November is National Veterans and Military Families Month, which also coincides with the start of the holiday season. This month is a poignant reminder of the unique challenges faced by veterans and their families, particularly for those coping with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD, a serious condition that can occur after exposure to a traumatic event, is prevalent among military veterans. Its symptoms include intrusive trauma memories, avoidance of trauma reminders, anger/irritability, isolation, and hypervigilance — all of which can be worsened during the holidays due to stress, social gatherings, and memories of military service. Families should recognize that these symptoms are not intentional, but rather manifestations of untreated PTSD.
The holiday season can inadvertently trigger distressing memories for Veterans with PTSD. Many veterans who have experienced trauma find the social aspects of holidays difficult. Ordinary social situations may serve as reminders of trauma(s) that increase intrusive memories, one of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD. It can be difficult for families who strive to strike a balance between creating a comforting environment for the veteran while trying not to enable avoidance or isolation behaviors that may hinder recovery.
Here are 5 things loved ones of veterans can do to support their veteran on the path to recovery this holiday season:
Foster open, non-judgmental conversations where the veteran can express their feelings and needs. At the same time, make sure your family discusses how they can help the veteran without enabling avoidance. Conversations around holiday activities often center on what veterans cannot tolerate doing and building a schedule around that. Instead of focusing on their triggers, open these discussions by asking them what they can and want to do. Use strengths-based language instead of deficit-based language helps your veteran focus on how they are growing, rather than on how their world has shrunk.
Strive to make your home or gathering place a haven by identifying a quiet retreat for the veteran to go to if they need a moment. Ask them about their preferences for this space, and involve them in preparing it so that they’re comfortable turning to it when/if it’s needed. Providing them with control over a piece of the environment can help them feel supported and better able to approach social events that can feel overwhelming at times.
Involve the veteran in decision-making around holiday event planning. Communicate expectations around the events’ attendees and schedule to your veteran in advance. Oftentimes, veterans with PTSD are triggered when unexpected developments or noises occur, but they can more easily cope if there is communication about these items in advance.
PTSD is a recoverable condition, meaning that veterans with PTSD can permanently recover from their symptoms with effective evidence-informed treatments. Fortunately, many treatments for PTSD exist, so it is important to encourage professional help.
Self-care is vital for loved ones of veterans. Supporting a veteran with PTSD is demanding so seeking support for yourself is essential. Consider signing up for a support group or for your own professional therapy, so you can show up most effectively for yourself and your family.
During National Veterans and Military Families Month, it’s important to support our veterans by fostering a safe environment while encouraging resilience and recovery. By implementing these strategies, families can help their veteran with PTSD navigate the holidays more effectively, contributing to a sense of interconnectedness and intimacy.
If you know a veteran with PTSD, sign up for a free 20 min Intro Call to see how Nema Health can help.