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Veterans on Handling Anxiety

JANUARY 12, 2018 | 5-minute read

“Getting out of the military was interesting and exciting, and that maybe presented the most anxiety I ever felt,” says Schuyler, a U.S. Army Veteran. “It’s scary, because you have this whole life that you learned. For me, it was six years active duty in an infantry unit. Now … I have to go be a civilian.”

Feeling anxious is a normal reaction to stress, and Veterans may experience stress and anxiety for a variety of reasons. It could be caused by a past event, like a traumatic experience in combat or military training, or stem from something like a job change or family conflict. Fortunately, there are many healthy ways to manage anxiety. Hear these Veterans share how they handle their anxiety.

Recognize the Signs of Anxiety

Becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of anxiety can be the first step in managing it. Anxiety affects people in different ways, but common signs may be a mix of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms, such as: 

  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Sweating or cold, clammy hands
  • Trembling, twitching, or shaking
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Frequently avoiding certain places or things
  • Fearing that something bad is going to happen

“With the anxiety, your heart races. It goes insanely fast,” says Jillynne, a U.S. Navy Veteran who has experienced anxiety. “You sweat. You get paranoid. You keep looking over your shoulder.” 

For some people, these symptoms can make everyday activities challenging and start affecting their overall enjoyment of life.

“Anything new or any uncertainty was just exacerbated by my anxiety. Little things that shouldn’t bother me really bothered me,” says Ken, a U.S. Army Veteran who served in Iraq. “It affected me through relationships, work … everything. It touched many different parts of my life.”

If severe stress and anxiety are affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of the things you used to enjoy, you may want to reach out for support.

“How do I manage the symptoms? Bravely. That’s probably the most important thing,” says Ken. “I face them now. I don’t run from them. I don’t hide from them. And I don’t pretend they don’t exist.”

Tap Into Your Support System

Taking advantage of your support system — whether it’s close friends, family members, or a fellow battle buddy — can help reduce anxiety. Turn to them when you’re ready to look for solutions. They may be able to help.

Joe, a U.S. Army Veteran who experienced anxiety attacks after a deployment to Afghanistan

“One of the things that was really crucial to me was remembering that I did have a support system,” says Heather, a U.S. Air Force Veteran. “Knowing that I did have the capacity to reach out and ask for help.”

Sometimes, loved ones may be the first to notice the effect that anxiety is having on your life. Be open with them about the situations that make you feel uncomfortable. They may be able to help you find treatment that is right for you.

“I had the support of my wife. I talked with my family, who I’m really close with, about it,” says Joe, a U.S. Army Veteran who experienced anxiety attacks after a deployment to Afghanistan.

Reach Out for Support

Professional support can help you overcome anxiety. The sooner you open up to your doctor or a mental health professional, such as a therapist, the sooner you can learn ways to help manage your anxiety.

“I went to the VA and started talking to a counselor,” says Ken. “He could read my body language, as far as how I was feeling, the fact that I was so anxious. And he just got me to talk … about what was going on, what I was feeling.”

Ken says his counselor has made a huge difference in his life. “I’m learning how to deal with my actions, to deal with my issues, as far as how to deal with my anxiety and how to reduce my anxiety. He understood where things were coming from. So far, it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

You may need to work with your doctor or counselor and try different types of treatment before finding the best one for managing your symptoms.

“My counselor, who was a civilian, was so down to earth and connected, and he really made you feel like he cared about you,” says Priscilla, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran who sought VA counseling for her anxiety and depression. “You weren’t just a number.”

In addition to getting treatment, you can make simple adjustments to your lifestyle that can go a long way in relieving your symptoms. Consider working these suggestions into your daily routine:

  • Walk, jog, or work out. Physical activity can improve your mood and help you sleep better.
  • Eat healthy meals regularly. Good nutrition helps your body and your mind.
  • Sleep well. Getting enough quality sleep can help you feel better during the day.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. A shower, deep breathing exercises, or time in a quiet place to collect your thoughts can help relieve stress and make you feel more at ease.
  • Get involved. Volunteer, join a club, or take up a hobby to share your strengths and wisdom with others.

Says Ken: “I feel alive again. I feel animated. I feel liked. I have happiness.”


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