If you served in Europe or the invasion of Ukraine reminds you of your past service, you may have a range of emotions. Learn ways to cope with ongoing stress related to your deployment experiences.
Common Reactions to Current Events
Veterans may experience the following reactions related to the current events in Ukraine:
- Feeling frustrated, sad, helpless, distressed (including moral distress), angry, or betrayed
- Experiencing an increase in mental health symptoms, like symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression
- Sleeping poorly, drinking more, or using more drugs
- Trying to avoid all reminders or media or shying away from social situations
- Having more military and homecoming memories
- Questioning the meaning of their own service
Veterans also may feel like they need to expect and/or prepare for the worst and may
- Become overly protective, vigilant, and guarded
- Become preoccupied by danger
- Feel a need to avoid being shocked by, or unprepared for, what may happen in the future
Feeling distress is a normal reaction to negative events, especially ones that remind you of your own past experiences. Even though Ukraine is far from the U.S. and you may not have served in that region, events there can still be a powerful reminder of your own military experiences and bring up strong emotions. It can be helpful to let yourself experience those feelings rather than try to avoid them. Often these feelings will naturally run their course. If they continue without easing up or if you feel overwhelmed by them, the suggestions below can be helpful.
Strategies for Managing Ongoing Distress
As another conflict begins, some may question the meaning of their service or the sacrifices they made. Consider the ways that your service made a difference, the impact it had on others’ lives or on your own life. Remember that now is just one moment in time and that things will continue to change.
It can be helpful to focus on the present and to engage in the activities that are most meaningful and valuable to you. Is there something you can do today that is important to you? This can be as an individual, a family member, a parent, or a community member. Is there something meaningful regarding your work or your spirituality where you can focus additional energy? These activities will not change the past or the things you can’t control, but they can help life feel meaningful and reduce distress, despite the things you cannot change.
It can also help to consider your thinking. Ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful to you right now. Are there ways you can change your thinking to be more accurate and less distressing? For example, are you using extreme thinking, where you see the situation as all bad or all good? If so, try and think in less extreme terms. Rather than thinking, “The world just isn’t safe anymore. We are likely heading to another world war,” consider instead, “No one wants another world war. I can use my coping skills and get help if I need it.”
Finally, consider more general coping strategies:
- Engage in positive, healthy activities that are rewarding, meaningful, or enjoyable, even if you don’t feel like it, as they can make you feel better.
- Stay connected by spending time with people who give you a sense of security, calm, or happiness, or those who best understand what you are feeling.
- Practice good self-care by engaging in activities such as listening to music, exercising, practicing breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, journaling, or reading inspirational text.
- Stick to your routines; follow a schedule for when you sleep, eat, work, and do other day-to-day activities.
- Limit media exposure, especially if it’s increasing your distress.
When to Consider Professional Help
If your distress continues or you are unable to function well, consider seeking help. There are experienced and caring professionals available who can help you with common responses to current events, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, moral injury, and complicated grief. Your employee assistance program (EAP) or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are good places to start.
In addition to the EAP, the following online resources may help you.
VA Mobile Apps
These apps equip you with tools and information to assist you in managing PTSD-related symptoms and stress, learning to practice mindfulness, and strengthening parenting skills.
PTSD Coach Online
Try PTSD Coach Online, which has 17 tools explained by video coaches to help you manage stress.
VA Mental Health Resources
Every VA facility has mental health specialists. Visit VA’s “Get Help” page to find a provider near you.
Make the Connection (Online Support Network for Veterans)
Make the Connection is an online resource designed to connect veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources, and solutions to issues affecting their lives.
Veterans Crisis Line
If you feel like you might hurt yourself or someone else, reach out now. The Veterans Crisis Line includes phone, online chat, and text-messaging services free to all veterans, even if you are not enrolled in VA health care. Confidential support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1.