Many veterans suffer from PTSD and other mental health problems. It’s no secret that deployments, operations, and even the lifestyle itself come with a heightened level of stress that the civilian population cannot understand. Transitioning over is tough for many reasons. Underfunded VA services and civilian practitioners that just don’t fully understand what you’ve been through can be only half the problem. Getting help can take time but rather than simply lamenting on this, using alternative therapies instead can help.
It’s agreed on by many health professionals that exercise helps depression, anxiety, and a variety of other mental health issues. While actually getting off the couch can sometimes seem impossible, any action is better than no action. Programs like EV fitness and companies like CRT are ideal for this because they bring a veteran mindset and the links between exercise and depression together.
Consider the peak fitness level required of those in combat. It’s not uncommon for veterans to gain weight after service simply because they’re not required to stick to that level of training anymore. Not just that but the exercise itself has mental health benefits.
When we exercise, our bodies release certain chemicals, and in fact, these chemicals are similar in many ways to those experienced in combat. The “rush” of adrenaline for example, and the “high” of survival on a chemical level are not much different than those experienced by an athlete.
The primary chemical released by the brain during exercise is endorphins. These are “feel good” chemicals, which are released when we experience something good and are what give us the most “high” from exercising. Even eating chocolate can give you a rush of endorphins, which is why so many turn to it when they feel down.
For those with depression issues, serotonin is often deficient. This is the chemical that not only makes you not want to get off the couch it’s the one that is most often medicated. Most antidepressants work to raise serotonin levels and studies have shown that exercise can have just as much of an effect as medications.
Dopamine is a chemical released when we feel rewarded. It’s a motivation chemical that when deficient often makes you feel less like doing anything. It’s very similar to serotonin in many ways.
This is a hormone released by the adrenal glands but it’s also used in the brain to improve focus and memory. This is ideal for dealing with anxiety and fixing the scattered feeling many depressives experience. After 20 minutes of exercise, studies have shown that you are more in control of your own mind because of higher norepinephrine levels.
There’s a strong movement towards using cannabis and marijuana for treating depression. Endocannabinoids, much like the name suggests, gives you a similar high feeling to those experienced with THC.
Is it enough?
Exercise can only do so much. While alternative therapies are supportive, they are not a substitute for conventional means, especially in severe cases. When dealing with PTSD or even just the stress of adjusting to civilian life again, a trained professional can give you alternatives far beyond effective. Exercise should still be considered part of your treatment and your therapist will likely encourage it, but there may be a complete treatment plan for you. While seeking help can be a big step, there are thousands like you who have successfully done so. Instead of risking being another statistic on veteran suicide, I implore you to seek professional help, whether that means you speak to a counselor or a psychologist (despite the cost) rather than just relying on exercise or other alternatives for severe cases.