As Veterans Day approaches, I had the opportunity to learn keys for coping with stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from a remarkable veteran.

John S. Berry is a US Army veteran who served in Iraq and has first hand experience of going from conflict in foreign lands to the battles at home. Berry currently works as a lawyer representing veterans to get the support they need to stabilize a life here at home. He helps many Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) clients through the red tape skirmishes and has become an expert in coping with stress through his work. 

Many of us have experienced overwhelming stress.  Simply sitting down to pay bills can be stressful. Having traumatic events with reoccurring memories exaggerates the daily stresses.  Being in the combat zone with death and the threat of death is understandably traumatizing. Yet, there are many unrecognized distressing life situations that impact our ability to thrive.   Following are 7 keys for coping with stress and PTSD that came from my discussion with Berry: 

  1. Recognize your symptoms.  PTSD comes from direct exposure to a traumatic event and symptoms vary, yet often include emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the event; nightmares; irritability, aggression, sleep disturbances; isolation, decreased interest in activities, difficulty feeling joy “PTSD keeps people from public interaction, that makes it hard to do the simple things,” explains Berry.
  2. Get a support team.  Family may not be enough. You may need specialists and colleagues who understand stress disorders, such as PTSD. You need advocates to help you get your needs met.  Veterans are accustomed to working in teams – watching out for their buddies. “Some of the best relationships these veterans had were in the military and then they come home and everybody scatters to the four winds.” Loosing the team is disorienting. The feeling of loss can be overwhelming. This loss of team also occurs when we loose a job, dissolve a relationship or move to a new town. 
  3. Get your power back. Take responsibility for where you are and who you want to become. “I worked with survivors of military sexual trauma,” Berry acknowledges and continues, “Some of the feedback I got from them is ‘I was in a place where I felt powerless. I never want to feel that again. I am going to take responsibility for everything going forward in my life.'” Turning your perspective from victim to conductor of your life gives your power back. When you feel “things happen to me,” you are powerless. When you choose who you want to become, you can turn every situation into a lesson. Then you only get better, stronger and more powerful. 
  4. Take the negative and turn it into a positive mindset. Look at the areas where you have choices. Among the bad memories you can find your purpose. Think about what you can do. Berry talks uplifted about the positives from his military experience, “You have a mission, you have a purpose, you have a team” and he shares the downside for vets, “Then that stops. The team is gone.” He talks about a retired veteran of several wars who after he was diagnosed with PTSD turned his efforts to helping other veterans and opened a cross-fit gym specifically for veterans.  The gym successfully motivated him along with the many veterans who benefited from the gym.  
  5. Give yourself opportunities to connect with others.  Practice trust.  Isolation makes stressors worse. “Unfortunately, two of my team members committed suicide,” John acknowledges. Isolation acts like a block against receiving the emotional, mental and physical support needed to recover and thrive.  Find other people (or even pets) to relate to.  
  6. Get around things that remind you of the future instead of the past. Bring something new into your life: an interest, a pet, a cause,, etc. If you can, connect to your child self who just thought of the future to stimulate dreams for the future again.  When past thoughts make you doubt yourself recharge your childlike innocence and wonder. Trying anything new – even walking down a new street or taking a new look at your surrounding nature- can stimulate your ability to renew yourself.
  7. Address addictions. Drug abuse and alcoholism often exist with PTSD. There are good support groups for addictions. Addiction is a visible symptom of stress that often gets the attention of loved ones for your need to get more support than you now have. Addictions hinder your healing and empowerment.