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Suggestions From Three Presentations on
Post-Deployment Stress Effects

From ONE Freedom: These suggestions come from staff and consultants of ONE Freedom (Scaer et al., 2008), the Colorado-based not-for-profit organization that provides education and training to veterans and their families.

  • Deep, slow breathing, paying attention to the breath:
    • It is a way to “talk to the amygdala” and undo the effects of the freeze response (because deep breathing brings oxygen into the body, and awareness of breath brings us into an awareness of the body).
    • Breath is also something we can control.
    • Deep breathing helps regulate the heartbeat and heart rate variability (healthy differences in the heart rate between inhaling and exhaling).
    • Deep breathing is particularly important because we get most of our oxygen from the bottom of our lungs.
    • Controlling the “exhale” helps to regulate the stress system and slow down the arousal process.
  • Attention-control exercises are important. We need to cultivate the inner observer, so we can observe our own thoughts, actions, and reactions. The observer (based in the higher brain) is an antidote to the automatic “reactor” driven by the amygdala.
  • Mindfulness training/meditation helps cultivate the inner observer and activate the higher portions of the brain, so we have better control of the amygdala.
  • Create a list of your top 10 peak experiences and visualize them in your mind.
  • Generate an emotion, name it, and observe how you feel. Naming an emotion helps “downregulate” the amygdala, to bring it under control. “Name it and tame it.”
  • Think of appreciation as investment in your own strength. Appreciation changes the heart rate. Making a list of things you appreciate smoothes “heart rate variability.”
  • Rest is a lost art, and it brings us closer to where the memories are.
  • Doing slow, deliberate exercises can help discharge some of the energy trapped in the body by the freeze response.
  • Writing about our experiences helps us integrate our memories and understand the journey.

From Alison Lighthall: In a 2008 presentation, former Army Psychiatric Nurse Alison Lighthall offered a number of suggestions for self-care and re-balancing, including cutting down on (or quitting) caffeine. She has worked with many veterans whose anxiety problems vanished or grew much easier after they stopped having large quantities of caffeine. Lighthall also outlined a stress-management program she developed, called “Dynamic Stress Management.” Components of that program include:

  • Improving mental resiliency, so that fewer experiences in life trigger negative stress reactions
  • Changing our thinking, so we are more likely to respond in constructive ways and less likely to respond in destructive ways
  • Replacing the word “stress” with the more positive and empowering word “challenge”
  • Remembering the positive impacts of stress, including:
    • Increased endurance
    • Enhanced physical strength
    • Alertness
    • Vigilance
    • Team cohesion
    • Increased faith in a higher power
    • A sense of purpose
    • Indifference to aches and pains
    • Heroism
    • Loyalty
  • Remembering that balancing of the stress system requires “oscillation” (going back and forth) between stress (expenditure of energy) and rest (restoration of energy)
  • Working toward balance by “changing it up”—following stillness with movement, noise with quiet, etc.

From Lia Gaty:  In a 2008 presentation, psychotherapist and trauma specialist Lia Gaty offered the following suggestions for recovery and re-balancing:

  • Face-to-face contact with someone you trust
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises (breathing deeply and slowly)
  • Dancing vigorously and often (when you move in rhythmic ways that involve both the left and right sides of the body in turn, it helps balance the brain and integrate memories and experiences)
  • Exercising vigorously
  • Laughing hard with someone else
  • Acupuncture, massage, tai chi
  • Gardening
  • Theatre
  • Sports
  • Swimming
  • Visualization
  • Focusing (a body-based self-therapy technique developed by Eugene T. Gendlin, PhD)
  • Heart math (use of a device that helps in heart rate variability training)

Next: Suggestions From Books and
Pamphlets for Veterans


The material on all of the Clinical Pages is taken directly from the draft version of Finding Balance After the War Zone:  Considerations in the Treatment of Post-Deployment Stress Effects, a manual under development for the Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center and Human Priorities.  This draft is copyright © 2008, Pamela Woll.  Reprint permission is universally granted, but attribution is requested.
Click here for References and Other Resources.
Click here to link to a PDF file of the current version of the clinician’s manual draft.
Click here to link to a PDF file of the accompanying booklet for veterans.

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