One of the most constant and challenging things about service in the military is the Permanent Change of Station(PCS) move. Sometimes it goes the way we planned, and sometimes we’re hit with something we don’t exactly like. Sometimes, it can change on a dime! When I was deployed to Afghanistan the first time, my family and I were looking at a PCS move upon my return. We were given assurances that we would be able to stay at Fort Carson, Colorado, so we bought a house, but of course the Army had other plans. I looked on my assignments page one day, and score! Schofield Barracks, Hawaii! If there was any location that we would be willing to leave Colorado for, it would be Hawaii, right? But as always, things have a habit of changing. I checked again a couple of days later,because you have to keep your eye on these types of things…and it was changed to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. What? I know what you’re thinking…I’m sure that there are those who love “Fort Lost In The Woods” more than anything, but come on. Hawaii to Missouri? You can’t get much more change than that.
Once you know where you’re going, and when you’re going, the inevitable stress of the upcoming move kicks in. Getting the kids records from school. Packing. Looking up jobs and schools and houses at the new location. Saying goodbye to friends. Tying up loose ends. Doing everything you can to make this messy transition as smooth as possible. And it doesn’t end when you get out of the military; civilian careers come with relocations, too. There have been other opportunities since my retirement that we have considered, but ultimately the thought is, “Do we really want to move again?”.
Luckily, there are some things that you can do to make your next PCS move successful, not in the sense that it is done easily, but that your mindset is in the right place so that the stress is lessened. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman and his team at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania have identified five areas that are the foundations of resilience. The acronym to remember is PERMA, which stands for being Positive, having Engagement, creating stable Relationships, finding Meaning, and achieving Accomplishments. A short video introduction to the concept of PERMA can be seen here.
So how do you apply PERMA to a PCS move?
Here are five areas to help you find resilience with your PCS:
FINDING POSITIVITY IN THE PROCESS
There are tons of ways to see the bad in things around us. See my example in the beginning of this post: Missouri? Really? I’m FROM Missouri, and it’s okay, as far as it goes, but it would be hard to put a positive spin on it. We ended up not going to Missouri after all; I volunteered for another deployment to Afghanistan to get out of the assignment. That just tells you how much we DIDN’T want to go to there. But finding something positive to counteract the negative is important if you want to lower the stress of an upcoming disruption like a deployment. Even seeing it as a disruption would reduce the positivity. Instead, try to see it as growth, change, an adventure, or forward progress in your life.
Engagement is being fully involved in the task; so involved that you might lose track of time. It happens when everything seems to be going exactly right, flowing along, where you’re on track so much that the job takes care of itself. This is also known as the concept of flow, where we get so caught up in doing what we’re doing that it all becomes too easy. One of the recommendations that Dr. Seligman talks about to achieve engagement in undesirable tasks…like managing a PCS…is to determine what your signature strengths are, and then do those tasks using your signature strengths. For example, if one of your strengths is gratitude, show gratitude and appreciation for others, and then develop a sense of gratitude towards what is happening. Be deliberate in showing gratitude as you go through the tasks of a PCS, gathering documents, and show appreciation to those who supported you as a family. Or if your signature strength is humor, try to deliberately see humor in the many crazy things that happen during a PCS move. By engaging your signature strength, it’s more likely that you will find engagement…and ease…in getting through the PCS.
SUSTAINING AND CREATING RELATIONSHIPS
Another key aspect to developing resilience is to have healthy relationships. This is critical with service members, spouses, and children. Each relationship must be considered and sustained during this critical time. One of my son’s earliest memories was during a PCS from Maryland to Colorado, of him eating pizza and watching Blue’s Clues in his room while the movers were taking boxes. Most of all, he remembers the attention and care we were giving him, and it wasn’t a scary or bad memory.
Developing relationships in your upcoming location is also important. We all know because everyone goes through it, that there are welcome parties at each new installation. Technology allows us to start communicating with people at the new location, learning what we can, not just from websites, but from people. Establishing new relationships, while sustaining old ones, can positively impact your upcoming move.
As you can see in the video linked above, Dr. Seligman indicates that we find meaning in being connected to something bigger than ourselves. In my work as a mental health professional, this is one of the most significant aspects of post-military life that many veterans feel the loss of. They are no longer connected to something bigger than themselves, and it no longer has meaning for them. Remembering that we are part of a larger family, a family that looks out for and supports each other, can go a long way to establishing meaning in our lives. Remembering that the support that we provide each other, individually, makes our nation stronger as a whole. Being aware of the meaning, the importance, of the support we provide, can help us reduce the stress of the move all together.
When have we not gotten through a difficult patch, and looking back, found a sense of satisfaction at a job well done? Recognizing and celebrating the achievements we accomplish is a great way to find more positivity in our lives. It’s not just the achievement of getting it all over with, but a way to recognize achievement throughout the entire process. Got the kids pre-registered for their new school? Celebrate! Checked another task off of the list? Score! We need to recognize the individual accomplishments, and celebrate the wins we have as a part of a larger goal. Even the accomplishment of getting through a stressful day without flipping a lid is an achievement, and could be treated as such. In this way, we build our resilience, our positivity, and our defense against stress.
The more we look for these things in the stressful transitions in our lives, the more we will be able to use them. When things go wrong…and they will…how we react to them is more important than the event itself. By applying PERMA to a PCS, we are setting ourselves up for more success than failure. How have you controlled your mindset during a PCS? What ways have you found to shift your focus to the positive, and reduce stress? We’d love to hear from you. Please send us a message or comment below!