Loss is a common part of life in and out of uniform. When thinking about loss, tragedy like the death of a loved one may come to mind. However, you and your family might experience feelings of loss for many reasons. Common causes of loss include:
- Relationship difficulties and divorce
- Distance from friends and social networks due to frequent moves
- Separation from family due to deployments or long-term training
- Injury or chronic pain limiting leisure and work activities
These common forms of loss can present significant challenges. For example, deployments or moves may separate you from friends and family. Or, through divorce you may lose a source of social support and your identity as a spouse. These types of experiences can be difficult and a health care provider can help you cope.
Reactions to Experiences of Loss
Everybody experiences loss differently, but common reactions include:
- Sadness/depressed mood
- Worry or anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping
- Low energy
- Feelings of loneliness
Intense or lasting reactions to loss can negatively affect your home life, or distract you in your military duties. For this reason, talk to a health care provider if you are experiencing these concerns. This is especially important if symptoms interfere with daily routines, or last longer than a few weeks.
Healthy Ways to Cope With Loss
There are many healthy ways to cope with loss, including:
- Don’t compare your loss to that of others. It is important to recognize all forms of loss and that each person experiences loss differently, because loss experienced for any reason can negatively affect your health. This is true whether you are coping with the death of a loved one or the loss of friends after a move.
- Communicate with loved ones. Let them know how you feel. Discuss ways they can help. This helps reduce the impact of potential reactions like irritability on family relationships.
- Stay connected. Social support from friends and family decreases stress. Informal socializing or local support groups for families facing similar challenges can help. Social media can also help you stay in touch with old friends, meet new people and access important information. This can ease your transition when moving.
- Get involved in your passions or hobbies. Find activities that you enjoy like art, book clubs or sports, if you are able. This can help you find fulfillment and build your support system by meeting new people.
It’s also important to avoid unhealthy coping behaviors like alcohol and drug use. These can make your negative reactions worse or last longer.
Helping Others with Loss
If a loved one has experienced a loss, share some of the above tips and encourage them to seek help from a health care provider, chaplain or a health resource consultant at the Psychological Health Resource Center. Children can be especially vulnerable to experiences of loss and may have unique needs depending on their age. [PDF 353KB] Fortunately, child-specific resources, like Military Kids Connect, are available. Seek professional help if your child has symptoms that are interfering with their daily routines or schoolwork, or that don’t improve after a short time.
If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants. Call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also see a list of key psychological health resources here.
- Karney, B. R., Crown, J. S. (2007). Families under stress: An assessment of data, theory, and research on marriage and divorce in the military. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
- Bremner, I. (2015). Reactions to loss. Medicine, 43(12), 745-748. doi:10.1016/j.mpmed.2015.09.013
- U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Educator’s guide to the military child during deployment. [PDF 393KB]
- Van Winkle, E. P., Lapari, R. N., (2015). The Impact of Multiple Deployments and Social Support on Stress Levels of Women Married to Active Duty Servicemen. Armed Forces & Society, 41(3), 395-412.
- O’Neal, C. W., Mancini, J. A., Degraff, A. (2016). Contextualizing the Psychosocial Well-being of Military Members and Their Partners: The Importance of Community and Relationship Provisions. American Journal of Community Psychology, 0, 1-11. doi: 10.1002/ajcp.12097
- Wang, L., Seeling, A., Wadsworth, S. M., McMaster, H., Alcaraz, J. E., Crum-Cianflone, N. F. (2015). Associations of military divorce with mental, behavioral, and physical health outcomes. BMC Psychiatry, 15(128). doi: 10.1186/s12888-015-0517-7