Stress takes a major toll on combat veterans. PTSD is a serious threat can result in multiple issues among veterans, including homelessness, suicide, and addiction. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans alone began seeking treatment at an alarming rate; in one year, the number of these vets seeking treatment for PTSD rose by 70%.
Get Out in Nature
According to a study conducted by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, gardening could lower the risk of death from any cause by as much as 18%. Why is this? The fact is, our body has a natural link to nature and the Earth around us, even if we don’t often explore it as much as we should. After all, nature has long been linked to the ability to reduce stress and improve our perceptions of the space around us. Taking a simple stroll through nearby botanical gardens or going on a daylong hike through the mountains can have impressive results on the mind, especially if you make nature immersion a regular part of your routine.
In a feature published in Psychology Today, psychotherapist and author Dan Mager said, “Wilderness areas, in particular, are portals to present-centeredness, transporting us to an attuned awareness of the here and now, capturing our conscious attention, and anchoring us in the moment. When we connect with nature, we re-connect—both consciously and unconsciously—with the most original and authentic parts of ourselves, and expand our capacity to connect with others and the world through an enriched awareness of the commonalities that link us all together, as well as a greater sense of our place as part of a much greater whole.”
Practice Mixed Martial Arts
On the surface, it might seem like combating war with more fighting seems counterintuitive, but this isn’t the case. Organized combative fighting can prove particularly effective at relieving stress, re-targeting emotions, and distracting the mind. “Learning proper self defense using the right disciplines is more of an art than anything,” says Hai Nguyen, who teaches muay thai in Houston at Elite MMA. “It’s about patience, practice, and deeply personal self-improvement.”
Veterans who have returned to civilian life may struggle to get readjusted, which is completely normal. But in addition to learning more about the art of MMA, there are several possible side benefits that many practitioners can benefit from. For example, the social element of class brings together people of shared interests who are motivated to achieve something. Even if that “something” starts out as just getting a specific movement downpact, it tends to grow into something bigger, and the desire to achieve infiltrates other areas of a person’s life.
Go On a Trip
Traveling is a great way to relieve stress and open up the mind. If possible, veterans should consider going on a trip—however large or small—solo. Traveling alone allows you to address your fears head on, take complete control of your itinerary, make smart, planned decisions, learn new cultures, and embrace your thoughts. Traveling alone also allows you to “detox” from the day-to-day lifestyle and learn to be comfortable in your own skin again. And according to author Adam Galinksy, “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.”
Fortunately, there are many travel perks reserved for veterans, like airline discounts and TSA pre-checks. Even if you don’t see any deals online, you should consider reaching out to travel agencies to ask personally about their military offerings, as many companies are happy to work with you.
Volunteering has been proven to reduce anxiety and stress. When you engage in generous acts, you build upon empathy and receive back gratitude, which releases oxycontin—the hormone in our bodies that is responsible for giving us that “feel good” emotion. Think about what you’re passionate about and try to combine that passion with volunteer work. If you’re passionate about the well-being of eldery people, for example, volunteer at a nursing home.
You can also combine the “giving back” philosophy with some of the other stress relievers mentioned here. For instance, combine getting out in nature with volunteering at a local garden, or helping a school plant trees and flowers. Or combine it with travel by participating in a volunteer organization abroad. There’s no right or wrong way to give back to communities and habitats around the world.