Living with mental illness such as Post Traumatic Stress, depression, anxiety can affect nearly all aspects of routine, maintaining relationships, and moving forward to fulfill your goals, dreams, and ambitions. For those returning from active service, it can be difficult to move onto enjoying civilian life for a multitude of reasons. According to NAMI, between 2002 and 2010, nearly 28% of returning service members from OEF/ OIF were diagnosed with mental illness, many of which included Post Traumatic Stress or depression. Tragically, there are 22 veterans each day who take their own lives and nearly another 950 who attempt suicide each month. Suicide is the last step of a long journey.
Wellness is a lifetime journey that builds on each successive day. One of the keys to preventing mental illness from taking a person’s life is implementing routines and activities that enhance interaction and positive thoughts and feelings. Although it seems like a no-brainer, the debilitating impact of mental illness can make this a daily challenge.
The Importance Of Coping Skills
Building a diversified and regular routine of coping skills can help assuage the effects of mental illness, live a healthier lifestyle, and decrease symptoms experienced by an individual. “Coping skills” really is just a clinical term for doing things that you enjoy. They alleviate stress and have the potential to take your mind off of things to focus on something positive.
What specifically is a coping skill? It can be nearly anything. Regular exercise or going on a walk around a lake releases oxytocin, a chemical known for positive feelings and stress reduction that comes from being in nature and physical activity. Oxytocin is also released through giving someone a hug, laughing, calling someone on the phone, and deep breathing. Writing or journaling, which helps to release emotions through connecting the left and right side of the brain. Coping skills could be shooting pool, break-dancing, cooking, drawing, reading, or even brewing beer–which some have found to help decrease alcohol dependence.
While there is no master list of coping skills from which to choose, you should have a list of ones that you do on a regular basis. Start by identifying things that you typically enjoy as well as activities you enjoyed in the past. Have you tried drawing since you took classes in middle school? Trying something new doesn’t hurt either. Make a list of activities that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t and make a plan to make them happen.
The hardest part of implementing coping skills is actually doing them when you don’t feel like it. It’s similar to the mindset of only going to the dentist when something hurts versus being pro-active and going for annual cleanings and checkups to help prevent disaster down the road. It’s easy to do it when you’re already feeling good, but it’s important to still do these things so that when you aren’t feeling it, you have some kind of habit on which rely. Every day is a training day.