For many of us, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. But for military veterans, the holidays can be emotionally taxing, especially for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you have a veteran in your life who needs some support this holiday season, here are some key things to remember.
Understanding Why the Holidays Can Be Triggering for Our Country’s Heroes
The stresses of the holidays can amplify the challenges that many veterans face in their daily lives, including:
- Isolation from loved ones – Older veterans and those with smaller families can become isolated during the holidays, especially if they are disabled and have trouble getting around. Some veterans might be confined to a VA hospital, nursing home, or residence, which can be particularly isolating.
- Stress from adjusting to civilian life – Many servicemembers have trouble returning to civilian life. The associated stresses can become even more pronounced during the holidays when it might feel like they’re the only ones who aren’t experiencing the joy of the season.
- Triggering memories and survivor’s guilt – Many veterans suffer from vivid, invasive memories of the horrors they experienced in their deployments. Those with PTSD are often highly sensitive around holidays and might have difficulty celebrating due to feelings of survivor’s guilt.
- Large crowds and loud sounds – Veterans with PTSD often become overwhelmed and exhausted by large, noisy crowds, which are common throughout the holiday season.
- Pressure to fit in and act happy – Many veterans feel pressured to take part in holiday activities and put on a happy face, even when they’re not really up to it. The weight of these expectations can worsen PTSD symptoms and contribute to feelings of isolation.
Tips to Help a Struggling Veteran
If you have a veteran in your life who needs support this holiday season, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Be understanding of their limits – Do your research to understand why the holidays are stressful for many veterans, and have an honest conversation with your loved one about their limits. This could involve building in quiet time, avoiding alcohol, or encouraging breaks throughout the day.
- Keep the lines of communication open – You can support your loved one simply by spending time with them and letting them know that you are always ready to listen. If you have questions about their needs, ask them respectfully how they want you to support them. Communication is key.
- Prepare family members for gatherings – Your loved one may find it challenging to keep repeating what they are going through, so you can help them by letting your family members know what to expect. Tell family and friends how they can support your loved one and what subjects to avoid during the holiday.
- Create new, low-key holiday traditions – Just because your loved one struggles with old holiday traditions doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy new ones. You can talk to them about their needs and concerns and create new traditions to fit them.
Resources to Help
Here are some resources that can help you and your loved one this holiday season and year-round:
- Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency – The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency can provide emergency assistance, help you find a local veteran service officer, and complete a benefits check.
- Oakland County VA Office – The Oakland County VA office can connect you with a veteran benefits counselor to apply for benefits and explore options that are available to you.
- National Center for PTSD – The National Center for PTSD is the world’s leading research and educational center on PTSD. You can learn about PTSD, find local treatment options, and get support for a loved one here.
- Wounded Warrior Project – The Wounded Warrior Project is a national organization that works to improve the lives of millions of veterans and their families through mental health programs, career counseling, and long-term rehabilitative care.
- Veterans Crisis Line – If you are in crisis, you can call 988, press 1, or text 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line is staffed 24/7 by qualified crisis responders.
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