Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Groundhog Day Effect – it happens to all deployed soldiers

There are many surprising similarities between the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day and each one of my deployments.  To define the Groundhog Day effect you have to know the movie.  Every day Bill Murray’s character wakes up on February 2nd in Punxsutawney, PA where he is a reporting on Punxsutawney Phil coming out of his hole to predict if there is going to be 6 more weeks of winter.  In contrast, in my own life there is no actual groundhog to determine if there is going to be six more weeks of this deployment.  But I assure you – there will be six more weeks and every day will feel like Groundhog Day.

Eerily similar to the movie, each day I wake up to the same music (not Sonny & Cher) and to the same exact routine, surrounded by the same exact sights, sounds, people and routine activities.  No matter what I do, I will wake up each day and it will be Groundhog Day.

I’m not alone.  The Groundhog Day effect is a stark reality for every deployed solider regardless of their specialty and we all know it.  In fact we all joke about it because let’s face it, if you can’t keep a sense of humor over here than your deployment will get the best of you.

So how do I fight the Groundhog Day Effect?  By doing the same thing that Bill Murray did; finding things to do that distract me about where I am and for how long.  This is a lot easier said than done – but not from lack of effort by the US Army.  We are all provided ample opportunity to combat the monotony every day.  The question becomes whether or not you personally want to take advantage of these opportunities or would you prefer to muddle through Groundhog Day – every day. 

It has been my experience over the last three deployments that no matter how much we try to prepare soldiers for the repetitive Groundhog Day Effect, vast majority do not heed the warnings and end up being a victim of boredom.  Why?  Because they spend their entire deployment glued to their Xbox 360, PS3, or whatever gaming device that they own and brought with them.  While this provides a temporary distraction, gaming ends up being just as cyclical as watching Punxsutawney Phil and it does not defeat the Groundhog Day Effect.  Some soldiers try sleep as a strategy, but alas this is also an ineffective defense because it only delays the effects.

So what are the symptoms that you are becoming a victim of the Groundhog Day Effect?  Everyone reacts to this effect differently but some commonalities that I have experienced are:

1.    Irritability at the littlest thing – like a shoe being out of place

2.    Overtired – Getting too much sleep will do this

3.    1,000 yard stare – an emptiness in the eyes

4.    The feeling of going “stir crazy” – this is due to not leaving your living quarters

Take charge of your own life and learn what you can do to effectively fight monotony.  The key is variety of distraction and engagement.  If you step outside your comfort zone every day, and find new things to do, you will find that time moves more quickly.  Here are a few strategies I use:

1.    Engage in community (try Starbucks for a start).

2.    Get out your quarters every day (DFAC does not count). 

3.    Attend an MWR event!  Enjoy a concert and remember that you may never get the opportunity to see some of these performing artists again and its FREE. 

4.    Take in a movie also FREE and first run movies are common.

5.    Blog – keeping in mind OPSEC (loose lips people!)

6.    Take a class.  Learn something.  Make use of your time on deployment

All of these outlets allow you to mitigate the effects of Groundhog Day and who knows maybe just maybe you will forget for that you are far from home and missing you family and friends.  At the very least, you’ll walk away with some irreplaceable experiences.