regaining a sense of control that I felt I had lost as a military spouse. I also believed I was “toughening up” through physical stressors in order to handle the emotional stressors.

I read some research done on the effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and sensitivity to stress. Most of the current research in the field of mental health supports physical activity to boost one’s mood, fight depression and build tolerance to stress.

Unfortunately, as a personal trainer, I’ve heard many people say beginning an exercise program is a stressor. It’s tough to start something new, but if someone dives into an exercise program that is too intense, he or she will most likely experience an increase in stress. This can be why so many people walk away from gym memberships.

There are two easy ways to start your journey towards healthy, effective stress management through exercise:

  1. Change your perception of exercise. It doesn’t have to be an hour long, drag-yourself-off-the-floor workout. There are incredible calming, meditative workouts like Tai Chi or yoga. I believe if we all started at a comfortable level, we can quickly adapt and feel positive about increasing the difficulty.
  2. Set a few small fitness goals. As we accomplish each goal, we develop a sense of empowerment and confidence. It’s this empowerment that lets us handle new challenges thrown our way, whether it’s a fitness challenge or surprise orders. It is also the repeated exposure to the good, controllable stress of exercise that increases our resistance to the negative, uncontrolled stress of a military lifestyle.

Military spouses provide emotional stability in a family. We have to take care of ourselves, physically and emotionally, so we can take care of our families in the best way possible. Every day I walk into that gym, or lace up my running shoes, with the goal of looking for a healthy way to combat the stress in my life. And every day I walk out in a good mood, ready to take on whatever life (and the military!) wants to throw my way.

What activities or forms of exercise help you deal with stress? Share it with us!

MelissaPosted by Melissa Wilkerson, Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

Join Our Association Today! #WayBackWednesday

We’ve come a long way since our early information tables, like this one in 1983, when we were still known as the National Military Wives Association! Whether we had handmade signs, or awesome goodies like our Volunteers today, our mission has never wavered: advocating for programs and benefits that strengthen and protect our Nation’s uniformed services families.

Have you considered becoming a member of our Association? With an annual fee less than what you’d spend on Starbucks in a week, you’ll not only directly help support military families with your donation, but you’ll also be eligible to join PenFed Credit Union, and receive updates on our advocacy efforts.

As our festive information table says, Help Make a Difference: JOIN TODAY!

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Orders? Check. Map? Check. Engagement Ring? WHAT!

moving-boxesWhile a permanent change of station (PCS) might not be the most glamorous aspect of military life, it does offer a unique opportunity to explore new parts of the world. Before we were married, my husband and I took advantage of a cross country PCS as a chance for an epic road trip.

We met just as he was re-deploying from a year tour in Afghanistan back to Fort Drum, so we spent the year traveling back and forth between where I was living in New York City and upstate New York, where he was stationed… all the while falling in love.

I knew it was only a matter of time until the Army would throw a curveball our way.

When orders came down for him to go to Korea, my heart sank. Because he was changing to a different military occupation specialty (MOS), he would need to first PCS from Fort Drum to Fort Huachuca for schooling before going to Korea.

We saw this pending PCS as an amazing opportunity to road trip across the country.

The quickest route from New York to Arizona was 2,381 miles with an authorized 7 days to travel (350 miles a day). We based our route on two important stops to visit family and picked interesting places in between. To keep on schedule, we used Google Maps to drop ‘pins’ at the 350-mile markers, making sure to drop pins at places we wanted to see. We also booked our hotel stays ahead of time. That saved us from having to depend on the area to find lodging, and gave us the opportunity to bank on hotel rewards points.

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On the way to Gulfport, Mississippi, we saw the sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama. After three days in Gulfport visiting family, we were on the road again. Our next stop was Austin, Texas, my home city. It was a quick trip because we had big plans to drive to the Grand Canyon from there, but during our stop at Albuquerque, we ate some bad New Mexican food and spent an extra day recovering at our hotel room. We adapted quickly, and rerouted our path to go straight to Sierra Vista, Arizona. Without a willingness to adjust based on travel luck and circumstances, any PCS road trip would be incredibly stressful!

Seeing the scenery and landscape change from each region of the country was by far the best experience of our trip. I loved seeing the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and then driving through the swampy Gulf Coast. The dessert area of West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona were amazing to see, too.

At the very end of our road trip, in our hotel room in Sierra Vista, my boyfriend proposed to me!

Little did I know, during our visit to see family, he asked for their approval. My entire family knew his proposal was nearing, and were in on the secret! He planned to propose during our day at the Grand Canyon, but in typical Army fashion, he improvised!

We were married in a courthouse during his leave to Korea, and had a church wedding when he arrived back. Although life in the military can be unpredictable, it opens up new opportunities around every corner. It’s up to us to seize the moment!

Do you have a fun PCS story? Send it to us at Blog@MilitaryFamily.org to have it featured here on Branching Out!

rachel-marstenPosted by Rachel Tringali Marston, Army Spouse

Taking Risks: “You can’t learn how to fly, unless you fly.”

shadow-of-womanDr. Regina Dugan was the first female Director at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and is now Vice President of Engineering and leader of the Advanced Technology and Projects  group at Google.

In 2012, during a TED talk, Dr. Dugan asked, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

She said, “If you really ask yourself this question, you can’t help but feel uncomfortable. Because when you ask it, you begin to understand how the fear of failure constrains you, how it keeps us from attempting great things…The path to truly new, never-been-done-before things always has failure along the way…We cannot both fear failure and make amazing new things.”

This has been a guiding principle for me since I heard her talk.

What would I do if I knew I would not fail?

Here’s an example: what would I do to support military families if I knew I would not fail? I’m happy to report that the answer is – exactly what I’m doing now. I’m leading our Association in the development of a new communication tool using a mobile app, called MyMilitaryLife.

To be honest, the don’t-be-afraid-to-fail mentality is part of the National Military Family Association personality. As an Association, we’ve done truly new, never-been-done-things.

Our Association is a built on a foundation started by women in the ‘60’s. In the 80’s, we convinced Congress to pass a bill to benefit military families living in an area no one had constituents – overseas. More recently, our advocacy organization started a summer camp program, fondly known as Operation Purple Camps. We changed the way we think about military spouse education through our innovative scholarship program.

Looking back, we would have never been able to send nearly 50,000 military kids to camp if we were constrained by fear. We would have never been able to risk investing $2.5 million in military spouses to advance their education if we were afraid to try new things. And we would have never been able to harness the power of technology to make our military families’ lives easier if we didn’t attempt the next great thing.

Is it scary? You betcha.

Is it risky? Yep.

Did we have failures along the way? Sure. It is part of the learning process. Regina Dugan explained, “you can’t learn how to fly, unless you fly.”

But is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY.

What would you do if you knew you would not fail?

michellePosted by Michelle Joyner, Mobile Initiatives Director

45 Years of Advocacy #WayBackWednesday

This year, our Association celebrates its 45th anniversary. That’s 197,100 days of advocacy and support for military families! From our roots as the Military Wives Association, to our present-day programs, scholarships, and resources, we continue to stand for this Nation’s service members and their families.

And, yes, our fashion sense is still just as snazzy as our founding Mothers’!

Is there something our Association can help your military family with? Leave us a comment and let us know how we can help!

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The Military Wives Association’s very first Board of Directors meeting, 1971

Bonded Through Volunteerism: Holly and Cynthia’s Story

cynthia-and-hollyHolly Franklin and Cynthia Giesecke started as strangers, both attending the National Military Family Association’s West Region Training Conference, held in San Diego, California. They both applied to become Volunteers with our Association as a way to better the lives of other military families. Little did they know that volunteering, and even just attending the conference, would change their lives so drastically.

Upon learning they’d be traveling to California for the conference, Holly and Cynthia had very different reactions.

Cynthia immediately answered with a “YES!”

Holly debated going at all – she had never visited California, or even traveled alone.

Once they arrived in San Diego, as fate would have it, they ended up being roommates.

It didn’t take long before the two discovered their awkward jokes and weird sense of humor was immediately embraced by the other. The first night, they stayed up talking for hours, telling stories about themselves, and their experiences as military spouses. Holly had grown up as a Marine brat, and was a new military spouse, while Cynthia lived in a Reservist’s house, and was a more seasoned military spouse.

When asked about Cynthia, Holly beamed with admiration for her new friend.

“Cynthia is an incredibly active person at her installation. I immediately admired her for how open she was to other people, and compassionate to everyone’s situation – however unique it may be. She gave me so much insight and advice to what works on certain installations. When I told her of my concerns and situations in my community, she told me about resources I could use to help. Being a new spouse, it was so wonderful to gain information and tips that would have taken me years to figure out if I hadn’t met her.”

Cynthia shared in Holly’s excitement.

“Holly has a lot of passion and is motivated and willing to serve her community. Although she would say that we inspired her, she inspired us. As a seasoned spouse, we are often overwhelmed and ‘burnt out.’ But speaking to new spouses reminds us of our reasons for serving and gives us a renewed spirit. We also cannot forget where we started, and help others maneuver through this military spouse adventure. We can learn a lot from each other. It’s amazing how quickly Holly and I ‘clicked.’ I often told her we were kindred spirits. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for her, and the amazing things she’s going to accomplish in the communities she touches.”

Volunteering is a great way to help others, but something more unique about volunteering is the way it can bring individuals together who share a passion for the same cause. With like-minded people in one room, it’s no wonder two of our special Volunteers formed a connection, turned friendship, that will last a lifetime.

Have you ever made a connection through Volunteering that you didn’t expect? How did it turn out?

Posted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager, Holly Franklin and Cynthia Giesecke, National Military Family Association Volunteers

5 Ways to Cope With Kids’ Stress During a PCS Move

little-girl-in-boxThe other day I was driving with my two daughters to Walmart for a much needed grocery trip. From the back seat my four-year-old daughter, Whitney, asked for a drink of the diet soda I had sitting in the center console.

“No, you can have some water instead,” I responded.

She flung herself into a full game-on tantrum, sobbing a dramatic performance worthy of an Oscar. It was one of the worst tantrums in a long, long time. We arrived at Walmart and I was relieved to get out of the confined space. But right there in the middle of the street she firmly, stalwartly, planted her feet, still crying hysterically. In we went, crying, screaming Whitney and all.

When the fit continued inside Walmart, I threw my hands up in surrender. This could not possibly be happening over denying her soda. I say no to soda all the time, only allowing sparing sips. Then it dawned on me. She must be stressed out about our quickly approaching 1500 mile permanent change of duty station (PCS) to Fort Bliss, Texas.

And it makes sense, really. A few days after talking to her about moving to Texas, she had a bed-wetting accident twice in one night; the first and only time she has ever done that. Plus, my husband and I have been stressed and emotionally strung-out lately. I know now that she is feeling the trickledown effect with our pending move.

I knew that I needed to create a strategy of keeping a happier home. After some careful thought, I came up with this short list of five ways we deal with child stress during our PCS.

Stick to the routine.
Kids thrive on routine. It’s often hard for me to stop what I’m doing to pick up a book and look into my daughters’ eyes for longer than a nanosecond knowing that I have a moving to-do list up to my ears. Try. Try to welcome the break the best you can. Do it for the littles.

Recognize the emotion out loud.
Young children do not understand what they are feeling. If you put a word to the emotion, it may help them come down out of the red. When my youngest gets extra loud, I explain, I know you’re angry about Whitney not letting you play in her bedroom. That must make you feel sad. KidsHealth.org says, “putting feelings into words helps kids communicate and develop emotional awareness — the ability to recognize their own emotional states.”

little-girl-packing-PCS-boxListen and move on.
While waiting out the Walmart tantrum, Whitney surprised me by taking a breath between sobs (finally!) by saying, “Mommy, I got so mad when you said no to me drinking your soda.” This made me listen to her frustration, talk about it, and move past the stressful moment. Later that evening, she told my husband about her Oscar-worthy performance.

“That’s right,” we said. “That wasn’t a happy moment, and we know that made you feel upset. Now it’s time for bed. Tomorrow will be a new day to laugh and play.”

Involve them in the process.
Allow your children to pack their special items in their very own box. Place it last on the truck, and unpack it first when you arrive. This demonstrates that all of your things from your last home have arrived at your new home. If you hired movers, bling the box out with stickers so it stands out. Or, keep it in your personal vehicle for easy access.

Dance.
When all else fails, have a living room dance party. Seriously! Who can stay mad or stressed when you’re dancing crazy to your favorite songs?

Do your kids show signs of stress before a pending move? What tips and tricks work for your family? Share it with us in the comments!

erin-bettisPosted by Erin Bettis, Army spouse, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Ft. Bliss, TX