Loneliness is all too common amongst military veterans, with a study published in the Journal Occupational Medicine finding it to be one of the most commonly reported issues. Social isolation is even more of a problem for veterans, many of whom find themselves living alone with little contact with friends and family, who may not understand what they’ve been through. For those finding themselves temporarily isolated due to social distancing, feelings of loneliness may be exacerbated; for those experiencing long-term isolation, chronic loneliness can be a painful experience. If you’re experiencing social isolation, there are a few steps you can take to make you feel more connected.
A study of U.S. veterans aged 60 and over found stress, the experience of traumatic events and symptoms of PTSD all to be associated with feelings of loneliness. Transitioning back to civilian life can feel very isolating in the light of these experiences, and a helpful tool is connecting with others about shared interests that build a genuine connection without the need to talk about past experiences. Video games can be surprisingly helpful to enable this, particularly during a time when leaving the house for other activities is limited. Online games make it easy to interact with people across the globe, allowing you to communicate in real time around a shared experience. This helps veterans connect with family and friends, but also with new acquaintances around a structured framework from the comfort of their own home, which can be very valuable in transitioning to civilian life.
For those who wish to talk about their combat experiences but are unable to do so with family and friends, digital interaction can also be helpful. There are online support groups, such as Supportiv, Vet Friends and Google+ Vet Connect. When suddenly surrounded by civilians who don’t share your experiences, these resources can provide valuable solidarity and understanding.
A growing number of therapists are using art to help clients deal with loneliness. Indeed, a study by Iranian researchers found that young people interacting with art reported a significant reduction in feelings of loneliness. For those who are not yet ready to reach out to others, creating art can help you process your feelings and make work that you can later share with others when you feel ready. This allows you to connect in a less threatening way.
A similar benefit is provided by the company of animals. Be it a cat, a dog, or a small rodent, a pet can provide valuable company and alleviate feelings of loneliness until you are ready to reach out to other people. If current social distancing measures make this impossible for the time being, researching a future pet can provide a welcome distraction and give you something to look forward to.
One way to bridge the gap between your military experiences and the civilian world is to use your experiences as a tool to help others. Volunteering for vets’ causes can connect you with other veterans and use your experiences to help them. This can even take you in unexpected directions; Mike Daggett, a Senior Master Sergeant, began with voluntary work and then launched his own charity, Operation FatDag, which helps service members who are affected by obesity and may lose their careers as a result. Voluntary work can give your life direction and make you see the value in your military experiences, which in turn, can reduce feelings of isolation.
Returning to civilian life is a difficult journey for many veterans, and feelings of isolation and loneliness are common. During this current period of social distancing, many vets will be finding this even harder. If you’re finding connecting with family and friends difficult, try building relationships online and forming friendships with other vets. Every step you take towards connection will make the adjustment easier.
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