Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) recognizes and honors the sacrifices of those who have served and are serving in the United States Armed Forces.
Transition to civilian life can lead to various challenges, including academic, social, physical, financial, emotional, and relational.
While many returning soldiers will make a successful return to civilian life, research indicates that as many as 1 in 3 returning veterans may experience psychological distress.
Common symptoms may include the following:
- Recurring and intrusive memories and/or dreams of the event
- Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were happening
- Intense distress in response to cues resembling some aspects of the event
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations related to the event
- Diminished interest in participating in important or previously enjoyable activities
- Feeling detachment or estrangement from others
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hypervigilance and being easily startled by noises and movements
- Abuse of alcohol or other drugs
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts, feelings or behaviors
- Feelings of paranoia without any real evidence that others have ill intentions
If you experience one or more of the above signs of distress, your academic performance, daily functioning, relationships or your general enjoyment of life may be negatively impacted.
Suggestions for a Successful Transition
Fortunately, there are a number of steps that veterans can take to put their military experience into perspective and regain a sense of control and normalcy. Among the recommendations to facilitate a successful transition to civilian and academic lives are:
- Establish and maintain relationships with both fellow students and college faculty/ staff. Combat experiences often leave veterans feeling alienated from others, and they must make intentional, active efforts to connect with others on campus. Getting involved with clubs and organized activities can break down walls and connect the veteran with others having similar interests.
- Work to reestablish relationships and renegotiate roles with family members. Deployment causes a void within the family system that is typically filled by others adopting new roles and taking on new responsibilities. While both returning veterans and family members eagerly anticipate their reunion, changes in the family structure that have occurred during the deployment period often lead to unanticipated stresses and challenges. Veterans and family members must reexamine how responsibilities will now be divided and communicate openly about roles they want or do not want to play
- Understand that emotional control requires both holding in and expressing emotions. Contrary to norms on the battlefield, articulating and showing emotions does not indicate weakness and is critical to sustaining meaningful personal relationships in civilian life.
- Reestablish or find a meaning and purpose in life apart from military service. The clear meaning and purpose that characterize a war zone is lost in civilian life. Make an effort to identify important values and passions and consider how they might guide daily choices and commitments. Seek spiritual fulfillment through prayer, meditation, religious practice, volunteer work, etc. Faith practices are often an important source of strength and resilience
- Pay attention to physical well-being. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest, and build physical activity into daily life.
- Seek balance in life. The experience of combat can make veterans jaded and pessimistic. Balance that viewpoint by focusing on people and events which are meaningful, comforting, and encouraging.
- Limit use of alcohol and illegal substances. Use of these substances increases the likelihood of depression, insomnia, relationship problems, academic difficulties, legal troubles and a host of other negative issues.
- Appreciate a sense of humor in yourself and others. Humor relieves stress, produces body chemicals that improve mood, and helps us to gain a more balanced perspective. Do not postpone joy and laughter should they come your way.
- Limit exposure to war-related news reports (e.g., news channels, newspapers, Web sites, etc.). While keeping informed of developments is important, the 24/7 media machine typically ignores stories of heroism, resilience, and sacrifice and instead focuses on the most horrific images and troubling accounts.