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Coping with War Zone Stress

No matter where you fought, if you faced combat or served in a war zone (such as medical personnel, medievac, etc.) then you faced a traumatic experience. It is often difficult for others to understand the stress and emotional turmoil of war zone stress. It is important to remember that war zone stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal experience.

For some the lingering effects of war zone stress occur immediately.  For others, the symptoms associated with war zone stress may not even occur until months or even years after the trauma.  Most people who develop war zone stress get better after some time.  For those who continue to have symptoms, treatment can help. Your symptoms need not interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.

Symptoms of War Zone Stress vary, but may include:

• Re-living (recalling) an unpleasant event over and over.  Sometimes a certain sound or event can trigger vivid memories of a bad experience.  You may have nightmares.  Thunder or any loud bang can bring back memories of gunfire. The memory can be so vivid that you feel as though you are re-living combat again.

• You may feel desensitized, or numb. This is a way of trying to avoid the memories.

• You may try to avoid relationships or certain social situations. You may find it hard to get pleasure from the company of people you once enjoyed.  You may even try to stay very busy to keep yourself from having to deal with relationships or social situations.

• You may find that you are suddenly irritable or angry or that you have intense fears for yourself or loved ones.  Sometimes these fears can even cause you to become physically violent.

• You may find that you startle very easily, or drink more than you need to (or take drugs), feel hopeless, have problems at work, have trouble sleeping … Does this sound like you, or someone that you love? It can be difficult to cope with combat stress, but treatment will help; keeping things to yourself will not.

There are many effective treatments available for war zone stress such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Your health care provider can help you chose a therapist trained to treat trauma survivors. Medications can be effective as well.

Be hopeful. You can conquer war zone stress. And, remember, you are experiencing “a normal reaction to an abnormal experience.” 


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