At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the reduction and elimination of veteran suicide. Although veterans of all ages can be at risk of taking their own lives, the rate of suicide is highest among those who have been recently discharged from military service. In this regard we often think about the challenges facing veterans as they reintegrate into civilian society but life changes and mental health challenges for veterans can be issues even when things are going well. It is the rate of change and magnitude of change that can be stressful
Life Is Change for Everyone
No matter if change is positive or negative, processing change is a task our mind needs to deal with. The seasons come and go, bringing change with them at all times. We grow older, take on new tasks, form new relationships, or lose relationships. When a veteran leaves the service, they may be looking forward to a new life, new challenges, and new relationships. At the same time part of their mind may be grieving the loss of their old life, friendships, predictable work, and life organization. When veterans transition to civilian life their families go through much of the same set of issues and, unfortunately, this is a time when a veteran may lose family and family support just when they may need it most. Add to this the problems that occur in the military and follow a veteran home like PTSD, depression, traumatic brain syndrome, and a variety of service connected disabilities. Psychological professionals tell us that even when things are going exceptionally well life change causes stress as we learn to cope with a wide variety of new things. How can a newly discharged veteran cope with this array of challenges and the stress that they naturally cause?
Suggestions for Veterans for Coping with the Stress of Life Changes
The military teaches competence. Veterans come from a life in which they knew what to do in any given situation and all too often find themselves confronting challenges for which they have no experience or training. Unfortunately, a common response is to see oneself as inadequate or at fault for the problems that emerge during the transition into civilian life. The veteran becomes depressed and then feels bad about how they feel! At this point it is important to give yourself permission to have feelings! Adapting to change involves a learning curve and can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. It is important at this point to give yourself a break, allow yourself to have emotions, and, ideally, talk about them with someone whom you trust. You would be patient and compassionate with a friend who was going through similar problems. Extend the same courtesy to yourself.
Look to the Future and Do Not Wallow in the Past
Many times in life transitions we bring emotional baggage from our old life with us into the new. Although it may be important to deal with some of one’s old baggage in order to move on, it is also important to put aside old grievances and memories that only impede your progress in a new life. You are now living in your future and here is where your focus needs to be. A useful way to make this work is to actively visualize where you want to go in your new life, the skills you will need to get there, the new friendships you will want to make, and the person you will be in your ideal future. It is said that many of the ultra-rich were able to visualize where they are today and then visualize backward from that success the steps needed to get there. The veteran confronting transition to a new civilian life can use a similar approach to success and happiness.
Small Steps in the Right Sequence for Coping With Lifestyle Changes
Success in life begets success. While the tasks facing a recently discharged veteran may seem insurmountable, the first necessary step generally is not. Sit down and write up a simple plan for what you need to do. Break it down so that you can take care of business one day at a time. Looking for work, waiting for training programs to start will not take up the entire day. Make it a point to fill the gaps in each day with physical exercise, time with friends and family, or even volunteer work that will bring you into contact with positive people and possibly end up with contacts that will help you personally. The key here is to take it one day at a time, always working toward your eventual goals.