How to make your home a safe, judgment-free place your veteran can feel seen, calm, and comfortable in
If you’re the spouse, family member, or friend of a veteran with PTSD, you may never fully understand what they went through…
And the intense waves of emotion that commonly come up can create friction and become overwhelming…
But with the right knowledge and healthy coping mechanisms, you can cultivate a safe space for them to navigate the challenges of re-adjusting to life at home.
In today’s article, you’ll find valuable tips and VA-approved strategies for veterans with PTSD that will help you create a home environment in which your service member can safely heal.
Understanding the Symptoms
The first step to creating a safe space for veterans with PTSD is educating yourself on the condition and understanding the symptoms.
When you have an idea of what their headspace might look like at any given moment, you can respond appropriately by either stepping in and offering help or stepping back and giving them space.
According to the VA, symptoms veterans with PTSD can experience include:
- The constant reliving or replaying of the traumatic event in their head
- Avoidance of people, places, or things that remind them of the event
- Trouble sleeping due to sleeplessness, nightmares, or anxiety
- Feeling numb or disinterested in things they once cared about
- Feeling hypervigilant, easily startled, and jumpy
- Mood swings, which often include negative thoughts and feelings about themselves
It’s much easier said than done, but if your loved one is angry, shuts down, or asks for space, it’s important to remind yourself that it may not be personal. These reactions are totally natural for veterans with PTSD, as they often direct blame, shame, and even hatred toward themselves for what happened.
In these moments, a safe space where they can fully experience the harsh reality of their condition without judgment is essential.
Be There for Them, But Respect Their Need for Space
As a friend or caregiver of a veteran with PTSD, learning to adapt your level of support to their current state of mind is important. When it feels right for them, show your support by participating in their treatment, exercising with them, and listening to them when they feel safe enough to open up.
But when they don’t feel like talking or need space, respect their wishes and try not to push them. PTSD causes many service members to place an overwhelming amount of responsibility and guilt on their shoulders, and added pressure can make things worse.
Adapt Your Home Environment to Reduce Triggers
As you spend more time with your service member, you’ll start to notice their triggers. They could be anything, including loud, sudden sounds, sights, smells, crowded or claustrophobic spaces, etc.
As you learn what they are, make an effort to remove as many of them as possible from your home. Knowing their triggers will also allow you to anticipate when something might set them off so you can better help them work through the symptoms and return to a relaxed state of mind.
Call Centers & Crisis Lines for Veterans With PTSD
Socializing, especially with other veterans or members of their unit, is incredibly beneficial for veterans with PTSD. But unfortunately, that may not always be possible in their day-to-day lives.
So, to ensure they always have an outlet, make sure they have access to the following numbers—either in writing or on their phones.
If they need to talk to someone who knows what they’ve been through, the Veteran Center Call Center has a hotline (1-877-927-8387) where they can speak to fellow veterans about their experiences and struggles with re-adjusting to everyday life.
If they’re in crisis and need immediate support, the Veterans Crisis Line offers 24/7 confidential assistance to veterans, active service members, reserve members, and their loved ones. To connect with the crisis line, all they have to do is dial 988 and then press 1.
Service Dogs for Veterans With PTSD
Service dogs are a powerful and scientifically proven aid for veterans with PTSD. They’ve been shown to help with treatment in a variety of ways, including:
- Alleviating hypervigilance
- Recognizing when their owner is having a nightmare and waking them up
- Acting as a brace
- Providing unconditional love and physical comfort
- Acting as a complementary treatment to antidepressants, potentially allowing veterans to avoid increasing their dosage (high dosages can cause emotional blunting)
- Improving emotional, social, workplace, and educational functioning
If your service member has gone through different forms of treatment with little success or feels that a service dog could really help them, it’s absolutely worth considering. It could be just what they need!
Take Care of Yourself
PTSD is a complex condition that bleeds over into nearly every aspect of the sufferer’s life. As happy as you may be to help them, providing constant care and support for the veteran in your life can be incredibly exhausting.
Remembering to turn that care inward and give yourself space when you need it is crucial to being the best caregiver you can be.
Be there for them as often as possible, but also protect your physical and mental well-being. Do your best to exercise regularly, make time for friends and family, and cultivate a life for yourself outside your role as a caregiver.
And finally, just because you’re caring for someone with PTSD doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to have and express your own emotions about what you’re experiencing. The safe space you’ve created is for you as well.
You’re in this together, and when you encourage honesty, trust, and a judgment-free environment, you can be the perfect complement to their professional treatment.