Reintegrating into civilian life can prove challenging for veterans. In the service of their country, many of them have experienced highly traumatic events. Because of this, many former soldiers return home only to face the challenge of coping with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
Life can feel very strange and isolating after the intensity of deployment, especially with PTSD triggers around every corner. It’s important for families, friends, and communities to recognize the unique challenges veterans with PTSD face on returning home and provide support. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to know how you can help the veterans in your life.
Veterans and their families make heroic sacrifices and deserve our support both during and after deployment. The following are five tips for helping to support veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
1. Keep Them Moving
Helping veterans get involved in physical activity can help them regulate their mental health and stabilize their mood. Not only does exercise help improve mood and brain chemistry, but it can also give a veteran struggling with PTSD something to focus on. Simply putting one foot in front of the other can be enough to ground a person in the present and avoid thinking about trauma.
Spend some time in nature together. Try signing up for a high-intensity class together if you can whether it’s rock climbing, boxing, strength training, or even aerial yoga. Sometimes, it’s not enough to encourage someone to get moving—you need to join them.
2. Tend to Their Mind, Body, and Soul
PTSD symptoms can vary, but often cause people to feel afraid, anxious, and depressed. They often dwell on the traumatic experiences they have had and may not be able to feel calm and connected with themselves or others.
You can help by joining them in breathing exercises, providing positive sensory input, and just communicating with them to strengthen your bond. It’s important for veterans to develop coping strategies and rebuild emotional connections that may have suffered after deployment.
Be patient and consider participating in activities together that nurture body, mind, and soul, like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
3. Find Support
One of the best ways you can support veterans in your life is just to be there for them and remind them that you’re there to help in any way you can. But if they need more help than you can provide, it may be even more helpful to find them resources designed for veterans with PTSD who are readjusting to civilian life.
There are many support groups available, and veterans should also seek help from a mental health professional (often available from the VA network). If a veteran in your life is struggling, do what you can to remove obstacles that may be getting in the way of their ability to receive the help and support they deserve.
4. Commit to Ongoing Learning
No one is perfect and it’s important to realize that you’ll need to commit to ongoing learning to best help the veterans in your life. You will make mistakes and you won’t discover all the resources you need right away. That’s okay—what’s important is that you understand you will always need to keep learning.
Besides learning more about the symptoms of PTSD and how to reduce environmental triggers, you should start to learn more about various treatment options. Therapy is an extremely important tool for veterans struggling with PTSD, but new treatments are emerging all the time, including virtual reality (VR) therapy and eye movement desensitization.
For many people, what they need most is for someone to just lend a sympathetic ear. It’s impossible to know what a veteran is going through unless you’re a vet with PTSD yourself and you shouldn’t try to compare your own life experiences to what a vet has gone through. Still, you can offer powerful support just by listening carefully and compassionately.
Remember, veterans have often seen some horrific things and experienced uncomfortable emotions. It may be more difficult than you think just to listen and not interject with your opinion. But sometimes, a compassionate listener is what a veteran with PTSD really needs.
PTSD Among Vets is Very Common
Although not every veteran will develop PTSD during deployment, about 13.5% screen positive for the disorder after they have returned home. Don’t make assumptions about what they might need—ask and stay committed to offering non-judgmental support.
Because you can’t know what a vet with PTSD is going through, one of the best things you can do might be to connect them with others who have had similar experiences. Peer support groups can work wonders for vets who are feeling isolated and withdrawing from relationships with friends and family.
Sometimes, the best way to be supportive is to step back and understand that there are some things you can’t provide on your own. Healing from PTSD takes time and requires a multifaceted approach. Be patient. Our vets deserve the best we can give them.