Kolmac Outpatient Recovery Centers

10 Self-Care Tips for Veterans and Active-Duty Service Members

Four active-duty service members taking a moment to have a coffee with one another in an office setting.

Taking care of your own mind and body is important for everyone, especially for the military and veteran population. The approach you take to self-care can be nuanced and personal. However, there are good ways and bad ways to manage pain, stress, and your mental health, and to work through potential post-deployment trauma.

How much self-care do you need? That depends on your individual needs and experiences. You may benefit from regular exercise, established sleep and eating patterns, and connecting with others—possibly through support groups. Or you may need a deeper level of care that only a mental health professional or professional addiction treatment service can provide.

Below you will find tips to help you establish healthy routines to begin building out a self-care routine. You can choose to supplement this routine with additional services, to provide the level of support necessary for you.

1. Exercise regularly

Regular exercise is important for everyone. Many active-duty personnel and veterans enjoy exercise. An exercise routine can be good for your mind and body. Adequate exercise can help relieve stress, improve mood, increase energy, and support better sleep — all essential elements of a successful self-care regimen.

Yoga, for instance, is an excellent exercise for learning how to slow down, practice breathing exercises, and relax your body. Swimming can be great for cardio, while taking pressure off joints and ligaments in the knees.

Below are a few exercises and activities to include in your everyday life:

  • Walking
  • Stretching
  • Bicycling
  • Yoga
  • Boxing
  • Martial arts
  • Weightlifting
  • Swimming

2. Eat a balanced diet

Research shows that the correlation between a balanced diet and mental health is real. In other words, what you eat affects how you feel. Eating nutritious foods on a regular basis may not be a cure-all, but it is an excellent place for veterans to start. Remember that eating nutritious foods is an act of self-care, as is eating treats in moderation.

Follow these tips for maintaining a healthy, balanced diet:

  • Eat vegetables and fruits — Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat a solid breakfast — Eat protein and fiber every morning
  • Eat light snacks — A light snack is the way to go in the mid-morning or the afternoon if you’re feeling hungry but don’t want to ruin your appetite.
  • Limit consumption of alcohol — Drinking too much alcohol is bad for your physical and mental health. It can cause weight gain, as well as increasing anxiety or depression. If you drink alcohol, drink it safely and in moderation. If you think you have a problem or noticing consequences associated with your drinking or even if you’re having difficulty slowing down or stopping, it may be helpful to seek virtual rehab services.

3. Connect with others

Social connections are crucial for your mental health. Service-members and veterans should strive to connect with others whenever possible. Service members who are far from home can make time for family and friends by planning phone or video calls. Veterans, on the other hand, may enjoy group activities, such as an outdoor club.

You may also consider joining a veteran-specific support group. If you are a student, your college or university may have a special program for veterans. Also, your community will likely have groups you can join. If you’re struggling to find the right group where you live, consider looking online. You can search for groups on Facebook. Try out the PTSD Coach app, or Vet Friends, a website to help you find your military buddies.

4. Get enough sleep

Get enough sleep every night. Sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency can make life’s daily activities increasingly difficult.

Tips for improving your sleep include:

  • Routine sleeping schedules — Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Limit your exposure to blue light — Your sleep-wake cycle can be thrown off by exposure to light, especially blue light. Limit your usage of screens in the evening
  • Think about what you’re eating or drinking — What you eat or drink before bedtime can affect how you sleep. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol or eating big meals before bedtime
  • Wind down and relax — Wind down before bed. Stress or worry left over from your day can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Create a soothing bedtime routine, such as reading a book or listening to calm music.
  • 5. Treat yourself

    Self-care isn’t always about doing the “right” thing for your body or mental health. Self-care also means knowing when to reward yourself, whether that be with a sweet dessert or a Netflix binge. Just remember to treat yourself in moderation.

    Different ways to treat yourself include:

  • Eat something sweet — Whether you prefer to bake or buy a sweet dessert, both are great ways to treat yourself
  • Watch a show or movie — If there’s a show or movie you’ve been meaning to watch, take a day to enjoy it
  • Get a massage — Treating yourself to a massage is good for both your physical and mental health
  • Buy a little something — In moderation, a little retail therapy can be good, especially if it’s something you could use. New kitchen appliances or work tools are an excellent form of retail therapy
  • Take a day off of work — If feasible, taking a day off of work can give you time to reset and refocus your mind
  • 6. Find a new hobby

    There are many hobbies that veterans and active-duty service members can take up. Some prefer active hobbies such as bicycling or martial arts. Others prefer less-strenuous activities, like baking or gardening. Either way, each hobby offers a way to learn a new skill and connect with others over mutual interests.

    Many hobbies involve exercise. Here are a few more leisurely hobbies to consider:

  • Gardening
  • Baking or cooking
  • Needlework
  • Painting
  • Playing an instrument
  • Blogging
  • Volunteering
  • 7. Spend time outdoors

    Growing research suggests that spending time outdoors is good for your mental health. Exposure to nature may reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. There are many ways to enjoy nature. Here are just a few:

  • Go for a nature walk
  • Explore a local park
  • Take a hike
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Have a coffee outside
  • Eat meals outside
  • Read a book outside
  • Have meetings on-the-go
  • 8. Get professional help

    Military service can bring about hardships that are best managed with help from a trained professional. Talking to a mental health professional is the ultimate means of self-care. Some service members struggle to reintegrate into society after deployment or time in the service. Mental health professionals can provide you with better access to resources and give you an outlet to discuss the challenges you are facing. A professional can help you deal with substance use disorder and other mental health problems. This support can help you live a happier, healthier life.

    9. Find and use available resources

    Many resources are available to veterans and active-duty service members. Learn about what resources are available for you, as well as for your family. Also, check out what local services your community may offer.

    Here are some resources for veterans and active-duty service members:

  • The Wounded Warrior Project
  • The National Military Family Association
  • Military One Source
  • The Veterans Crisis Line
  • Dog Tag Bakery
  • 10. Make self-care a priority

    Self-care requires time and effort. Remember to make self-care a priority in life every day. Self-care becomes easier if you make it part of your everyday routine.

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