Transitioning from a life of active duty to a civilian lifestyle is complex. Veterans from all branches of the armed forces are faced with profound changes when discharged from service. Navigating this transition comes with a plethora of stresses and challenges that veterans must face.
From engaging in new cultures to finding hobbies and employment, veterans deal with many trials in their transition to civilian life. Being able to identify transition stress and the ways it affects these celebrated members of the community is essential to support and address the hurdles of a fulfilling civilian life.
What Is Transition Stress?
Transition stress is a common type of stress that can be attributed to many different scenarios. It involves any kind of increase in anxiety caused by a sudden change in life, whether it be a small adjustment to a new workplace operation or an upheaval in lifestyle and culture.
For veterans, transition stress can be a tough hurdle to overcome as they prepare for civilian life. With stark differences between military and civilian culture and preparing to engage in entirely new social and workplace dynamics, veterans adjusting to a new lifestyle is an incredibly stressful period filled with unforeseen anxieties that impact a veteran’s mental and emotional health.
The Stresses Veterans Face
Transition stress can take many forms.
A Loss of Military Culture
Military culture is a massive part of an individual’s time in the armed forces. The particular cultures established on base or with a unit will remain with an individual even after being discharged.
While transitioning to civilian life, an individual may be faced not just with a change in this culture but also a change in the language used. Communication may be more stifled with non-military personnel, and one may not be able to communicate accurately with civilians unfamiliar with the military lexicon or the culture that accompanies it. Even communicating with one’s family and friends can be difficult, leading to increased feelings of depression and isolation on top of transition stress.
Adjusting to Civilian Environment
Others will find it difficult to adjust to a civilian environment. The stresses of being a member of the armed forces — where an individual must be prepared for danger or take decisive action when necessary — can be a complex state of mind to relinquish.
The idea that one can simply “relax” as a veteran does not reflect the mentality and lifestyle that has been ingrained in military personnel. Trying to take in a calm atmosphere can feel at odds with a person’s training and established lifestyle.
Veterans also face a significant hurdle in the pursuit of employment. Being a member of the military is not like other types of employment. Many individuals join the forces out of high school. Having to put together a resume, prepare for interviews, and adjust to a new type of workspace is exceptionally difficult.
These challenges, coupled with the lingering effects of one’s time in the military – such as traumatic experiences, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and more – finding and adjusting to a new kind of employment can be challenging. This can lead to increased stress and anxiety for transitioning veterans.
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Symptoms of Transition Stress
The change from an active service member to a civilian takes a lot of adjustment, and there is no easy way to navigate this period. The way in which transition stress will affect an individual will vary from person to person. However, there are some key symptoms of transition stress that can indicate when a veteran is struggling with this sudden change in culture and lifestyle.
Some concerning symptoms to look for in veterans include:
- Changes in diet or weight
- Inconsistent sleep schedule
- Doubt in one’s abilities or confidence
- Lack of motivation
- Prevalent anger or frustration
- Self-destructive coping strategies, such as drinking, use of drugs, or gambling
- Defeatist mentality
- Romanticizing a previous lifestyle
- Reluctance to engage in new activities
- Perpetually feeling “stuck” in one’s lifestyle or emotional state
Transitioning to a civilian lifestyle after the military requires a major shift in perspective, experience, and culture. It can be challenging to find others with similar beliefs or experiences as veterans. Even the politics surrounding particular wars and social norms that an individual may not have been exposed to can create barriers for an individual as they engage in this new culture. However, there is help available in addressing this transition time for veterans.
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Guiding You Through the Transition
Transition stress is intense, and professional help from rehab centers in Hawaii may be necessary to navigate the changes and challenges veterans face.
Veteran-specific programs can help an individual address any self-destructive coping strategies that may have developed — especially substance abuse — all while connecting an individual with fellow veterans who share similar needs and goals. With about 200,000 service members transitioning each year, getting connected and sharing these experiences is crucial for combatting feelings of isolation that may be prevalent.
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is also available to help veterans address their unique concerns, preparing veterans to navigate complex areas like healthcare, education, and more. Veterans can also utilize this program before they are officially discharged, helping to ease the process. However, it is never too late to reach out for assistance and guidance in navigating this time.
Transitions from a life of active duty to an entirely new civilian lifestyle and culture are complex. We at Hawaii Island Recovery are prepared to help you navigate this transition while addressing your unique needs, stresses, and goals. Our program understands the unique challenges veterans face daily and are committed to helping you create your best new life as a veteran. From providing resources and guidance while you adjust to a new lifestyle to addressing the use of drugs, alcohol, or trauma that may be a part of your life, we can create a program that addresses all of your needs and goals in recovery. For more information on how our dedicated veteran rehab in Hawaii can help you, or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about your unique circumstances, call Hawaii Island Recovery today at (866) 390-5070.