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Beyond the Uniform: How Veterans Can Cope With Post-Traumatic Stress

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) is a mental health condition in which people experience a variety of symptoms following exposure to a traumatic event.

For military service members, the horrors and exigencies of combat often serve as that trauma, with the prolonged exposure to life-threatening situations and the tragedies of combat leaving an indelible mark on their psyche. The invisible wounds of combat stress manifest in a variety of symptoms, ranging from painful memories, nightmares, and severe anxiety to detachment from loved ones, mood swings, and hyperarousal. The complexities of reintegrating into civilian life can exacerbate these symptoms, often leading to substance abuse, depression, anxiety disorder and even suicidal ideation. Addressing PTS in military veterans is of paramount importance, as it not only aids in their personal recovery but also supports their seamless transition back to civilian life. Society’s understanding, acknowledgment, and comprehensive care can pave the path for healing and wholeness.

It is estimated that the prevalence of PTS in combat veterans is upwards of 30% with symptoms including:
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive Thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance
  • Changes in Mood and Thinking

These symptoms impact multiple aspects of a person’s life. Here are some ways to cope with traumatic stress:

Social Coping Strategies

  • Educate Yourself and Others: PTS often isolates us and is confusing to explain. By educating yourself on PTS, you can better seek out safe people to connect with and support your journey. By learning about the condition, you can have the words to more clearly explain to others what is happening for you and ask for what you need.
  • Find Supportive Communities: With the prevalence of PTS, a variety of Veteran and community support groups exist. There are classes, meetings, and online opportunities to connect with people with shared traumatic experiences.
  • Loved Ones: Spending time with a family member or friend, and fighting the urge to retreat and withdraw, can aid in your recovery. It doesn’t have to be a deep conversation. Everyday activities such a morning coffee, a walk around the park, and playing a game are options to connect with loved ones.

Emotional Coping Strategies

  • Mindfulness: The levels of stress and anxiety experienced with PTS can be overwhelming. Mindfulness and meditation are great coping strategies. It doesn’t have to be a whole program. A simple 1-2 minutes go a long way.
  • Exercise: In addition to calming our mind, we can calm the anxiety in our bodies by exercising. Better yet, exercising in fresh air has been shown to dramatically impact symptoms of PTS.
  • Journal: Getting our thoughts out of our head and onto paper can help. By separating our thoughts into a tangible form, we can often heal and make meaning of life.
  • Participate in Professional Help: Talking to a mental health professional, such as a counselor or therapist, can be effective treatment and aid in your ability to cope.

Work Coping Strategies

PTS also affects your work. Here are some tips and coping strategies for your job.

  • Asking for flexibility with scheduling
  • Help in minimizing distractions
  • Moments to regroup if you begin to feel overwhelmed
  • Rearranging your workspace in a way that helps you feel safe
  • Talk with your HR department about possible Employee Assistance Programs

While not an exhaustive list, these are a few coping strategies that can be a great start if you are a Veteran currently experiencing PTS. Seek mental health services from Diversus Health in Colorado Springs by calling or walking in with same day access. If you are a Veteran in an immediate crisis, call or text 988, or visit the Veteran Crisis Chat Line for support.

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