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Transitioning Out of Uniform: A Major Life Change

airmen shaking hands with civilian job recruiter

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kathryn R.C. Reaves

Transitioning from the structure of the military to civilian life is a major change. At times, it can be stressful and confusing. That’s why it’s important to have patience and take care of yourself throughout the process. Here are some pointers that can help you ease into civilian life.

Have a Plan: One of the most important things you can do to ensure success after you leave the military is to start planning early. Make sure you have thought about the big picture like where you will live, work or study, and details like how you will access health care. The mandatory transition assistance program (TAP) you will attend before separating can help you set goals and figure out how to achieve them. Setting goals can help reduce stress and help you cope more effectively with the challenges ahead.

Be patient. It can take time to land the job you want, get into the school you had in mind, or launch the business of your dreams. You might even face a few setbacks. This can make you feel discouraged or even angry, but a positive attitude helps. Success doesn’t happen overnight so be kind to yourself and take time to remember the things you feel grateful for. This can help you stay positive when facing adversity.

Keep fit. You’ll no longer have unit physical training to keep you in shape, so it’s important to start a new fitness plan. Working out increases your energy, lowers stress, and can help improve your mood. You should also limit alcohol and tobacco use, eat a healthy diet, and get enough sleep. This will keep you physically and psychologically healthy and can help ease the challenges of transitioning.

Find new purpose. You may feel like you are losing not just the camaraderie you had in uniform, but also the sense of service and mission. Finding a new sense of purpose and new ways to serve can help smooth your transition. You may find this in a new job. If not, consider volunteering or joining a recreational group for camaraderie.

Lean on social support. If you have a psychological health concern, it is always best to speak with a health care provider right away. However, friends, family and fellow veterans can provide valuable social support during tough times.

  • Talk with Family. Letting those closest to you know what you are going through and how they can support you can help ease your transition. They may not share all your experiences, but they can sympathize. If you have dependents, remember leaving the military is a big transition for them too, so it is important to figure things out as a family.
  • Join a veteran’s group. You might feel lonely when you transition to civilian life. The people around you may not understand your military experiences. Joining a veteran’s group—like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars—can connect you with fellow warriors who know what it is like to serve and, more importantly, know what it is like to adjust to civilian life.

Remember, you never have to cope alone with the stress of transitioning out of uniform. Reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs support during your transition, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants. Call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our "Seek Help, Find Care" page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources

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