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Friday, May 12, 2006

First Aid for Combat PTSD

Bridget C. Cantrell, Ph.D. is a leading clinical psychologist specializing in the area of combat-related PTSD, Chuck Dean is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Together they've created a vital little resource for PTSD survival: Down Range to Iraq and Back. I'll share a few helpful tips from Chapter 5 with you tonight.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

The following excerpts comes from Chapter 5, First Aid for PTSD. As this is meant for educational purposes only, I'd hope the authors will agree to my sharing these snippets of their valuable and helpful points with you:

You are no longer an "Army of One." Once you return home it is important to realize how critical it is not to battle the nightmares, anxious feelings, unexplained anger, depression, and other PTSD symptoms alone. Many Vietnam veterans came home and tried to "stuff" their experiences in hopes their symptoms would just go away. However, most have found that things only got worse when a solitary journey was attempted. ...

In 1997, I (Dr. Cantrell) conducted a research study of Vietnam veterans in the state of Washington. I specifically examined how social connections, length of combat exposure, and homecoming experiences all contributed to the effects and intensity of the veterans' PTSD symptoms. Those who were exposed to combat for longer periods of time, and returned home to negative situations, were less willing to reach out for help. They were more likely to act out their anger, and use avoidance and isolation to cope with their PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, those who did not have supportive people at home were more negatively affected by their stress. These factors led to a breakdown of the veterans' resiliency to the triggers of PTSD, including criticism for their service. Unfortunately, this did not lend itself to cushion the impact of rejection they experienced from a society who had little understanding for their psychological pain and estrangement. My research study indicates that social support is always a mediating factor in curbing potential difficulties with life performance and coping choices. This is just one more reason why we want to reiterate the important role that family and loved ones play in a healthy reintegration process (Cantrell, 1999).

Stress affects everyone differently. People find their own ways to cope, but keeping to oneself and trying to handle stress alone is not wise. Here are some approaches to help you manage negative stress in your life:

Talk it out. First and foremost it is important to find a professional with whom you feel comfortable and has the clinical skills to help. This should be the priority starting point for you to begin your journey out of the dark night of the soul.

If you do not talk about your experiences, and attempt to hold them inside, you may repress bad memories without resolving the issues. This can lead to many undesirable results such as increased anger and frustration.

The fact is that you can only hold these experiences inside for so long before they explode through fits of rage, violence or self-destructive activities and behavior. Like physical wounds that need to be cleansed, psychological and emotional wounds have to cleaned out before they can also heal.

Next, it is good to realize that you are not alone. There are many veterans and service people who have experienced similar events in their lives. They are more than likely feeling some of the same anxieties as you. Seek them out and listen to their personal stories. When you are ready, you may also want to share your experiences, and this will help you find a genuine relief from your own stress. There is a certain sense of security that comes from knowing that many service members have probably done similiar things during their wartime experiences. This will help you be honest with yourself -- perhaps for the first time since the war. Talking it out helps cleanse the wound, and lessens your emotional burden.

Other suggestions the authors provide in this chapter include writing your feelings and experiences out, developing a regular exercise routine, avoiding self-medication via drugs and alcohol, and learning to relax. Highly recommended advice and resource.

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