Written by Holly Baker
One year ago, Dr. Carol Deel was sitting in a room with military and veteran families teaching them how to strengthen their natural resiliency. She gave them tips for communicating clearly and demonstrated stress-reducing breathing exercises. With more than 25 years of experience in family therapy, Dr. Deel taught mental wellness through in-person Red Cross workshops. Flash forward to today – Dr. Deel now finds herself online and teaching these same crucial coping methods virtually.
Workshops that were once all in-person could no longer meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now one year and a skillful pivot later, the Red Cross has transitioned in-person courses to all virtual workshops. These courses are vital, especially now, to assist and equip military and veteran families as together they cope with the challenges of military and veteran life. Through every phase of it, the Red Cross and valuable mental health professional volunteers are there to offer support and resources to families as they navigate their next steps. The journey can be highly complex with so many families facing even more unique circumstances as the world grapples with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Courses available for adults range from “Coping with Deployments,” “Effective Communication” and “Stress Solutions,” which all focus on family communication and stress management skills. “Creating Calmness in Stressful Times” and “Family Laugh and Learn” are courses for both adults and children that seek to provide age-appropriate coping mechanisms and family reconnection. Mind-Body practices used throughout focus on the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social and spiritual factors have a direct impact on the body’s physical health and teach ways to address them to lower stress and improve the body’s well-being. Taught by Red Cross volunteers who are licensed mental health professionals, these free workshops are available online for military and veteran families across the globe.
According to Red Cross facilitator, Dr. Nancy Aiken, mental health professionals see how the pandemic has caused increased COVID-19 fatigue among the military and veteran communities. “We divide the workshops in a strategic, purposeful way. The first part focuses on the head and the second part focuses on the heart,” Dr. Aiken explained. She shares how the workshops are still highly effective even through an online platform. “Even if people aren’t on screen, they are very active on chat during the workshops, which is wonderful.”
Through the boundaryless virtual platform, the Red Cross is reaching military members around the world. Recently, when 5,000 U.S. sailors were confined to the USS Reagan off the coast of Japan for months as COVID-19 restrictions kept them from setting foot off the ship, the need for stress-reducing tools was strong. The Red Cross supplied those tools to help them virtually. Videos of Resiliency workshops helped provide the sailors with tools for reconnecting with their families after the arduous and extra-long deployment.
“We work to soothe all five senses,” says Dr. Deel. “In one exercise, we ask people to close their eyes and focus on their happy places. Everyone has one. We ask that they zone in on that and really think about it. One time, when we all opened our eyes and asked if anyone would share where they went to, one woman surprised us all by sharing that her place of peace was being on a helicopter over Afghanistan admiring the beauty of the land. Another participant shared that everything was bearing down on her that day and just this quick hour for herself gave her a second to breathe.” She looked at me through the screen and said, “I learned how to breathe again.” You never know where people find peace, but our goal is to help people focus on those peaceful moments in their lives and give them a chance to breathe again.”
For more information about Resiliency Workshops or to sign up for one, contact your local Red Cross office, visit redcross.org/saf or click on the Resiliency tab in the Red Cross Hero Care app.