Dr. Robert Schnurr, a psychologist in London, Ontario, has joined our guest contributors. He has been in practice for more than 20 years. His practice is geared towards individuals who have suffered psychological and/or physical injuries. Most of the injuries he sees are related to motor vehicle collisions or work-related accidents but he also sees individuals with other injury-related problems. In addition to suffering from pain, many of the individuals he sees and treats suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, relationship problems, loss of employment or ability to work, and job stress or job-change problems. He can be reached in London at 519-858-0491 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the first of articles meant to help vets and their families recognize PTSD and develop coping skills. Vets are invited to submit questions for Dr. Schnurr to work answers into his articles or to comment. BONNIE
It isn’t just about PTSD — it all begins with stress in our lives
While the spotlight today seems to be on PTSD, it is important to know that over the course of our lives, people suffer from all kinds of emotional problems whether this is in or outside of the military. The common types of problems from which we suffer include anxiety disorders, depression, drug or alcohol abuse, job stress, and relationship stress. One shouldn’t wait until things are out of control to seek help.
Perhaps the most common problem from which we all suffer is stress. While stress is usually associated with unpleasant situations, at times even pleasant experiences, such as vacations, a new job, going home, or marriage can be stressful. Stress occurs with any change. Although stress is a natural part of life, when it is prolonged or extreme it can lead to changes in physical and emotional health. Stress becomes a problem when we feel a lack of ability to control what is happening.
Stress may trigger physical reactions, upsetting thoughts and emotions, or ineffective behaviours. You may experience shallow breathing, a pounding heart, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, fatigue, or illness. Anger, fear, self-doubts, preoccupations, and worry are common emotional responses. Changes in behaviour may include avoidance, withdrawal, aggression, and poor judgment or drinking. Unless the stressful event or situation is dealt with, these problems can increase and get out of control leading to a vicious cycle.
The best way to deal with stress is to remove the cause of the stress or to deal as effectively as possible with it: For example, sitting down with one’s partner and talking it over, decreasing spending if money is the issue. At other times, there is no one simple solution and we just have to try and manage as best we can. This involves taking time out to relax, exercising to build up one’s energy to deal with the stress, taking up a hobby, getting involved in a community activity, laughing, spending time with family and friends, or going for a walk. I know this sounds silly but when you are in a situation that is stressful and draining, and you have to remain in that situation, all you can do is try to replenish your energy. If we can keep re-energizing ourselves, then we can make it through the difficult times.
Stress is often influenced by how we perceive things. If we think the worst, it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Learn to identify and monitor negative thoughts and self-statements, such as “I can’t do this … I’ll never get through this … It’s too much…” and replace these with softer statements, such as “It may take a while but I will get through this… I’ve been in difficult situations before and managed… or I’ll just do the best I can.”
Sometimes it helps to talk with a professional. And you don’t have to be crazy to see someone! You’d be surprised how helpful it is to talk to someone outside the picture, to bounce your ideas off someone who is not involved, to just unload. Sometimes just one visit might be enough. You never know until you try.