These long days, and nights, of coronavirus lockdown are difficult times for all of us. And our nation’s military veterans are no exception.
After all, we are all social beings, used to getting up each day and going about a regular schedule of some sort that includes face-to-face conversations and interactions. But the pandemic has spun our comforting routines topsy-turvy as we try to fight an unseen enemy that has physically distanced us from our friends, families and co-workers while thoroughly disrupting our daily routines.
As founder of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation, which advocates for veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, I believe that our veterans and others with brain and mental-health concerns may be having an especially rough time. Many veterans have contacted the foundation in the past few weeks seeking help as they deal with the isolation that the global pandemic has caused.
These stresses are layered on top of the isolation and tensions they already feel as a result of a traumatic brain injury suffered on a far-off battlefield. The vast majority, however, have contacted our foundation requesting that they be called into action. Consistently, their main concern is: How can we help?” I have been truly amazed at their resilience, patriotism, and undying service to their fellow citizens.
That is why I encourage Americans to reach out to these veterans, which include nearly 450,000 men and women bearing injuries from tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, as they struggle with the stress and anxiety of these unsettling days. They may help you with your isolation anxieties, and you, in turn, will be assisting them in fulfilling their primary role: service.
Here are five important strategies I offer not only to our veterans, but also to others facing special challenges at this time. I urge you to use these methods and actively work to deal with your anxieties and manage the strain of isolation:
Number One – See this as an opportunity to make positive changes that can help bolster your basic health. Instead of choosing junk food for comfort, make nutritional choices that will help build up strength and health. Rather than trying to obliterate thoughts of the coronavirus with nicotine or alcohol, set up a new routine that includes exercise for the mind as well as the body: taking a walk while maintaining 6 feet social distancing, playing a board game, putting together a puzzle, working in a garden or playing a video game. Spending quality time with family and friends may not be as easy as before, but new online tools are available for video calls and there’s also the nearly forgotten art of letter-writing.
Understand that while nicotine and alcohol break your body down, while meditating, relaxing and being calm can give your body a major boost. With this virus ready and able to attack our immune system at any time, we need to do everything we can to keep that system in the best shape possible. Stick to good health habits like going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, having regular meals and devoting time each day to reflection or spiritual activities.
Number Two – Stay grounded by listening to the scientists who are leading us out of this pandemic. Try to ignore the panic or quick fixes you may see on the Internet or on television. Quality information can be comforting.
Number Three – Try to find ways to serve others while complying with social distancing. Veterans are action-oriented individuals with tremendous skills and knowledge. They thrive when serving their communities, especially during a crisis.
Number Four – Seek out counseling if needed. With telehealth, veterans can talk with a trusted therapist online without a face-to-face meeting that could add to their stress. In addition, there are many useful webinars and podcasts dealing with anxiety and depression that offer important strategies for achieving and maintaining balance.
Number Five – Finally, veterans should tap into their military community for support. Call other veterans for a chat. Check out the Resurrecting Lives Foundation website at www.resurrectinglives.org for a list of helpful online resources. Stay smart; stay healthy; stay connected from a safe distance.
As a rehabilitation physician and as someone who has struggled to recover from a serious – but not service-related – brain injury of my own, I know how challenging it can be to try to find a new normal. But this is a time to act like a warrior in your own home to keep your body, your brain and your spirits strong.
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