Updated on 11/15/23
Content reviewed by Anthony T. Triola
More often, holidays are associated with family, joy, gifts and food. However, for a veteran experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the holiday season can mean chronic pain, exhaustion and depression. PTSD can be debilitating to the point where some individuals might not even leave their beds. It interferes with everyday functioning, and for a veteran, the holidays could perpetuate these emotions and feelings and even create triggering situations.
Despite having good intentions while you try helping veterans cope with PTSD, you might not understand how to help them because you have not shared their experience. However, this does not mean that you cannot create a holiday atmosphere that is more accommodating for a veteran. Take a look at some things you can do to help a veteran cope with PTSD during the holiday season.
Take Time to Understand Why the Holidays Are Hard
It can be easy to become wrapped up in the holiday spirit that you overlook the feelings of another. However, it is important to recognize when situations might be uncomfortable for a veteran. Veterans endure “moral injuries” that result from violating deeply rooted moral beliefs such as experiences seen and heard during combat. If you know a loved one who is also a veteran that might be living with these moral injuries, the time of year so closely associated with goodwill and cheer could cause them to feel judged.
During a season where many things focus on highlighting the best in humanity, a veteran can turn inward and focus on the worst things they have done or experienced in the past. Therefore, it is essential to be sensitive to this when discussing holiday events around a veteran.
The holiday season could also serve as an anniversary of a military moment, acting as another trigger. A veteran might experience survivor’s guilt in thinking about those that did not make it home from war. Experiencing these emotions could cause a veteran to want to avoid the holidays, and isolation can be dangerous.
Talk to the Veterans in Your Life
Talking with a veteran in an appropriate and comfortable space can allow you the opportunity to find things out about them. What are their needs or fears? Or how they need support? You might hear things that you do not like or could even upset you. Sometimes, the root of a veteran’s PTSD concerns past events. These are things that once gave them joy, that now bring them stress. However, knowing this can help you prepare a holiday event that is more accommodating to meet their needs and help them feel welcomed and comfortable.
Try Not to Guilt or Shame a Veteran
Veterans often experience more guilt than they let on, so any added guilt is just that. Participating in holiday events might feel impossible due to injury or harsh experiences. For example, being in a room with a lot of other family members might trigger PTSD symptoms. Shopping could also cause panic attacks.
Many veterans carry a lot of guilt and shame from not participating in holiday events, and this added guilt is an unnecessary weight to place on a veteran. Instead, help a veteran feel welcomed without the added pressure of participating in traditions or activities.
Prepare Family Before Visits
Perhaps the best support you can provide for a veteran is to let family members know what to expect before interactions. Doing so can help prepare your family not to do the things you have been working on not doing yourself. It will also help lend an understanding of what veterans face during this time.
It is important to address veterans and substance abuse. You can tell family members what they can do to be supportive, what questions to ask and what subjects to avoid. Therefore, if the veteran you live with is trying not to drink, you will remind people to refrain from offering them a drink or making judgmental comments.
Only disclose what you think could help. It is not up to you to disclose things that might be personal information for the veteran. Therefore, ask a veteran what you can and cannot share with others.
Create New Traditions
The holidays might be a triggering time for a veteran; however, that does not mean that they find ways to enjoy the holiday. Sometimes, creating new traditions can help incorporate everybody’s needs and ensure you and a veteran enjoy themselves. The idea is to help accommodate the needs of a veteran so that they feel comfortable, which could mean Skyping into holiday events. That way, everyone can still connect but not feel overwhelmed.
Helping a veteran cope with PTSD during the holiday season can be challenging to approach and navigate. However, if you love this veteran and see them struggling, there are ways to help them. Discussing treatment for mental or substance use disorders can assist you in helping you find the necessary support. At New Hope Ranch, we offer a safe and comfortable environment for individuals and families to come and work on their relationships. Our refined veteran programs bring veterans together to create a community where they do not feel so alone. Working with a veteran to find help will not only show them that you support them but will offer you a better understanding of what they are experiencing. If you or a loved one is currently struggling, then the time to get help is today. To learn more, reach out to New Hope Ranch today by calling (737) 600-8565.