Making Moves: Stress Less During PCS

Each year more than 400,000 military families make a permanent change of station (PCS). If you are one of those families, or have ever been one, you know it can be a mix of emotions, both exciting and stressful. MaryBeth Goodman, MA, LPC, NCC, Clinic Director of The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Alaska Behavioral Health, knows this all too well. As a military family member and spouse, she has moved 13 times in her life due to PCS orders. Always looking to make the most out of the experience, the good, the bad and the ugly, here MaryBeth shares some tried and true strategies to stress less during PCS: 

  • Frame Your PCS Move as a Positive – Military families can view their PCS move as a drudgery or an opportunity. Try to infuse some fun into your move. Use it as a chance to reconnect with old military friends by meeting up with them enroute to your destination. Or turn it into a mini vacation by staying at hotels with pools. Or have the “PCS Fairy” visit the kids, leaving them small gifts to help keep them entertained along the way.
  • Create a PCS Safe Word – PCS moves equate to long days and nights of planning, packing, traveling, unpacking and more. Develop a safe word to be used by your family in times of stress to signal that the person needs to take a moment or a break from an interaction. This can help give you the space you need and diffuse an emotionally charged situation. 
  • Ask for What You Need – Military spouses often take on the burden of the move, which can become overwhelming. Communicate your needs clearly using “I” statements. For example, rather than saying to your partner, “You are not helping right now”, which places blame on them, try, “I am feeling overwhelmed. I need you to take the kids to the park, while I unpack these boxes.”
  • Splash Cold Water on Your Face…Figuratively or Literally – When something goes “wrong” during the PCS process, we can spiral into negative thoughts. In those moments, ask yourself – is this thought true or helpful? If not, do or say something to change your thinking and get yourself out of the tailspin to be more productive and solution oriented. For example, if you forget your child’s medical records, you might think, “Oh no, now they’re not going to be able to go to school. I’m such a bad mother. This is a disaster.” Instead of continuing down that path “splash some cold water on your face” and try, “I will email the doctor’s office, and then I will call the new school to discuss some options.”