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Veteran and Military Transition Center
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
A proud partner of the american job center network.

Deal with stress

Veterans and military service members can have high levels of stress.

Learn how to understand and manage your stress with the information and tips below, provided by the Transition Assistance Program of the Departments of Defense, Labor, Veteran Affairs and Transportation.

What to know

A job search usually produces stress. This is because change and uncertainty always produce stress. Although military life is full of assignment changes and moves, there is a certain stability in knowing that you are employed, you have support and a paycheck. However, leaving the military and looking for a civilian job will probably bring about the most change and uncertainty you have had to deal with in quite a while. You will need a lot of emotional support to maintain a positive attitude and to remain optimistic during your search for the right job.

What to do

There are many different definitions and ideas about stress, but in practical terms, stress is a mismatch between the demands in our lives and the resources we have available to deal with those demands. Positive stress can help a person to concentrate, focus, or perform, and can often help a person reach peak efficiency. Many people, in fact, do their best work when under pressure. Then when the challenge has been met, they take the time to relax and enjoy their achievements.

Stress becomes negative when you stay wound-up and do not or cannot relax after meeting a challenge. Although negative stress has been linked with many physical ailments ranging from tension headaches to heart attacks, the good news is that stress does not have to be detrimental to your health. In leaving the military there may be some internal confusion of identity, loss of self-esteem and control. Your physical and mental (emotional and behavioral) conditions will be impacted as a result of a job loss, and you may go through several changes as your job search progresses.

To effectively manage existing stress, you must recognize its sources, signs and symptoms in yourself and others, particularly in your family. It is important to improve your coping and problem-solving abilities and avoid transmitting your stress to family and friends, especially your spouse.

Continue to maintain important relationships, attend cultural and religious events, and engage in hobbies and recreational activities. View work as only one part of your life. It is important to maintain or create a routine as similar to your previous schedule as possible. For example, continue to get up at the same time each morning. Dress in business clothes, and be sure to project a professional image on the telephone. The daytime is for making contacts in person and by telephone. Since most jobs are found through networking, new contacts should be the focus of your efforts.

To minimize future stress, approach problems as challenges and opportunities for growth. Start by identifying your primary goals and objectives, then break them down into manageable challenges. Take steps each week to overcome those mini-challenges.

Know when to seek professional help

Sometimes the only way to deal with stressful events is to get professional help.

Seeking counseling is not a sign of weakness; it takes strength to recognize that you can’t always go it alone. Learn to make use of, not avoid, expert resources. If you feel completely alone, overwhelmed or helpless, you may need the special training and perspective a counselor can provide. See your transition office* for further information and referrals. You may prefer to ask your physician or another health professional. State or local health agencies are another resource to recommend a counselor.

Develop a personal stress management plan

Be sure to include these items:

1. Recognize stressors surrounding your job search and personal life. Try to identify some of the feelings you experience and different ways in which you might best adjust.

2. Develop a job search plan.

  • Commit to your plan.
  • Review the results weekly, and make needed adjustments.
  • Don’t take minor rejections too seriously.
  • Much of the stress you may experience as a result of having lost your job will diminish as your plan comes together. You will feel a sense of relief and gradually begin to gain back the control over your life that you feel was lost.

3. Structure your time and practice time management.

  • Begin your day by ordering your priorities.
  • Plan the most efficient way of completing a task.
  • Focus your total concentration on the task at hand.
  • Do not allow other people to waste your time.

4. Initiate/maintain an exercise and nutrition regimen.

  • Engage yourself in fun activities and exercise your mind and body.
  • Follow a healthy food plan.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs.

5. Maintain your religious beliefs, social/family customs and daily routines.

6. Learn and use relaxation techniques.

7. Develop and maintain support systems.

  • Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Help others.
  • Consider career counseling.
  • Join a support group.

8. Establish a life plan and career goals.

9. Schedule time for yourself. Your job search is not personal time; it is your current job.

10. Include daily humor and laughter in your life.

11. Communicate openly and honestly with others.

*Note: The term “Transition office” is used here to refer transition offices:
Army: Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP)
Marine Corps: Personal Services Center (formerly Family Service Center)
Navy: Fleet and Family Service Center (FFSC)
Air Force: Family Support Center (FSC)
Coast Guard: Work-Life Staff