Stress reactions that affect personnel’s quality of life can lead to maladaptive coping strategies like substance abuse, rumination, social withdrawal or avoidance. There are, however, evidence based recommendations for the period after returning home:
Get started with daily life activities
Routines of daily life provide structure and strengthen the sense of safety and normality. Find time for exercise, hobbies and other activities that you know will give you joy and energy.
Rebuild social connections with family and friends
Talk about what you have been through, including the tough times; this way your experiences become integrated in your life story. There are some things from your deployment experience that may not be approprioate to share with your closest ones. It can therefore be necessary to have a network of other humanitarian personnel to discuss these experiences with. Engage in social activities that allow you to unwind and think about other things. Don’t allow dramatic or traumatic experiences become the centre of your story and identity in the longer term.
Problem solving, play and creativity
When you are occupied solving problems or creating something, negative thoughts and patterns that make you feel scared, depressed or immobilised are counteracted. Following intense challenges you may feel overwhelmed, resigned and unable to perform demanding tasks. Set goals that are clear and concrete, split problems into simple subtasks and solve one at a time. Be patient and praise yourself for making progress.
Skills to help you cope with the physical and psychological reactions to stress can be taught. This may include breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, recognition of stressful situations and how to express your thoughts and emotions.
A common reaction after stress is to be stuck in negative thought patterns that reinforce painful emotions. People who experience this can become overly self-critical. Learn to identify and separate helpful thoughts from distressing thoughts. Focusing on helpful thoughts is not the same as just thinking positive thoughts. Debating whether or not the thoughts are justified or true is not helpful. Rather, try looking at the situation from different perspectives; what would you say to a friend that was thinking these thoughts?