PCS survival guide episode 3: Finding consistency, maintaining routines, and leveraging support [Audio]
Episode 3: Post-PCS
Ryan: Alright, well I’m Dr. Ryan Landoll. I’m the assistant dean of Preclinical Sciences here at USU, and we are back again with the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (or CHAMP), the Defense Center of Excellence for Human Performance Optimization, and the operators of the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC). We’re here to discuss how human performance optimization is affected by a PCS and what you can do to maintain as much normalcy for you and your families during the process.
So this is the last in a 3-episode series that we’ve been doing where we cover the PCS timeline, starting with the month leading up to your move day, the PCS moving period, and post-PCS as you transition to your new unit. And remember, a lot of what we are talking about, while in the context of a more long-term PCS, is really applicable when we are going through any major type of transition, including deployment, an extended TDY, or to talk about a lot of our students here at USU, experience those clinical rotations.
So if you remember back in episode 1, we covered pre-PCS strategies and talking about goal setting and maintaining flexibility. And then in episode 2, we talked about strategies to use during the PCS experience—how to get enough sleep and how to stay present. And so today, we’re going to discuss post-PCS strategies: How do we ease the transition once we get there, find that consistency, and maintain routines and leverage your social support?
Alright. So to talk about the post-PCS transition period, we’re going to have with us today Sarah Steward and Stephanie Van Arsdale with us from CHAMP. And together we’re going to discuss strategies to help settle you in to your new unit and new routine. Welcome ladies.
CHAMP/Sarah: Thank you. Thanks again for having us! I’m happy to be back. I’m Sarah, and I’m a family and relationship education specialist within CHAMP’s Education directorate.
CHAMP/Stephanie: And I’m Stephanie Van Arsdale. I’m the program manager for HPRC, but my background is in health and exercise science, so I’m really glad to be here.
Ryan: Over the past couple episodes, we talked about the beginning and the middle of the moving process, setting goals, being flexible, and how to stay present throughout. Now we’ve checked into our new unit. What’s next?
CHAMP/Stephanie: Sure! Now that we’re checked in, we want to talk about finding consistency, possibly starting new routines, and maintaining old ones. Structure is really critical in the military, so use that lifestyle and those habits to your advantage. Maintaining consistency in routines is a really important part of maintaining overall health with all of the changes that Military Service Members (and their families) face during the PCS season. So having a routine can help you stay mentally fit, physically fit, and eventually reach our goals.
Routines can also help athletes, family members, and Warfighters experience better mastery over their movements, emotions, and thoughts…form routines that incorporate good habits but also allow for flexibility. Remember, Semper Gumby.” Routines are also really important to help reduce anxiety and improve focus by shifting your attention away from the stressful anticipation of the unknown and worrying about how things are going to turn out, and instead, focusing on what’s most important in the moment and what you can control. So last episode we discussed mindfulness and staying present. This attention shift is just another form of that, adding another application to the practice. Routine is important not only to keep you healthy, but also to help you establish roots and a sense of stability after PCS, which can often feel very destabilizing.
CHAMP/Sarah: Leveraging support and making new (or keeping up existing) relationships is a really big part of keeping up your routines, and it’s also a big part of starting to feel rooted and stable in a new location. Not only that, but the company you keep and the support you receive can actually influence your health and performance through your PCS and into your job.
Whatever the case, remember that support comes in many forms. Your family, friends, coworkers, your community, might support you emotionally by expressing empathy, care, or concern about you having to navigate this move. Their support also can come in the form of useful advice or help with tasks, like packing, researching new towns, or even watching your kids while you get things done and tend to your to-do list. Through any or all of these ways, or lots of other ways, when you feel supported by others, you’re more likely to actually excel in your total fitness pursuits. And that includes excelling through this PCS season.
Ryan: That makes a lot of sense to think about your social support. And I really like what Stephanie was saying about routines. I remember when I first arrived in Afghanistan for deployment, I had been travelling for about 10 days at that point, and I was feeling really a bit run down, to be honest. One of the first things I did was go to a base 5K that they had. Then after that, I reset a bit of a workout schedule and said, “This is what I need to do to get back to that routine.” And it really helped me to orient to the TDY, but it was hard at first to know where to start.
And so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. So you’re done traveling, you are in your new location. There is probably still a lot going on, you’re getting settled, you’re still probably waiting for your stuff to arrive, and more information on when you’re starting work, and you may even be starting to still figure out where you’re going to live. So when it comes to creating that stability, where do we get started?
CHAMP/Sarah: So there are lots of ways to approach it, but starting with your social support system is a really, really, good place to begin. This could be your family, getting to know new coworkers, or keeping up relationships from back home through social media or any other tools.
And with your support system, we’re imagining that setting up a “new normal,” a “new stability,” is actually your goal. Let’s talk about what that really means in less abstract terms—and how to establish it. We’ll use the example of maybe someone traveling with a family, but I know this can vary, and some of these tools might have to be tailored.
Okay, so stability: Stability is a key characteristic of both optimizing your performance and optimized military families. Yet, as you likely know, stability doesn’t have the take the form of living in the same exact house, or your kids going to the same school, or even you going to the same Starbucks every day. Stability actually comes in the form of relationships. Feeling stable is knowing who’s there for you, who has your back, and who will support you if and when you need it. So those relationships are really the first thing you need to work on and keep up with.
For example, if you got coffee with a friend before work every day, think about giving them a call on your way to your new work location to keep up that sense of stability with that relationship. If you have kids, know that stability for kids is actually fostered when parents are consistent—consistent in the messages you send your kids about their value and self-worth, and in following through with what you say you are going to do. So even in the hectic days of moving and starting your kids at a new school, keep up your parenting routines. For example, it can be easy to ease up on discipline because you feel guilty about moving your kids. And while you definitely want to display empathy for the challenges they might be facing, remember that the boundaries that they are used to are actually what help them feel safe and secure.
And even though PCSing will bring many changes, it’s important if you’re a single Service Member, or for families, to maintain some sense of consistency and routine despite the external changes that may be occurring. For example, keep up your traditions, like holiday celebrations or birthday traditions. This is especially important during periods of change, for example like during a PCS. Find a way to celebrate an occasion even if you’re in the middle of a move and maybe even far from your loved ones. Setting the time aside to keep the tradition alive, in some form, even if you have to adapt to it, will help you all get through the change. For example, perhaps as a couple, you have a certain ritual you do on your wedding anniversary, like look over the pictures of your wedding day, or watch your wedding video. Find ways to keep that ritual consistent despite feeling in flux due to a PCS.
And like I said a minute ago, if you’re a parent, maintain a consistent parenting style, even in high-stress or chaotic times. Another tip for parents: Maybe there’s a certain bedtime story you typically read your kids. Still do that even if you’re staying in a hotel on your cross-country drive to your new town. You could also think about keeping up family meals. Maybe your kitchen isn’t quite set up yet, that’s okay. You can still spend time together as a family over whatever meal you’re able to pull off. And, as a side note, while in temporary housing, do what you can to maintain routines and eat in your usual way. We’ll talk about that a little bit later.
Ryan: Absolutely. And actually, it’s funny, that reminds me about another podcast episode that we have here as part of our USU Wellness series that talks about parenting specifically in the military context. And one of the biggest things we emphasize there—regardless of whether you are moving or not—is that having a clear mission statement and vision as a parenting team. And that’s one of the best things you can do for your kids is just consistency. That’s really important to keep in mind and to recognize that new places can also bring some new opportunities to change things up a little bit and that can be exciting.
CHAMP/Stephanie: Yeah, while we are saying that maintaining as many of your old routines as possible is really important, a new station is also a really great opportunity to make small changes or even improve on maybe some of those old habits or behaviors that weren’t so great.
So while you’re thinking about how to get your old routines going in a new location, you can also assess whether all your routines are the ones that you want to keep. So obviously if you got into some bad habits before, maybe you want to look at those and reassess on how you can improve on those.
Take this PCS or your extended TDY as an opportunity to start fresh. PCS is like another “new year, new me.” Think about “out with old and in with the new.” There are really good reasons why we start new habits or changes on the 1st of the year. Or at the start of a new job or at a new home. It is logical to start new habits. You are setting up a new home and a new life. It’s also a good time to shake the bad habits. Why move those bad habits with you? Instead, it’s a good time to invite new ones in.
Ryan: And I recall we talked about goal setting in our first episode. And I think we actually do a decent job of setting some specific goals, especially with some of the recommendations that you all had, but when we get to a new place, there are new obstacles that we sometimes didn’t anticipate. I think of our students who may not know the area and are contending with learning a new area of medicine, in a new place, with a new set of faculty. And so it’s great that we have an opportunity to make some new goals, but what do we do about how we take those goals that we set and follow through when we are there?
CHAMP/Sarah: Right. So one of the key pieces of successfully executing goals is actually knowing how to find and use resources and the support of others, no matter what your goals are. So actually, why not make that your first goal? Find those resources and build or maintain your support systems to help. It’s really easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget that building and fostering relationships should be a major part of your daily routine. But why? Why are building those relationships so important? Well, supportive relationships contribute to less risk-taking, feeling less lonely, and actually a greater belief in your ability to accomplish what you want to accomplish. Meanwhile, loneliness—or feeling a lack of social connection and support—is linked to some negative health outcomes including poor physical (cardiovascular issues, shorter life span) and poor mental health (more stress, more difficulty coping).
So let’s talk execution. So if your goal is to build new supportive relationships, or keep up old ones, to help you keep your performance up in your new location, try some of these things to actually execute: For example,
- Look into online support groups, sports teams, or even recreational clubs. Doing so can boost your feelings of belongingness and connection in unconventional ways.
- You can also make connections at your new installation by reaching out through MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. (https://installations.militaryonesource.mil/). You can request a sponsor at your new duty station so you have someone to talk to, to ask questions right from the beginning. Military Installations can also connect you with the relocation assistance point of contact, the transportation office, and the housing office. Leverage these resources and supports to help you ensure a smooth PCS season and smooth arrival in your new spot.
CHAMP/Stephanie: Now’s a really good time to leverage the social support that you have, or that you’ve found, to get back on track with some of your health and fitness goals. So first, looking at the good stuff, we want to maintain the good routines. So do you usually eat family meals and cook at home together? If so, you want to keep up with those routines; not everything has to change. When it comes to goal setting and creating new habits, think about what you would like to do at your new station. Do you want to cook more? Do you want to find a farmers market? Do you want to have more family dinners during the week? Do you want to give the kids more responsibility at home? Now is an excellent time to work the habits needed to accomplish those goals and to incorporate them into your new routine.
So we have a really good article on our website and you can find it online, about creating good habits with 4 strategies. So similar to setting SMART goals, this will help you get on track with maintaining and forming good habits.
So from a nutritional point of view, how do you execute those nutritional goals and execute these new habits?
So one thing to do is to make sure your environment, or your kitchen in this case, is set up for success and that you have the resources you need. If you're in temporary housing, make sure you use some of the easy meal ideas. You can just use a microwave or just a few staple kitchen utensils like we talked about in the previous episodes. If this is the first time you've ever had a kitchen of your own, again, think about the very basics that you can stock it with. And you can find those resources, again, online.
Once you get settled, make those first few grocery runs thoughtfully. So you want to make sure you make a list before you go, and stick to it. If you need some help, take a peek at the guidance we have on HPRC for how to stock a pantry, fridge, and freezer. Remember: It’s about leveraging the resources at your disposal.
So this is also a good place to set new fitness goals, again creating new fitness habits. So with your new PT goals, now you need to build the habit around those routines. Sometimes getting back into it can be difficult, especially in a new location, but hopefully you were able to maintain some of your routines and not get too off track.
One way to do this is to find a battle buddy. Other ways are to check to see if your new unit puts together group workouts. Group workouts where members support each other and tie into a unified support system tend to work out better and you tend to stick to the program better.
Create a new schedule to stay active. Figure out what the gym hours on base are, if there are any family activities in the area. If you remember back to episode 1, we talked about SMART goals. This is a really good time to bring some of those back. If you are PCSing in the summer months, the timing is actually pretty perfect; usually you’ll have a PT test coming up in the next few months. Break out a new worksheet, and make your goals, again, SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented/Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.
If you are starting a new workout routine, you can find a really good article we have about creating a block-periodized workout plan, and this is, basically, it’s a long-term structure to hit specific workout goals. So you can use that periodization structure to make sure that you hit peak performance during the week of your test.
Ryan: I think, one of the things I’m really hearing is this idea of getting specific, not only in the goals, but in the actions that are necessary to execute them: What do you need to do next, what are the hours of the gym, finding some accountability partners, and what does that look like? Is that kind of what you are saying here a little bit?
CHAMP/Stephanie: Yeah, definitely, try to: 1. Get into your old habits. But also, find the strategies, or use these strategies to build new and better habits, and improve on what you had before.
Ryan. Right on. Well, it’s been a lot of fun talking about human performance in the context of military transitions. I want to thank the team from CHAMP for coming out and doing this series with us. As we’ve mentioned before, there are a ton of great resources and information on how to optimize human performance on the HPRC website, HPRC-online.org. I’m learning about them as I’m hearing them, which is awesome. And I really encourage you to check it out.
One of the things that I have noticed about sitting down and having these conversations is just the amount of consistency. Whether you are PCSing for the 10th time, or going on your first away rotation as a medical student, a lot of what will help you be successful is the same—meeting your basic needs, setting goals, and building support around you to achieve them. And the reason this is so important is because these are the things that drive your ability to execute the mission—and that’s true whether that’s in the operational military or you being a student here at USU.
So thanks again to Stephanie and Sarah for your time, and thanks to the Student Wellness Advisory Board for supporting this podcast series. And again, if there are topics you want to see us address, be sure to let us know.