REDUCING STRESS: Addendum- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Remember when our country celebrated the return of one-half million heroic Americans from <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Persian Gulf? Their successful campaign brought tales of victory, pride and honor…and horror.
<?xml:namespace prefix = o /> Some people, returned bearing a pernicious and relentless side-effect: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is not uncommon following a war replete with death and destruction from which people develop the ability to make markedly distressing internal experiences (pictures, dialogue and feelings). These stressful experiences may be persistently replayed in their daily lives, causing difficulty in sleep or concentration; creating exaggerated "startle" responses, occasional outbursts of anger, psycho-physiological responses such as sweating, shaking or stomach distress; or perhaps avoidance of activities such as work, and withdrawal or detachment from other individuals; or from their own feelings.
 Essentially, it is the structure of these individuals' internal experience that is the problem. Some troops had difficulty separating out the internal feelings associated with the images (or internal dialogue) they created about what they had been through. As might be expected, the severity of this stress responding may be related to a person's role in the conflict. Accordingly, some found it easier than others to dissociate from these experiences. It is likely that, in comparison with other wars and conflicts in our history, there were relatively fewer troops who fully experience this disorder: Through excellent leadership and technological superiority the hostilities were brief. Furthe more, as many of the troops were stationed in the theatre of operations months before the commencement of the war, training and waiting; and developing anticipatory stress, the rapid outcome may have served them as a conduit of relief.
 But then there has been Iraq. What can be done to help those suffering from war stress? Emotional support and caring; and "utilization."
 More than having welcomed home troops as heroes with open arms and ticker-tape parades, emotional support has been exemplified in something many families of those who served have been doing for some time: Support groups. The troops are not the only ones who have experienced stress. Their families, wrought with uncertainties and fears have experienced their share. Left alone, their brains running on, undirected, generating worst-case scenarios, they needed to organize themselves in ways that would minimize the terror that was being felt while maximizing open communication among people with a common concern. "Doing something" may successfully deter feelings of "helplessness." Sending packages to loved ones overseas and relaying communications to other families were ways of reframing negative, stressful energy into useful activity. It would be advantageous for these groups to continue meeting with the addition of their loved ones for a similar purpose: Staying close not closed, in order to replace any negative internal thoughts of the war with open sharing, newly-created friendship, problem-solving and a common identity.
 "Utilization" refers to the positive application of skills learned from this experience that may serve as resources for future endeavors. The emphasis is on replacing internal stress experiences with useful associations capable of generating new meanings. Each may ask, for example:
“What have my experiences taught me about self-respect?”
“How have I helped others achieve the same?”
“Have I learned to be more assertive, conversant; or to make better decisions?”
“Do I think more critically?”
“Did I acquire any skills that may be marketable in some way?”
“Have I learned patience, and to perform well under pressure?”
“Can I imagine being better equipped to accept more of life's everyday annoyances?"
“Do I think I will be able to relate more effectively to family and friends?”
 We were fortunate in The Gulf. The conflict was brief, successful and most important, terminated. Most of our sons and daughters returned. We were less fortunate in Iraq.  Never the less, in cases of war we face the war that follows: The Mother of All Emotional Adjustments. And our performance at home for those who performed for us abroad becomes the yardstick of success.