Veteran Wellness and The War Within – Guest Post – Part 1

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Your tour of duty is over.  You march off the airplane after the long trip home, conscious of the different looks your uniform receives.  Most are ones of appreciation.  Simple nods or even out right thanks given by strangers who try to stand a bit straighter when addressing you.  Others are thinly veiled looks of disgust, and you’re not sure if it’s you or your uniform they cannot stand.  But at least it’s some sort of acknowledgement—a sign that the past eighteen months were real.  The worst are the people who don’t even seem to see you.  Rushing past you on errands, they bark orders on cell phones while drinking mocha lattes from Starbucks.  Some sit at restaurants gorging themselves in front of the flat screens which hang on the walls.  CNN is the station.  But the diners only put their forks down when the stats from last night’s game are read by the announcer.  And as you take those first steps back into your hometown, the haughty ignorance of your sacrifices makes you hotter than the Iraqi sun.

The war has just begun.

You’ve dedicated your entire life to protecting your country.  But now it’s time to protect your self.  Remember what the flight attendant said right before you took off—put your mask on first before helping others.  You outrank her, perhaps.  Yet her command is one which, if ignored, could cost you.  Just like it has cost thousands of veterans.  From suicide to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the fight continues long after you leave the battlefield.  And if you want to come out of this war alive, you better stand at attention.  Health is a General who grants no leave.

First in the Veteran Code of Health is Thinking.  The average person has 60,000-70,000 thoughts everyday, most of which are negative.  For military personnel returning home, it can be even worse.  The transition back into normal life is rarely easy.  The constant threat of death is now thousands of miles away, but the nervous system is still on high alert.  This continuous stimulation of what’s called the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) keeps one in a state of fight or flight and keeps the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) inhibited.  The PNS is in charge of repair and digestion.  Thus, over- activation of the SNS eventually degrades a person’s physical health.  This inability to recover due to simply living too much in the mind is a critical example of how the physical is connected to the mental.

But we are the commanders of these thoughts, all of which have an etiology in either Love or Fear.  Fear is nothing but False Evidence Appearing Real, and it can only survive in the future.  The past is the home of guilt and regret.  Closely related to Fear, these emotions cannot exist in the Now either.  Living in the Now makes Fear impotent, leaving only Love to guide our thoughts.  Living in the Now also allows us to realize our full potential since it is only at this moment that we can do anything.   However, most of us have been indoctrinated into the concepts of linear time such that living in the Now is almost not tangible.  Thankfully, authors such as Eckhart Tolle, Paul Brenner, and others have written extensively on how to truly become a Master of the Moment.

Breathing is next in the Veteran Code of Health.  The healthy human body can survive weeks without food and days without water, but we can only last a few minutes without oxygen.  Intimately connected to thoughts, a person’s respiration rate increases when under stress.  Whether it be from a fire fight on the field of battle or an argument in the kitchen with the spouse, stress is stress and will usually cause a person to breathe faster.  Thus, one of the ways to unwind the system and decrease levels of stress in the body is to practice control of one’s breathing and to slow respiration down.

To learn this essential skill, a person would lie down on their back with one hand on the chest and one hand on the belly. One then takes a big, diaphramatic breath in through the nose. The hand on the belly should rise for the first two-thirds of the breath while the hand on the chest should only move during the last third of the inhalation. Exhalations can occur through either the mouth or the nose before repeating the process, noting how the body relaxes with each breath.

Proficiency with this technique is vital as the average person breathes 25,900 times a day.  And since the body is only designed to breathe through the mouth when under stress, faulty breathing mechanics can literally create negative thought patterns and cause a vicious cycle of stress hormones to circulate throughout the body as the SNS continually runs in the red.

The third concept in the Veteran Code of Health is Hydration.   Our bodies are 72% water, and every physiological task the body performs depends on both the quality and quantity available for those processes.  Dr. Batmanghelidj, author of Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, states that optimal hydration levels occur when one drinks half of his/her body weight in pounds in ounces of water each day.  So 150lb person would need to drink 75oz of water every day.  When hydration levels in the body are suboptimal, the SNS goes into action and the body cannot recuperate.  As the cellular machinery grinds to a halt, the body turns first to sugar and then to other forms of toxic stimulants in a search for nutrition to run the system.  Unfortunately, this approach only magnifies the problem as, like all the body’s biological processes, digestion and detoxification both require adequate amount of water to function properly.

The rule hydrate before you medicate can be applied to any condition the military veteran faces when returning home: lack of water in the bloodstream causes hypertension; constipation is a clear sign the body is working hard to scavenge water from any source to hydrate properly.  Even the problems of PTSD are exacerbated by an insufficiency of water as additional stress taxes the system.  Yet, these neurological signs which often get misdiagnosed as depression or other “mental illnesses” are often a signal the body is severely dehydrated.  The effects are insidious and commonly ignored until they manifest as symptoms for a particular “condition.”  But the brain is 85% water.  Thus, like a plum slowly turning into a prune, the result of prolonged dehydration on the neurological system can eventually be catastrophic.

Part Two of Article: Click Here.

Of course, each of the concepts above has only been briefly introduced.  For a more thorough discussion on how you can take responsibility for yourself and be in control of your own health destiny, visit the author’s website at www.triumphtraining.com.

 

 

 

 

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About The Author
Michael Anthony

Michael Anthony

Michael Anthony is a Massachusetts based writer and veteran of the U.S. Army. After his service in the Iraq War, he earned a BA in English Literature from Bridgewater State University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. He currently spends his free time with his wife and daughter, and volunteering for veteran charities.

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