Taking care of one’s physical and mental health is an essential part of life. How a person takes care of their health impacts their quality of life. For veterans, taking care of their health comes with added challenges. Many veterans come home after service with PTSD and or physical trauma. These predicaments greatly impact their ability to care for their health and maintain a balanced lifestyle. Taking initiative with one’s wellness is essential for every veteran returning from service. This article provides readers with resources and ideas for helping veterans stay healthy.
Coming Home from Service
Transitioning from the military can be a challenging and overwhelming experience. Veterans are more likely to experience homelessness and unemployment than everyday nonveteran Americans (Policy Advice). Many experience homelessness and unemployment due to mental health challenges and or physical disabilities. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, 20% of all veterans face PTSD and mental health challenges after returning from service. Certain steps, activities, and plans can help veterans take control of their health and make progress toward living a balanced life.
12 Ways Veterans Can Stay Healthy and Cultivate a Balanced Life
1. Focus on Your Mental Health
Upon returning from service, it is very common for a veteran to experience some sort of mental health illness. Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD are the most common illnesses experienced by veterans after service (Blinded Veterans Association). It is important to find someone to talk to in order to combat these illnesses. Finding a therapist that specializes in Veteran support is a great way to cultivate a balanced lifestyle.
If you are struggling with depression and or may have suicidal thoughts, please call the FREE Suicidal Hotline by dialing 988.
Another way to focus on cultivating balanced mental health is to meditate. Meditation can be a great tool to overcome PTSD and other mental health illnesses. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation is a mind-body complementary medicine. It is a great practice to help cope with stress and anxiety. Meditation helps the practitioner lower blood pressure levels, lower stress levels, stay present and calm, gain new perspectives, reduce negative emotions, and lower a person’s resting heart rate (Mayo Clinic). It is a great resource for anyone struggling with mental illness
3. Join a Support Group
Finding a community of like-minded individuals and/or people who have experienced similar situations is a great way to feel connected and challenge loneliness. Unfortunately, since there is a social stigma around going to therapy or struggling with mental health issues many veterans struggle to go to individual therapy. A support group is a great way to ease into mental health support and connect with other veterans.
You can find more information about veteran support groups here: https://www.nchealthinfo.org/health-topics/veterans-health/
4. Create a Meal Plan Routine
Food is an essential part of life. For someone dealing with a lot of mental and physical challenges, it can be exhausting to think about what to eat, when, how to get the food, and how much to eat. Creating a meal plan can help bring some structure and routine into a veteran’s life. Not only will the meal plan give you the nutrition your body craves but the structure will give you some routine and organization that might be lacking otherwise.
5. Eat a Balanced Diet
Creating a meal plan of when to eat is a great start but it’s also important to think about the nutritional value your food brings you. Your diet should be balanced between vegetables, fruits, proteins, fiber, and vitamins. Be sure to include a probiotic to cultivate a healthy gut.
Some food ideas include:
- Nuts and Seeds – protein and fiber
- Fish – healthy fat
- Eggs and Meat – protein
Overall, avoid getting too restrictive with your food intake but take notice of what sorts of things you are eating (Gunnars, 2022). Try to avoid sugary drinks and ultra-processed foods.
6. Take Vitamins
A lot of health issues are from the lack of necessary vitamins and minerals in a diet. Getting enough Vitamin, A, D, and B through diet can be overwhelming. Instead, take a supplement. Vitamin D is a great vitamin that most people don’t get enough of. It can help strengthen bone health, strengthen your immune system, lower your risk of cancer, and reduces symptoms of depression (Gunnar, 2022).
7. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is a powerful health tool. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult needs 7-8 hours of QUALITY sleep. This means 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep (Olson, 2021). This can be challenging for veterans who often face night terrors and restlessness due to PTSD. Prioritizing your sleep, however, is very important to your health and something that every veteran should take extra time to get right.
If you are having trouble sleeping first start by creating a sleep routine.
- Pick a time you will wake up and go to sleep every day.
- Practice this routine for at least 3 weeks before changing anything.
- Before bed every night, avoid bright lights, screens, and all electronics for at least 1 hour before bed.
- Maybe have a cup of calming chamomile tea.
Treat yourself like a newborn baby and play around with what helps you have the most restful and complete night of sleep.
Inside tip: AVOID melatonin as it is known to promote intense dreams.
8. Drink Enough Water
Drinking enough water is important for everyone, not just veterans. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average man needs 15.5 cups of water a day while the average woman needs 11.5 cups of water a day. Water is essential to your body’s health because it helps lubricate and cushion your joints, flushes toxins out of your body, maintains your body temperature, and protects sensitive tissues (MAYO Clinic).
If you struggle to drink water throughout the day, try setting an alarm to remind yourself to drink water. You also might think about buying a water bottle with a measurement system drawn on the bottle that helps keep track of your daily water intake.
9. Limit Your Alcohol Consumption and Avoid Recreational Drugs
Many Veterans try to cope with PTSD with substances. This usually leads to substance abuse issues. According to the United States Veteran Affairs, more than 2 out of 10 veterans suffering from PTSD also struggle with substance abuse issues. Excessive alcohol is also not good for your physical health (VA.gov). To promote healthy living and balanced mental health limit your alcohol consumption or avoid it altogether.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, click here for Veteran Affairs SA Programs: https://www.va.gov/directory/guide/SUD.asp
10. Attend Regular Health Check-Ups
Maintaining your physical health is important after returning from service. Another way you can do this is by going to the doctor regularly and staying up to date with medications, services, and other medical needs.
You can find your local Veteran Affairs Medical Centers here: https://www.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp
11. Stay Physically Active
A body in motion stays in motion. What does this mean? It means that the more you use your body the more it will keep working correctly. Staying active is a great way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A workout routine can also help you create more structure throughout your weeks. If you don’t like a lot of exercises you can start by going on daily walks, practicing yoga, and or trying out water aerobics. If you do like intense exercise, maybe try going on a daily run, lifting weights, or joining a cross-fit gym. Whatever you decide to do physical exercise is a great way to stay healthy and have fun.
12. Understand Your Resources as a Veteran
A great way to stay healthy is to first understand what resources you have as a veteran. Depending on your specific circumstances, how long you served, and what happened during your service you may qualify for different Veteran Benefits.
Learn more about the Veteran Benefits and Programs you might qualify for by visiting this page: https://www.nchealthinfo.org/health-topics/veterans-health/
For many veterans, coming home from service can be overwhelming and confusing. There are a lot of things to think about to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle and sometimes it is hard to know where to look. Thankfully, there are small steps you can take every day toward staying healthy as a veteran.
Challenges veterans face when leaving the military. Blinded Veterans Association. (2021, October 9). Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://bva.org/challenges-veterans-face-when-leaving-the-military/
Eckmann, J. (2021, June 15). 5 ways to wellness: Helping veterans stay healthy. Endeavors®. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://endeavors.org/veterans-support-mental-health-care-news/5-ways-to-wellness-helping-veterans-stay-healthy/
Gunnars, K. (2022, March 10). 28 health and nutrition tips that are evidence-based. Healthline. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/27-health-and-nutrition-tips#TOC_TITLE_HDR_10
Homeless Veterans Statistics 2021: Policy Advice. Homeless Veterans Statistics 2021 | Policy Advice | Policy Advice. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://policyadvice.net/insurance/insights/homeless-veterans-statistics/
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, October 12). How much water do you need to stay healthy? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, April 29). A beginner’s guide to meditation. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858
Olson, E. (2021, May 15). How many hours of sleep do you need? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/faq-20057898
VA benefits for service members. Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.va.gov/service-member-benefits/
Va.gov: Veterans Affairs. PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans. (2011, December 22). Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/related/substance_abuse_vet.asp