A career in the military isn’t smooth, predictable, or inherently safe. When individuals choose to enter a career in the armed forces, they do so understanding the risks that they face.
And while most understand that there may be physical risks due to things like combat missions, few are realistically prepared for the psychological toll that wartime can bring.
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How Veterans Can Cope With PTSD Symptoms
PTSD in Military Veterans
As time has passed and the medical community has become more familiar with mental health issues and other psychological health issues, it’s become clear that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, isn’t an isolated diagnosis or rare occurrence in veterans. In fact, it’s at the heart of what could be called one of the greatest mental health crises in American history.
According to research gathered by the National Center for PTSD, approximately 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year.
Roughly 12 percent of Gulf War Veterans and as many as 15 percents of Vietnam veterans have the same diagnosis in a given year. This means that, at any given time, there are hundreds of thousands of American veterans suffering from PTSD and related conditions. Yet despite this fact, it can feel like there’s very little support available.
4 Coping Strategies
The only safe and truly effective way to address PTSD is to get clinical help from a qualified mental health professional. If you believe that you suffer from PTSD (or another mental disorder) as a result of your service, you may qualify for VA disability. You’ll want to start the process of filing for disability now, as it can sometimes take months for the process to unfold.
In the meantime, there are also numerous steps veterans can take to cope with some of the symptoms that stem from PTSD. Let’s explore a few of these techniques:
1. Start Dialogue
The most important thing is to open up to loved ones about how you’re feeling. As challenging as it can be to speak freely about what you’re going through, the act of opening up allows others to come alongside you and provide support. It also shows you that you don’t have to go through this alone.
2. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness-based relaxation techniques have been used for decades to treat mental illnesses, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. When used in combination with other methods, you may find it to be helpful in combatting negative thoughts.
There are a variety of mindfulness-based treatments in circulation. One of the most common is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which is designed to target depressive moods and negative thoughts. You can learn more here.
3. Engage in Physical Activity
The connection between the mind and the body is strong. If you want to facilitate healing and a healthy exchange of energy, try engaging in more physical activity. In particular, exercise and fitness go a long way toward reducing stress levels and managing symptoms.
“I embrace running in all weathers […], always with a considerable amount of ascent,” PTSD sufferer Rebecca Throne writes. “As I fight my way up the climbs, I often imagine that the hill is my illness and I am going to slowly and steadily conquer it. Yet it never feels like suffering and, once at the top of the hill, I can reach out and touch the sky.”
This may or may not work for you. The key is to find some sort of physical activity that does and to make it a consistent part of your daily routine.
4. Join Peer Support Groups
Loneliness and isolation make PTSD worse. You can mitigate some of these feelings of depression by joining a peer support group with other PTSD sufferers. Just knowing that others in your community are going through the same things will help you enjoy a certain level of freedom.
Finding Freedom From PTSD
We’re still relatively early on in understanding PTSD and the long-term impact it has on mental and physical health. However, we’ve finally reached a point where the medical community takes mental illnesses seriously and is able to provide support.
While the VA has a long way to go to work out the kinks in the disability claims process, we should continue to elect officials who have concrete, proactive plans for restoring integrity to our veterans.
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