As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the globe, people all over the world are questioning when their lives will return to a pre-pandemic normal. Change seems to be a key characteristic of this COVID-19 season. One community very familiar with change is the military community. They are very adept at handling transitions as they experience it through regular moves, training missions and deployments. However, this pandemic brings a heightened degree of stress, challenging their ability to cope.
In the early stages of this virus, the American Red Cross was able to help the U.S. military community by using its expertise in communication to the armed forces by setting up virtual workshops. These workshops address stressors directly related to COVID-19. Mental health facilitators all over the world host sessions helping service members, veterans and their families manage stress and communicate effectively.
Mary Roy, Martha Iskyan and Jo Romaniello are all licensed mental health clinicians and Red Cross volunteers. Each of them has conducted countless in-person workshops for the military community and are now leaders with the new virtual COVID-19 workshops. Together they have a rich background in providing therapy to military families and veterans and are now seeing a heightened level of stress within the military community.
Romaniello explains, “I’m seeing a lot of distress in families, and adolescents in particular are really struggling with this. Military families are really resilient and can adapt easily, but being in the same place at the same time with new restrictions is different and difficult. It is a great equalizer.”
Many military spouses and children are also experiencing extended separation from their loved ones overseas for an indefinite amount of time, as deployment schedules have been interrupted. Iskyan shares why this is problematic. “Military families are already under a huge amount of stress, especially for spouses that are here by themselves. Before, they had focus and a mission, now there is no mission, which is a huge stressor.”
COPING THROUGH QUARANTINE
There are many tools available in the workshop for military families and veterans that will help them successfully get through this difficult period. At a time when the virus takes so much away, Red Crossers are committed to giving even more back. Roy shares that she’s always been a helper; in fact, she’s always been called “Mama Mary.” She’s grateful for this online platform to connect and encourage closeness.
She explains that managing stress is a big key to mental wellbeing. “Everyone needs ways to manage their stress, and it is very important to show how before it gets out of hand. We teach how to identify the beginning signals. This gives people a way to reframe the stress and deal with it. They can learn to set goals during this time. I remind myself every day to think of all the good things because there are a lot. It’s easy when you can’t go anywhere to get really pulled down by those thoughts. In the morning, when you brush your teeth, use that time to mark in your mind what you’re grateful for.”
This is a period of ‘firsts’ for a lot of people. All three experts share that their job is to support and educate participants on how to successfully cope across many areas of life. For example, the workshops address defining stress, setting goals, healthy family communication and creating positive perspectives.
“Look at all of these parents who are now first-time homeschoolers,” adds Romaniello. The majority of people don’t homeschool, and now everyone has to. We share with them that you don’t have to be perfect. You just need to be on the trajectory of making imperfect progress.”
Iskyan, Roy and Romaniello are thankful to be three of many experienced and caring facilitators for the new stress-management COVID-19 workshop. They will continue to help military families and veterans find stable footing during this shaky time. Roy explains that volunteering with the Red Cross has granted her the opportunity to give back to service members. “It is so gratifying to do something for my community and for the people that are defending our country and keeping us safe. Being homebound, at least this is something that we can still do to contribute. It’s part of my nature to serve.”
The new Red Cross COVID-19 workshops are open for everyone in the military and veteran community. For more information or to sign up for a virtual workshop, call your local Red Cross chapter or contact them by visiting redcross.org and type in your zip code.
YOU CAN SUPPORT OUR TROOPS
In the face of emergencies, including COVID-19, the American Red Cross continues to support our military, veterans and their families domestically and overseas. Find out how you can volunteer your time to support our military at home and across the globe by visiting online at redcross.org/saf or downloading our Hero Care app in English or Spanish.
Visit redcross.org/coronavirus for more information on COVID-19 safety. For the latest information, please visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/covid19. If you live outside the United States, health and safety tips can be found through the World Health Organization and by following your local Red Cross or Red Crescent society’s social media channels (directory).