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Building Resilience to Cope With Difficult Situations

Army soldier with Family

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Julie Matyascik/Released

Coming home from a deployment is an exciting time for you and your family. You probably looked forward to reuniting with loved ones, seeing long-lost friends and getting back into the swing of things at home while you were gone. But as you are settling back into your routine, you may find that certain situations are more challenging to cope with than others. You can put yourself in a better position to manage these situations by understanding the ways post-deployment stress affects your ability to respond to everyday life. By learning about the symptoms of post-deployment stress and taking steps to alleviate them, you can put yourself in a better position to experience the joys and manage the stresses of life back home.

Are You Experiencing Stress?

Knowing the common signs and symptoms of deployment stress is the first step towards strengthening your resilience when faced with difficult situations. Take a look at the table below, and see if you identify with any of the following symptoms:1

Cognitive
Emotional
Physical
Concentration problemsUnusual or excessive anxiety, fear or nervousnessProblems sleeping
Difficulty with memoryFeeling overwhelmedHeadaches
Re-experiencing events or flashbacksFeelings of isolationFatigue
Loss of TrustLoss of interest or motivationNumbness, tingling or loss of function in limbs or other body parts
Negative self-talk including overly critical thoughts and worryDepression or unexplained sadnessChanges in vision
Agitation and intense anger or irritabilityStomach and abdominal pains

You may not notice these signs and symptoms yourself. For example, another common symptom associated with combat stress is avoidance – when you avoid places, activities, people, or discussions that bring back stressful memories of deployment. If a family member or loved one notices a change in your behavior, be open to discussing it with them, understanding that they are only pointing it out because they care. You can also use tools such as the Life Events Questionnaire to take a self-assessment of your current stress level. Or you can contact the trained health resource consultants at the DCoE Outreach Center to get connected to helpful resources immediately.

For more information on deployment stress, read the Real Warriors Campaign article entitled, “Combat Stress: A Natural Result of Heavy Mental and Emotional Work” or read through the Navy’s Systematic Stress Management Program.

Managing Stress Helps Build Resilience

By following some simple guidelines to keep your body and mind healthy and strong, you can build your resilience and enable yourself to deal with stress in healthier ways. Managing your stress also has added benefits like lowering your chances of developing health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and depression.2 Here are some tips to put into practice that will help build your stress resilience:

  • Rest
  • Plan your time
  • Get physically active
  • Eat healthy
  • Get enough sleep
  • Talk to family and friends
  • Reach out for help if you need it

For more tips on how to manage stress, visit healthfinder.gov’s managing stress toolkit, read the Navy Combat and Operational Stress Control’s “Stress Busters” brochure [PDF 21KB] and watch Real Warriors video profiles to see how fellow Service members worked to overcome their stressors.

Once you have learned healthy ways to manage your stress, you will feel better about yourself and be better able to cope with difficult situations. Managing stress can also help you:1

  • Stay in a good mood
  • Maintain healthy weight
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Lessen physical pain
  • Reduce the risk of getting sick
  • Improve your ability to heal

Tactics for Coping with Difficult Situations

When you take steps to alleviate your stress levels, you put yourself in a better position to cope with difficult situations in a healthy way. There are also some useful on-the-spot tactics you can use to manage difficult situations when they come up. Whether you are having relationship issues, experiencing difficulty making a decision, or just need to get through a situation, use healthy coping mechanisms such as:3

  • Counting to 10 and taking deep breaths
  • Talking about your options with someone you trust
  • Diverting your attention by taking a walk
  • Participating in relaxing activities to regain composure
  • Writing your thoughts down in a journal

Avoid coping with difficult situations by3:

  • Drinking excessively
  • Taking “video valium” (i.e., zoning out in front of the television)
  • Avoiding responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself
  • Neglecting to talk about the situation
  • Overeating
  • Refusing to make decisions

Additional Resources

Sources

1"DCoE in Action" [PDF 4.72 MB], Vol. 3/No. 8, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Published August, 2010
2"Manage Stress," Healthfinder.gov. Last accessed Oct. 28, 2013.
3"Identification of Stressors," Wellness Checkpoint. Last accessed Oct. 28, 2013.

Last Reviewed: 10/28/13
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