Kelley Russell, PhD., says that Veterans are particularly vulnerable to stress because of their past experiences. She notes that past stressors can continue to follow them through life and create behaviors like hypervigilance, quick response, avoidance, depression, irritability, and others. And, feeling stressed can create false alarms that start these feelings and behaviors which do not help you deal with it.

So, how does Russell move forward?

“I have found many ways of dealing with stress over the years,” she says. “I exercise, do breathing techniques, and practice mindfulness. But even with all that, I feel I could do with a little help from time to time.”

Russell is a clinical psychologist who meets many Veterans reporting feeling stressed or anxious. “It’s important to realize that stress is a natural part of life,” she says. “Everyone should feel stressed sometimes. Stress can be good in that it motivates us perhaps to deal with things – but you just need to be reflective and aware when that stress is becoming too much.”

According to Russell, stress can come from physical threats, like a bear or a car coming towards you or some threat you anticipate, like thinking you are going to lose your job. When that happens, Russell says your brain dumps stress chemicals to make you respond. This can make your heart race faster, make you sweat, or make you worry and have negative thoughts.

Past stressors can create continuing behaviors

Navy Veteran John Leaf (above) experienced a lot of stress during his service time off the coast of Vietnam. As a quartermaster, he says he would go on “suicide missions” into territory with waters that were not charted accurately.

Leaf says that he dealt with his stress over the years by throwing himself into work and looking for something to hide his stress. He enjoys cooking and baking as a relaxing activity. In the photo above, Leaf proudly displays his latest batch of crabapple jelly.

“I would work at one thing and then I would find myself jumping to another thing and then jumping to another thing,” Leaf says.

Support groups help manage stress

Eventually, Leaf started going to support groups at Alaska VA Healthcare. He attended groups on wellness and mindfulness, yoga, and one dealing with anxiety and depression. He met many other Veterans going through similar things and was able to use these and other resources to help manage his stress.

During his time in service, Leaf says many could not get help with their stress. “It’s very, very difficult to say, ‘I need help,’ and many times it was considered unmanly to say. It might not have been written but it was a very, very strong unwritten rule.”

Now Leaf encourages Veterans to get the help they need if stress is overwhelming them.

For help, there are free VA apps like the Mindfulness Coach app or the Moving Forward app to deal with stress.


Katie Yearley is a public affairs specialist for the Alaska VA Healthcare System and Regional Office.

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2 Comments

  1. Matt Ovaska January 25, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    I was able to handle Vietnam. I get stressed when I can’t get the VA to do what they get paid to do. I don’t know how they can sleep at night. Like the person at the VA in Arizona that stated that they should take all those vets out back and shoot them. That person was forced to retire 2 weeks early with full benefits. The fella on the president’s VA hot line that hung up on me when I mentioned AO. Then did offer us coloring books. Oh, and some sort of Vietnam pin. What are we supposed to do with that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had “baby killer” inscribed on it. The VA doesn’t have a clue!

    Take care

    Matt Ovaska

  2. Arnold Cabral January 25, 2021 at 9:22 am

    People and Veterans who read this please email your Senators or Representative asked them to contact the the Veteran Affairs Committee passed a new Disabled Veterans who is 100 percent service connected needs a Dentist that knows how to put in G4implants for free because they don’t have one work for a Veteran Medical Centers or have a contact with the Veteran Affairs Administration and if a Disabled Veterans who is 100 percent service connected don’t get the G4implants it will cause real bad Gum Disease and really bad Swollowing Problems plus real bad Heart Failure….Thanks for your Support and Stay Healthy and your Family and be careful of Covid-19.

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