Veterans, Trauma & Resilience

What Is Resilience?

re·sil·ience (noun):
1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties
2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

The Healing Power of Resilience

Resilience is the ability of adults who are exposed to highly stressful events—such as the life-threatening situations encountered by military service members in combat—to maintain healthy psychological, emotional, and physical functioning. 

Many studies show that resilience factors, such as emotional hardiness, social support, and mind-body practices, protect returning military troops and veterans from mental health problems and alcohol overuse, even enhancing post-military employment, stable housing, and other aspects of community reintegration when veterans return home.

The Harmful Impact of Post-Traumatic Stress

Most people experience stress reactions of one kind or another after encountering traumatic events like assault, disaster, or combat. If the reactions won't go away, or if they disrupt daily life, a person may develop post-traumatic stress (PTSD).

Among veterans, the life-altering effects of PTSD often find expression in homelessness, domestic violence, addiction, suicide, and other issues, all at great cost to individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole. 

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that, among the general American population, lifetime prevalence of PTSD reaches nearly 7 percent, but it ranges from 11 to 20 percent among veterans from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and up to 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. 

The scale and depth of this expanding crisis calls for new approaches to treatment, a fact also recognized by the United States Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration—which now actively support many drug-free, mind-body modalities, ranging from EMDR to yoga to mindfulness practice.

Alternative Modalities for Healing Trauma

The key difference between being overcome by trauma and not being overcome by the difficult or tragic events we may face in life is resilience.

As an essential part of resilience training, complementary and alternative therapies are on the rise in veterans’ care. Mind-body practices involving breathwork, body-based techniques, and mindfulness have been shown to be helpful in regulating and managing tension, emotions, and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

One study, from the University of Michigan Health System and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, found that veterans who completed an eight-week group mindfulness program showed a significant reduction in symptoms, compared to those who did not undergo any program.

Resilience helps us “bounce back” and cope more effectively with whatever we encounter in life. Through resilience, those who experience post-traumatic stress learn to see that all stressful events provide an opportunity to explore who they are—so they can continue to grow as individuals.