Managing significant life events for better mental health
Managing significant life events for better mental health
Significant life changes can be stressful and cause mental health issues, expected or not.
Experiences such as the death of a loved one, divorce or separation, birth of a child, and job loss are some of the most common significant life changes one can go through.
In the military, frequent relocations, transitioning out of service, or even being sent into harm’s way can cause mental stress.
“These life changes can lead to stress and the development of stress disorders or other mental health disorders,” said Dr. Marija S. Kelber, a team lead of evidence synthesis and dissemination of the Psychological Health Center of Excellenceopens Health.mil.
Kelber acknowledged that not only negative life events can cause mental stress, but “some rewarding events, like the birth of a child or getting married, joining the military, being promoted, and assuming a new assignment, can be perceived as stressful.”
Approaching a Significant Life Event
When facing stressful situations, it is important to take care of yourself the best you can.
Kelber said “healthy responses include engaging in problem solving and turning to friends or loved ones for emotional support. Mindfulness-based approaches such as meditation and yoga can be beneficial for managing stress. Avoid drugs or alcohol, engage in self-care, like healthy eating, exercise, and getting enough sleep. Connecting with one’s community or faith organization is also a potentially useful coping skill.”
While circumstances involved may not be under someone’s control, “the way they think about the situation and the impact may be something they have more control over,” said Kelber. “Identifying which factors you have control over are important and can be empowering.”
Developing relationships and expanding social support networks is valuable in mitigating the impact of stressors and life changes.
PHCOE Offers Resources and Information
“The PHCOE website is a treasure trove of resources,” said Kelber. “We work to improve the lives of our nation’s service members, veterans, and their families by advancing excellence in military mental health and health care research.”
The center conducts research on the causes, trajectories, and outcomes of psychological health conditions in service members, as well as the most effective treatments. PHCOE also promotes clinical care focused on the patient and is informed by the best current research available to help improve psychological health and readiness.
PHCOE and other relevant resources include:
- inTransitionopens Health.mil: Offers specialized coaching and assistance to mental health care in a free, confidential program.
- Psych Health Evidence Briefsopens Health.mil: Summarizes scientific evidence and clinical guidance to inform about treatments.
- Psychological Health Resource Centeropens Health.mil: Provides a trusted source of psychological health information and resources related to a variety of mental health concerns and assistance.
- Real Warriors Campaignopens Health.mil: Encourages service members to seek help for psychological health concerns by promoting a culture of support and emphasizing that mental health care is health care
- Primary Care Behavioral Healthopens Health.mil: Provides a team-based approach to health care by integrating behavioral health professionals into primary care
- Clinical Support Toolsopens Health.mil: Offers guidelines intended for use as a tool to assist health care providers
Embracing Change Helps Her Cope
For U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tracy Adjeisarpong, serving in the military can cause stress. Having a spouse living in another country can add to it.
“It is quite hard to navigate a long-distance relationship,” she said. “For a bit, the time zone difference was a big deal, and my work schedule did not help matters. It takes a toll on you mentally too because one day you’re too drained to do anything, and the next day you have time, but your partner is unavailable.”
“Most of the stress is mental and psychological but because people can’t ‘see’ it, they think everything is fine,” she added.
Yet Adjeisarpong has learned that embracing changes associated with military life helps her get through them. She sees these life changes as “the opportunity to explore different cultures.” She has been stationed in South Korea and is currently stationed as a public affairs broadcaster assigned to the American Forces Network in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Adjeisarpong acknowledged she has had to “learn and unlearn certain habits along the way” to help her adjust to new countries and cultures.
The U.S. Army community service center is a resource that she often uses for a “plethora of information,” along with Military OneSourceopens militaryonesource.mil, a program that provides a wide range of support and resources to service members, their families, and survivors.
Adjeisarpong said that having a close group of friends and keeping an open mind are also essential.
“I have a solid team in my corner. Solid friends and family have gotten me through it all. I keep my circle small and genuine,” she said. “Be open to change and explore different cultures, judge less and care more. In the end that’s all that matters. Stay resilient!”
‘That Guy’ Engages in Self-Care and Therapy
U.S. Army Sgt. Austin Baker has handled both positive and negative significant life changes. From having children to a divorce, to deployments to unknown locations for unknown amounts of time—he has “gone through a lot of change, and I have experienced personal growth through everything life has thrown at me,” said Baker.
“Life has its ups and downs, but every significant change I’ve gone through has molded and shaped me into the father, man, and soldier I am today,” Baker said. He is currently stationed at the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, as a public affairs mass communications specialist.
Like everybody, he has had to learn what works for him in handling life changes and the mental stress they can cause.
“I had to challenge myself mentally and physically,” said Baker. “I started going to the library and checked out loads of self-help books; I picked back up on working toward my bachelor’s degree; and I began going to the gym and running regularly. I feel like everyone should push themselves to become the best versions of themselves.”
He even started going to therapy, although he never saw himself as “being that guy.”
He recognizes there is still a stigma surrounding seeking mental health care and questions what his peers or leaders may think if they knew he saw a therapist. However, therapy has helped him understand himself better than ever.
“I learned how to feel new emotions that I haven’t experienced before,” said Baker.
“You must be willing to go that extra mile, you must be willing to push through whatever it is you’re going through, and you need to be able to not quit, no matter the cost. With the right mentality you can get through anything life throws your way,” he said.
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