Having a family member or loved one in military service can be a turbulent and difficult journey.
Though a veteran’s return may include happy moments and recovering lost time, it can also mean coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological disorder that occurs in people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event.
Veterans are particularly susceptible to PTSD because of their exposure to combat and other stressful circumstances. As the friend, spouse or relative of a PTSD-affected veteran, you might feel overwhelmed or helpless. Learning more about the disorder can help your family navigate this silent and isolating disorder.
How the Body Responds to Trauma
Post-traumatic stress disorder targets the nervous system, severely affecting thought and perception. The nervous system automatically and reflexively responds to intense stress in two ways.
The first response is mobilization. Typically referred to as fight-or-flight, mobilization is a survival response that helps a person survive a dangerous situation, such as combat. One may experience accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, tightened muscles and increased strength and reaction speed. Once the immediate threat is gone, the nervous system calms the body and balances the heart rate and blood pressure.
The second response is immobilization. A more complex reaction, immobilization keeps the individual feeling “stuck” for a prolonged amount of time, unable to move past the stressful event. Immobilization often occurs when a person has experienced too much trauma at once, rendering the nervous system unable to return the body to its normal state. PTSD falls into this category: The mind and body become “stuck” due to shock of the memory of a stressful event.
The initial symptoms of PTSD often include exhaustion, confusion and anxiety. Delayed symptoms that arise after the event often include chronic fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares and depression. Immobilization is serious, making normal personal and professional life an endless struggle for the veteran. It also puts untold stress on family, friends and coworkers. Because PTSD is an extended period of time feeling trapped, the recovery process often depends on transitioning out of the mental and emotional war zone after the veteran has left the physical one.
Seeking Help for PTSD
The severity of the trauma, amount of family and community support, and the veteran’s personal coping skills all contribute to the intensity of PTSD. In addition to specified treatment, the veteran should make necessary adjustments to his or her lifestyle. Many veterans experience symptoms of PTSD when they’re alone or when triggered by social events. Having a strong support system helps build trust for themselves and the community. Finding a physical outlet, such as structured classes or athletic training may reduce the physical damage caused by PTSD.
Though there may be a stigma surrounding military members and seeking help for their mental health, encouraging them to seek therapy and find companionship with others to deal with negative beliefs and feelings may lessen the effects of the disorder. No matter which military branch or era served, veterans and their families can be connected with resources and treatment options for PTSD.
For more information and to download an infographic PDF all about PTSD, click here.
© Strength 4 Spouses LLC, 2021.
About the Writer: Veteran Car Donations is a national organization that accepts vehicle donations to better the lives of veterans. The organization partners with a number of well-known veteran charities to help provide essential medical care, mental health services and more to the nation’s veterans.
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