“Wait. What’s a PCS?”
That was me almost twenty years ago when my husband suggested we get married during his PCS from Alaska to Florida. Oh, young and ignorant me … back when military speak was not a part of my world. I have come to truly love and appreciate so many amazing and wonderful things about military life.
But PCSing, otherwise known as Permanent Change of Station, otherwise known as moving all your household goods and family to a different military base, is not one of them.
I am about 17 years into married life. I married my husband, and I married the Air Force way of life. As someone who grew up in the same house her entire life, I was rather fascinated by the concept of moving often and excited about all the opportunities. And to be honest, I still get excited about new homes and new places.
But after 7 PCS’s and 9 moves, I also dread the transition. Because no matter how many times you do it and how good you are at rolling with all the craziness, moving is still considered one of the very top stressors in life. And we military families do it over and over. And over. We eventually become so seasoned at it that we start using PCS as a verb!
Let’s face it — it’s a very stressful time. You try to organize your stuff (which basically means giving a lot of stuff away to Goodwill and making piles of what you don’t want packed), deal with the mountains of paperwork, determine what things you need for the interim (because sometimes it’s door-to-door and sometimes it’s weeks upon weeks for overseas moves), do your best to make sure your kids aren’t too sad or angry about moving, go to a gazillion farewell events, and try to ensure everything is set up on the other end so your arrival is as pleasant as possible. Good heavens, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
As someone who has been in the health and wellness business for many years, I have learned how to make the transition period as healthy as possible. Because all that stress and physical exertion and lack of stability really make us a lot more susceptible to abandoning our healthy ways, succumbing to poor choices, and just plain getting sick.
It’s so easy to just eat McDonald’s and ignore what your body really needs during this hectic time. And if there’s one thing that makes PCS’s worse, it’s a bug that the whole family passes around. Stay tuned for the story when the stomach flu hit our entire family while our household goods were being delivered. Awesome.
So you know how we all try to plan ahead to make our moving as painless as possible? Most of the time we don’t really factor in ways to maintain our health because we have so many other things to worry about.
But it’s SO worth it. Here are some tips to help keep everyone healthy during a PCS — physically, mentally, and emotionally. These are big topics which each deserve a very long blog post, but hopefully I can hit the major points.
1. Support your digestion.
When I talk to my kids about digestion, the conversation usually turns into one about poop. That is basically life with boys in a nutshell. However, bowel movements are a good indication of how things are going with your digestion. Good digestion is absolutely imperative for good health.
We need to eat high quality, nutrient dense food that we can digest properly and break down into the proper usable forms for our bodies to utilize. All those carbs, proteins, and fats are used by our cells to perform necessary functions of life.
So when we are not eating high quality food and/or digesting our food properly, our cells are not getting the nourishment they need to do ALL THE THINGS. And let’s face it, there is nothing like a PCS to create a ridiculously long list of things that absolutely have to get done within a specified amount of time.
Make it a point choose better — pick Chipotle over McDonald’s. Don’t survive on Domino’s pizza. And to support your digestion properly, you need to slow down, take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate your meal, chew your food slowly, avoid carbonated beverages while eating because they can halt digestion, and eat balanced meals.
Shoving french fries and a Diet Coke in your face while standing up in the kitchen, surrounded by the sounds of packing tape and sharpies, is not going to cut it. You have to seek out nutrient dense food that is going to nourish your body. Good things to consider during this time are adding in some digestive enzymes and an essential oil to allow your body to get into that parasympathetic mode (rest and digest) to truly digest and assimilate your food.
And guess what?
You’ll poop on a regular basis and that is a very good thing.
2. Support your immune system.
There is nothing worse than being sick in the midst of a PCS. I’ve had a moving truck with all our stuff on it go missing for a week as well as had a bunch of furniture ruined, but nothing compares to getting hit with the stomach flu while our household goods were being delivered.
Stretched out on the floor of my new closet trying not to vomit or pass out while the moving guys were piling boxes around me. Then watching each of my family members succumb to it as the delivery guys looked on in absolute horror. THE WORST.
Anyway … most of the time when people think about taking care of their immune systems, they equate it with washing their hands frequently and avoiding sick people. While these things are definitely helpful, we want to really nourish our immune systems so we are strong enough to handle the germs that are inevitably going to surface during a PCS.
Did you know approximately 80% or our immune systems are located in the gut? So we want to truly support gut health, which includes the nutrient dense food and healthy digestion we already addressed.
When we are not digesting properly, our small intestines get overwhelmed and our immune systems take a beating. A very important way to boost your immune system is to provide it with healthy gut bacteria. While eating high quality yogurt products can be helpful, it is more effective to call in the big guns in the forms of probiotics, collagen peptides powder, and fermented foods (think kombucha, kimchi, or sauerkraut).
All of these things are hugely beneficial to gut health and immunity, which are SO important during a PCS. Because of two words: STOMACH FLU.
3. Keep your blood sugar levels regulated.
Oh man, this is a tough one during a PCS. There is NOTHING I crave more during the craziness of moving than caffeine and sugary baked goods. Give me a Venti Starbucks anything and all the Krispy Kreme donuts that I bought “for the packers” because I want to show my appreciation for their hard work.
Unfortunately, filling your body with sugar and caffeine to just GET IT DONE is not doing your body any favors. Doing this just causes our blood sugar levels to skyrocket (we all know that jittery feeling we can get from a sugary caffeine rush). And while you may get a big jolt of adrenaline initially, there is the inevitable crash that follows … at which point we often reach for more caffeine or sugar.
Aside from the terrible damage this can do to your health because blood sugar disregulation diseases are an epidemic, this rollercoaster is going to really wreck your energy levels, cause your adrenal health to suffer, weaken your immune systems, and negatively affect digestion.
Don’t get me wrong, I know a PCS without any caffeine and sugar is completely and totally unrealistic — I may be all about health and wellness but I’m not delusional. Just try to balance the caffeine and sugar out with some protein and healthy fats.
Eat a handful of cashews with your coffee. Eat a hard boiled egg with that donut. (I was going to say half a donut but who am I kidding?) These little things will do so much to keep your body healthy and balanced. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. So keep it fueled for the long haul.
4. Move your body.
I know what you’re thinking. Move??? I never stop moving during a PCS! I feel you on that. But moving amidst chaos is very different than moving intentionally for the purpose of exercise.
I truly believe everyone has a different fitness personality — some people’s bodies love the super challenging workouts that feel like punishment (I don’t get you guys but more power to you), and some people like more of a gentle, mind-body kind of thing.
So do whatever your body likes, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Go for a walk or run, go into an empty room with stray pieces of packing tape and do some Pilates, or squeeze in a quick session at the gym. Focus on breathing and how your body feels.
Get your blood pumping and the oxygen flowing to all your muscles. I could go into a big explanation of why exercise is good for your body, but do I really need to? Don’t make a bunch of excuses. Just do it.
5. Make sleep a priority.
Yes, I know this is insanely hard. But the payoff is HUGE. When we don’t sleep enough, we basically turn into toddlers. We tend to be cranky, irritable, and quick to overreact to everything and anything. And there are always insane moments that occur during a PCS — we need to be calm and collected, not freaking out about trying to find box #127 because it has the Keurig in it.
(Even though that is a legit reason to lose your mind.)
Not to mention lack of sleep is linked to compromised immunity, increased inflammation, decreased concentration and productivity, overeating and poor food choices, and increased periods of anxiety and depression. Trust me, I have stayed up way too late getting things in order and woken up super early to be ready for the chaos just like you.
And you know what?
That was dumb and didn’t help anything. I just end up being a hot mess and 9 times out of 10 the packers and movers show up late anyway. So just go to bed and get a solid eight hours of sleep.
6. Put in the time and effort to prep.
You know it’s coming. Most of usually get a few months notice before the PCS hurricane descends, so use your time wisely. I have a list of things I do to prep:
- I do a huge commissary run and buy all the healthy food and snacks our family usually eats. Even though we all enjoy the occasional treat, being able to grab an apple with almond butter, a Larabar, or a bag of trail mix is great when hunger strikes. And it’s so much nicer for your body than that candy bar at the gas station.
- I scope out the food choices on both ends of the move. I know where the nearest grocery stores and healthier food joints are located, because eating out is just gonna happen no matter how well I plan.
- I stock up on all the vitamins and supplements we need to last us through the days/weeks/months of transition. And yes, this health nut has a whole lot of them.
- I bring everyone’s favorite pillows and blankets because they are comforting and we all sleep better. It’s so worth the extra suitcase.
- I pack a separate bag of all our personal care products to include soap, toothpaste, shampoo, lotions, and skincare. Mostly because I am very particular about using safer products that aren’t harmful to our bodies, but also because using our regular items seems more “normal” and eliminates the possibility of irritation and reactions.
I know this may all seem like more stuff to put on your to-do list, but there really is something to be said for making the PCS transition feel as much like “home” as possible. Our bodies are having to deal with major change no matter what we do, so doing these things just makes it easier for our bodies to adjust.
PCSing is rough. It really doesn’t matter if you’re moving across the world or just a few hundred miles. Life as we know it is uprooted and transplanted, and our bodies needs some extra support.
I hope you will keep these things in mind the next time Uncle Sam informs you of your next adventure, because I promise you will enjoy the new location a whole lot faster and with a much better attitude when you’re not sick and exhausted. Military life is exciting and full of adventures, so let’s not allow the PCS’s to steal that joy.
What tips do you have to help you stay healthy during a PCS? Let us know in the comments below.
Amanda Koch is a Nutritional Therapy Consultant, Pilates Master Trainer, and Director with Beautycounter. After dealing with personal health challenges to include infertility, multiple miscarriages, chronic pain, depression and anxiety, she made healing changes in her life with real food, healthy movement, and safer products. She strives to provide resources for women to live well balanced lives which are realistic and effective. She currently lives in Alaska with her Air Force husband and two boys — healthy, happy, and well.