War Zone Stress Reactions & PTSD
The war in Iraq is known for close-quarters battle. As such, there are no safe places or front lines; soldiers are often unsure whether indigenous personnel are friend or foe. Troops almost never experience anything in Iraq without constant fear of loss of life. They never relax and adrenaline is constantly pushed through the body at alarming rates. Constant high levels of adrenaline create problems over time.
As a result of the acute traumas and general stress that characterize life in a war zone, soldiers frequently experience an array of symptoms and reactions during the transition back to their homes and civilian life. Caused by psychobiological reactions to extreme stress, these are normal, expected responses to soldiers' experience of highly abnormal war-time events and are in no way a sign of personal weakness or inadequacy. Further, with the passage time and the opportunity to live in a more tranquil environment, these symptoms and reactions typically diminish.
Common symptoms and reactions experienced by returning war veterans include:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Recurring thoughts and memories of war experiences.
- Hyper-alertness (i.e., difficulty relaxing or feeling safe even in an unthreatening environment) and startle reactions.
- Grief and sadness over losses.
- Guilt (e.g., over actions and/or inactions, surviving when others died).
- Anger (e.g., over command decisions, not being adequately trained, not having necessary equipment, acts committed by the enemy).
- Impatience and low tolerance for frustrations (e.g., civilian rules may seem irrelevant or meaningless).
- Difficulty connecting with and trusting others, especially those without war-zone experience. • Anxiety about being redeployed.
Again, the bulleted items above are all normal responses to the very abnormal events and conditions experience in war, and they usually diminish over time.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disabling disorder that may develop following a traumatic event. Often, people with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts, memories, and dreams of the terrifying event and feel emotionally distant. An event resulting in PTSD usually involves experiencing death or dismemberment, in some fashion, and a feeling that one was helpless during that event. Common symptoms of PTSD include the following:
- Recurring and intrusive memories and/or dreams of the event
- Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were happening
- Intense distress in response to cues resembling some aspect of the event
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations related to the event
- Feeling detachment or estrangement from others
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
If you feel you may be suffering from PTSD, visit one of the following links or speak with a counselor.
James Madison University: For Returning War Veterans
San Diego State University: Student Veterans