What is the difference between combat stress and post-traumatic stress?
liken combat stress to the daily "battlefield" stress of a police officer or firefighter, as well as, a deployed soldier. It is the daily drain that you experience being simply in the environment that puts you in a state of being "at the ready" all the time. You are worn out. Tired. Drained. You are irritable, maybe a bit intolerant of others. Sleep is not as restful as it should be. Patience is low. Relationships can suffer. Your schedule and agenda is constantly rattling through your brain. You are just plain worn out from the daily stress of just being on the job. I've also heard it as the term "battle fatigue".
Each of you is working in a environment that holds a lot of stress, whether it be a police department, firehouse, military base, hospital, and so on. Just being in an environment that produces challenging scenarios is enough to cause daily stress. I have met many Reserve and National Guard soldiers who are also civilian police officers or firefighters. They have always offered interesting perspectives on this topic because they are able to understand it from both sides of the fence. Their experiences from the police/firefighter work to the military work is many times different, but how they describe the impact is usually the same.
Developing tools to help you better manage the energy drain you experience everyday can help you to lead a happier, healthier life when you aren't on the job and also help you to be more focused and in control when you are on the job. This is where meditation can play a big role. If your brain is always on hyper-drive having to juggle and manage your daily tasks, sleeping doesn't necessarily always help you relax. How many of you go to bed dead tired and wake up in the morning feeling dead tired? It's terribly frustrating and discouraging. Meditation can help you to make that sleep more restful because you've trained your brain to recognize and produce a state of relaxation. It doesn't automatically know what relaxation feels like if you haven't trained it to recognize it. It all comes down to developing awareness. If you aren't aware of something, how can you make it better?
So how is post-traumatic stress different than the information above?
Post-traumatic stress has to do with the recurrence and re-experiencing of a traumatic event. Yes, there is an overlap with combat stress when it comes to fatigue, irritability, frustration, insomnia, restless sleep, etc. But with post-traumatic stress there are sometimes nightmares involved, flashbacks, behavior that recurs as the brain re-experiences through a myriad of different triggers. Post-traumatic stress is the constant reminder of the trauma you experienced. It can lead a person down a very harrowing, difficult, frightening, and confusing road. It's more than just daily stress and irritability.
There is often a feeling of "why can't I just turn it off?" Others expect you to just turn it off and get back to normal. Unfortunately, post-traumatic stress doesn't work that way, although if it did I can imagine we would all be lined up front and center. It's a process that you must go through to develop awareness of your triggers, awareness of your feelings/emotions, awareness of what's going on in your brain, awareness of the present moment......and you can imagine the list goes on. It feels like you can't ever get out from under it, but that's just a mindset, not exactly the reality. When you begin to tap into how your brain works and begin to develop tools to identify your triggers and identify your emotions attaching to those triggers, it's amazing how the light begins to shine again. This where counselors can be a great tool and resource for helping you to identify what isn't currently in your scope of awareness.
* image: Google Images