Self-Care Strategies for Veterans and First Responders

Patient Support

The psychological risks associated with serving in the military or as a first responder are well established. Veterans and first responders have a greater chance of developing certain mental health conditions, including PTSD, depression, addiction, compassion fatigue, and suicidal ideation than the general population. Repeated exposure to traumatic events with little time to recover, social isolation, and difficulty in adjusting to civilian life are just a few of the contributing factors. While serious mental illness requires the care of a licensed mental health professional, adopting a few self-care strategies can help to lower stress and improve feelings of well-being.

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is the act of taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The key to creating a successful self-care plan is finding what works best for you and incorporating it into your daily routine. A good self-care routine should leave you feeling refreshed and recharged. Following are 4 proven self-care strategies that may be helpful for veterans and first responders.

Prioritize Rest

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults 18 and older aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night. The consequences of not getting enough sleep can be serious for your physical and mental well-being.

Anxiety and depression are just two of the health problems that have been associated with chronic sleep deprivation. If you have difficulty either falling or staying asleep, here are a few tips from the Sleep Foundation that may help:

  • Make sure your sleeping environment is comfortable. Invest in room darkening shades and set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature for sleeping – 65 degrees is considered ideal.
  • Relax before bedtime. Spending time reading, journaling, meditating, or drawing are good ways to help your mind and body relax before sleep.
  • Keep a consistent schedule. Resist the urge to sleep in on your days off. Set a goal to wake up at the same time throughout the week.

Healthy Diet

Many individuals turn to comfort foods like ice cream, potato chips, or cookies when they are stressed. Research suggests that opting for a piece of fruit or some vegetables, instead of dessert, may be better for your mental health. Nutritional Psychiatry is an emerging field that seeks to understand the connection between nutrition and mental health. Encouraging data from recent studies have shown that individuals that eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats have lower rates of depression. While additional studies are needed, adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, and limiting fats and refined sugars can be a great self-care strategy – especially for those who struggle with depression or anxiety.

Exercise Regularly

The benefits of exercise are well researched and documented. In addition to lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, regular exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, while also improving self-esteem. The CDC recommends that adults get 150 minutes of exercise per week, which equates to 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week. If you don’t have time for 30 minutes, try two 15 minute sessions, or three 10 minute sessions.

Choosing an exercise that you enjoy will make it easier to include in your self-care routine. Walking, running, cycling, swimming, yoga, tennis, and Tai Chi are all great forms of exercise. Be sure to check with your primary care physician before starting a new exercise routine.

Seek Support

Loneliness has long been associated with depression, but the relationship between the two hasn’t been clear. Does loneliness cause depression, or vice versa? Regardless of how it begins, mental health experts agree that it can become a vicious cycle.

Veterans and first responders face the added challenge of feeling isolated due to friends and family not understanding their experiences. Joining a support group specifically for veterans and first responders can be an important tool in your self-care toolkit.

Click here to learn more  about Wellbridge’s specialty group for veterans and first responders suffering from substance use disorder.

In addition to facilitating relationships with others who are familiar with what you are experiencing, support groups may help:

  • Decrease feelings of loneliness
  • Lower feelings of depression or anxiety
  • Provide an opportunity to share your feelings
  • Enhance self-confidence and coping skills

Learn more

If you are a veteran or a first responder who is struggling with addiction, there are numerous resources available to help you, including Wellbridge Addiction Treatment Center. Our patient-centered approach using scientifically-validated treatment methods puts Wellbridge at the forefront of addiction treatment and recovery. Learn more here.