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Photo Albums — a Meaningful Way to Stay Connected During Deployment for Military Families

by Briana Hilton

Depression affects 23% of active-duty military, according to one 2021 meta-analysis.  With the prevalence of depression being higher in the military than among the general population, Medical News Today points out that this may stem from the several, significant stressors involved with military life — including deployment. While deployment yearbooks serve as a way for soldiers to communicate their time away with families, personalized photo albums serve as a way to stay connected with family while oceans apart.

“Families face a number of challenges before, during, and after deployment,” notes Military.com. “This emotional cycle of deployment begins when news of deployment is released to the family.” These emotions include fear and anger, while it’s explained that feelings such as detachment and withdrawal may occur as departure draws closer.

During deployment, it’s further noted that family members may have a range of feelings and experiences, including concern, worry, or panic, loneliness/sadness, and fear for their service member’s safety, in addition to feeling overwhelmed or stressed. For soldiers and families alike, deployment often means that missing a loved one is a daily reminder. With that in mind, customized photo albums featuring loved ones and the wonderful memories shared together are a fantastic way to relieve the stress and reminisce on the happy memories shared. Whether you’re a family member who is creating a photo album or a soldier nearing deployment, custom photo albums can be therapeutic in more ways than one.

Carrying photos as a means to stay connected is nothing new for those in the military. World War One soldier, Private William Taylor, kept eight photographs in his breast pocket. After getting hit by a piece of shrapnel at the battle of Passchendaele in 1917, it was discovered that the shrapnel passed through every picture — except for the last — a picture of his sister, Lilly. While the photos saved Taylor’s life, the fact that he kept eight photos tucked away in his breast pocket demonstrates their immense sentimental value to soldiers, even in the early 1900s.

military photobooks

Personal photographs also held great significance in World War Ⅱ. According to an article from Don’t Take Pictures, a trend emerged during World War Ⅱ of soldiers keeping photographs in their weapons. Called “sweetheart grips,” these photos were of loved ones waiting back home. By having the photo tucked behind plexiglass grips on a weapon, the picture served as a reminder of home. 

Regarding the therapeutic value of photos, there is evidence that simply looking at pictures of loved ones can have a positive effect on the brain. In 2005, Fisher led a research team that published a study that included the first functional MRI images of the brains of individuals who were ‘in the throes of romantic love.’ After analyzing 2,500 brain scans of college students who viewed pictures of someone special to them, which were compared to scans of those who looked at pictures of acquaintances instead, the results found that photos of people they romantically loved caused the participant’s brains to become active in regions rich with dopamine, otherwise known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. 

For families back home, creating a personalized photo album together allows for quality time to be spent, but other benefits, too — such as indulging in a new hobby. Regarding photography, one 2018 study by two British researchers of eight people who took a photo and posted it online every day, for instance, found that the practice improved the participant’s wellbeing — one reason being that it forced them to “take a moment every day to be mindful.” While families of deployed soldiers don’t necessarily have to take a photo every day or put it online, taking the time to record life events can be a fantastic way to practice mindfulness while keeping the soldier in mind. 

Creating and looking through a custom photo album, family yearbook, or photobook full of memories made with loved ones can also provide a bit of a welcome escape from the stressors of deployment. Children with a deployed parent are particularly susceptible to behavioral problems, stress disorders, and mood disorders, according to one 2010 study highlighted by Healthline. Being more likely to experience difficulty in school is another issue that many may face. “This is largely due to the stress that children experience during their parent’s deployment as well as after they come home.”

Creativity itself is another major part of creating a personalized photo album, whether it’s printed or handmade. With the opportunity to add writing, personalized captions, letters, and other mementos, the possibilities are endless. As a result, you’ll be able to create the ideal composition that’s customized to your relationship. 

“Immersing yourself in a creative pursuit is also a scientifically-proven way to lower your stress hormone levels, which in turn lowers feelings of anxiety, improves sleep, elevates your mood, and reduces your overall likelihood of developing certain diseases down the line,” states a Canva post. A 2018 Forbes article further emphasizes the benefits of creativity, noting that it reduces anxiety, depression, and stress. 

“Document a regular day in photos and send them to a loved one with captions,” notes a Military.com post that discusses ways that family members can stay in touch when a loved one is deployed. If you choose to ship your photo album overseas to a deployed soldier, doing research beforehand is vital. 

For military families who have had to relocate in the past (or who plan to in the future) and who have had to ship items such as a vehicle, planning ahead and understanding your options will make for a smoother experience. For instance, shipping vehicles for military relocations typically involve two common options: a personally procured move (PPM) or opting to use a government-issued transport company (in which the government will cover the cost of one personally owned vehicle and the military will make the shipping arrangements on your behalf). Likewise, shipping a care package that contains a photo album also requires plenty of planning ahead — Military OneSource notes that providing accurate shipping information, using sturdy packaging, anticipating shipping time, and knowing what you cannot send are all imperative considerations before sending a care package.

Deployment can be a stressful and overwhelming experience for any military family and their soldier. By creating a meaningful, custom photo album, families and service members can remain connected in a sentimental way.