Health and Wellness

Managing Anxiety & Military Life

During the stages in our lives, whether good or bad, we experience a wide range of emotions—sometimes all at the same time! Maybe there is a significant career change ahead, or you are moving away from family friends. 

Anxiety is one obstacle that can come with those transitions, and because it comes in a variety of forms, it can affect each person differently. If you’re feeling stuck or not sure how to acknowledge or deal with it, here are some tips that can help you get started in the right direction.

Dr. Sara Rodrigues, a national research and policy analyst at the Canadian Mental Health Association, explained there are more than 10 recognized anxiety disorders. She added they can vary from person to person. 

“When someone lives with an anxiety disorder, their anxiety and worry are excessive, uncontrollable, and persistent for most days and for periods of about six months or longer,” said Rodrigues.

Anxiety disorders recognized by the Canadian Mental Health Association include:

  • Phobias
  • Panic Disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Signs of Anxiety

Anxiety produces physical responses including: restlessness, feeling “on edge,” feeling “on guard,” being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and disrupted sleep.

Rodrigues adds that panic attacks are highly prominent in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

“Because there are many recognized anxiety disorders and because factors like age and cultural background influence expressions of anxiety, it is not always easy to identify it,” shared Rodrigues. “Friends, loved ones, and co-workers might be able to pick up on an expression of anxiety if they know the person’s triggers and what cues to look for.”

Individuals with anxiety can also tend to avoid the thing or situation that triggers their anxiety, like crowds or events. They can try to diminish triggers by over-preparing for a test or diverting attention from themselves.

Anxiety & Transition

There is not a lot of research when it comes to anxiety in military spouses and children.

“Recent studies by researchers in the US indicate that the unique environment in which military members live and work may contribute to increased risk for the development of anxiety disorders, as compared to the general population,” noted Rodrigues. “They have also found that the rates of mental health problems, including anxiety, are higher for female members.”   

Many research studies have identified the factors that can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. They included the following: 

  • Extended duty hours
  • Heavy and/or physically demanding workloads
  • Multiple deployments and/or long-term deployment
  • Long periods of time away from family and support
  • Combat exposure. 

Rodrigues explains the impact of these factors can vary due to role, location, and/or degree of exposure to stressors.

Tips for Managing Anxiety

Although treatment for anxiety disorders varies by individual, Rodrigues offered tips for people with mild to moderate anxiety, which can also be used by anyone.

  • Learn about anxiety and anxiety disorders. Education is a key first step towards managing anxiety and getting support — organizations like Anxiety Canada and Mood Disorders Association of Ontario post evidence-informed facts and information on their websites and social media. 
  • Identify your triggers, make a plan to manage them, and share this information with family and friends.
  • Take care of yourself: Exercise regularly, maintain an adequate diet, and get plenty of sleep. 
  • Practice relaxation: Techniques like meditation, mindfulness, or yoga. These can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: CBT is a problem-based treatment that helps people change unproductive thought patterns and control unwanted behaviours.
  • It’s important to figure out what works for you in times when you feel anxious. It can be as simple as going outside to take a few deep breaths or writing in a journal. Not all resources or activities will work for everyone.

Early Intervention

If someone thinks they may have anxiety, it’s vital to get early intervention.

“The longer anxiety remains untreated, the more difficult it becomes to treat later. If left untreated, anxiety symptoms can worsen, activities of daily life may be adversely affected, or the person may experience other physical and mental health issues,” explained Rodrigues.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, you can contact your local  CMHA chapter for resources and information.

Military Family Resource Centres also offer mental health support for military members, spouses, and children. Contact your local center to see if they have these services available to you.

If you or someone you know is in crisis after-hours, call or visit the Family Information Line at 1-800-866-4546. The line is available for military family members.

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Paige LeClair

As a recent graduate from the St. Thomas University Journalism program, Paige has a passion for storytelling and investigative journalism. In 2016, she, along with her journalism team were awarded first place at the Emerge Media Awards in the multimedia category. The team was also a finalist at the Canadian Association of Journalist Awards. She is excited to work with other military spouses providing stories and information to the military community. Paige is newly married to Andrew, a Lineman, and moved to their first posting in Petawawa in May of this year. She is excited to begin this journey with Andrew, their dog Diablo, and cat, Linux

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