It is becoming increasingly clear that returning from military service with invisible psychological wounds is a common occurrence. Recent research suggests around 20% of veterans experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a given year. This is to say nothing of depression, anxiety, and other emotional and psychological conditions. Unfortunately, when left unaddressed, suicide can be a frequent outcome of these experiences, with such death rates among veterans currently at an all-time high.
It is, therefore, vital to adopt actions to bolster your psychological and emotional wellness. This is especially important during the often turbulent experience of transitioning from military to civilian life. So, let’s look at some ways veterans can promote their mental health.
Seek Support and Guidance
Successfully navigating mental health challenges as a veteran is often dependent on the tools you have available. As such, it’s important to bolster your toolkit wherever possible. This should include a range of support and guidance services from both professionals and people you’re close to.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is gradually starting to offer improved access to mental health resources. This includes specific services designed to treat PTSD, military sexual trauma (MST), depression, and anxiety. You may feel there’s a certain amount of stigma involved with reaching out to professionals. However, they often have the most effective tools and knowledge to guide you through understanding what you’re experiencing. They also approach treatment with a level of empathy you may not find from those without first-hand experience of your symptoms.
However, you’ll find it’s also important to implement everyday support systems. You need to gather a trusted group of friends or relatives who can build you up not just on the bad days but on a regular basis. Mental unwellness can have a significant impact on your authentic self-esteem and even result in the development of false self-esteem. This inauthentic low self-image overlooks the personal and professional achievements you deserve to genuinely take pride in. This in turn can further negatively impact your mental health and stall your personal development as you transition to civilian life. Utilize your support network to help keep a realistic and healthy view of your self-worth.
Adopt Stress-Relieving Activities
One of the more challenging aspects of the transition to civilian life can be the different types of stress you are faced with. This can be part of the background of your everyday environment. It may in itself be the core component of a condition, or it might put additional pressure on your symptoms of PTSD, depression, or anxiety. As such, it’s vital to incorporate effective stress-relieving activities into your regular routine.
This could include relatively simple activities, such as getting outdoor exercise. Even gentle aerobic exercises like walking and cycling while in the fresh air is considered to make a tangible difference to your stress levels. Not to mention that hiking surrounded by nature can help you gain healthy perspectives on life. Creative activities can also be useful for helping you channel any frustration, anger, or depressive thoughts you may be living with.
Many veterans are also trained and experienced in handling weapons safely. While you may consider this a practical skill, there are also potential mental health benefits to shooting recreationally. You may find the act of holding a stance and focusing on hitting a target has meditative qualities that lower stress. In some cases, regular safe usage can restore a certain amount of confidence and mitigate anxiety responses. However, it’s important to approach this mindfully. If your PTSD symptoms are triggered by loud noises, it’s worth getting advice from your therapist before proceeding.
Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Day
Mindfulness can be an empowering tool for taking control of your mental wellness. It’s also considered to be particularly effective for conditions that veterans are susceptible to, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Finding ways to incorporate this as a habit into your routine may support your transition to civilian life and beyond.
Firstly, it’s a great method for understanding your current mental state. Think of it as a way to check in with yourself about how you’re coping. Just 5 minutes a couple of times a day can make a difference here. Think about what you’re feeling physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Take note of the challenges you’ve faced over recent days and how these have impacted your thought processes. This can act as an early warning system for potential problems so you can put in place any additional measures you may find useful.
Mindfulness can also be effective as a response to any symptoms you may be feeling. The practice is rooted in concentrating on the considering elements of the present moment. This can have a grounding and calming effect at times of stress or crisis. Focusing on your breaths and the motions of your body can alleviate the sense of panic that may kick in at difficult times.
It’s common for veterans to feel they’re being a burden on those they talk to or that strong-and-silent is an ideal to strive for. This is not just inaccurate, it can be dangerous. Whether you’re struggling in a small way or are having intrusive thoughts — including those of suicide — it’s vital to talk.
Part of your strategy here can be to simply get into the habit of casually talking about your mental health. Being open about how you’re feeling and any fluctuations or difficulties you’ve experienced on a day-to-day basis can be a gateway to talking about the more difficult aspects that arise. It’s also wise to establish a range of people with whom you feel comfortable talking about mental wellness. This could include family members, close friends, and even work colleagues.
As a veteran, it’s vital to treat your mental health as a priority. Incorporate sources of professional and personal support into your transition to civilian life. Adopt stress-relieving activities and a regular habit of mindfulness. Remember that talking about your feelings is one of the most important tools you have at your disposal. You deserve to live a healthy and fulfilling life, so it’s worth taking the steps to bolster your emotional and psychological wellness.