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How Veterans Can Fight Back on National Stress Awareness Day

Today, November 3, is National Stress Awareness Day. The day is dedicated to helping Americans focus on developing anti-stress/anti-anxiety routines.

Perhaps no group is more worthy of self-care, and less likely to think of themselves, than veterans. After all, they put their lives on the line for others. They so often define themselves by how little they need and how much they can take. Maybe that’s one reason why stress tragically overtakes the veterans who end their own lives—by some reports, a staggering 22 a day.

For this very reason, I started with Commander Kirk Lippold, USN, Ret. to bring anti-stress, hope-inspiring, life-affirming services to veterans free-of-charge. Our vision is to recruit an army of counselors, life coaches, psychologists, psychiatrists, meditation teachers, yoga instructors and a host of others to donate time to as many veterans as they can on the 22nd of every month. In fact, we’ve already started providing those free sessions.

I want to share one of the ways I help veterans cope. It might be useful to others out there who find themselves wondering whether soldiering on in life is worth it. And that’s to stop thinking about one’s life story as stretching out for many chapters and hundreds of pages and wondering whether the story will ever bring happiness. That can be daunting. It can be dispiriting to look for the sun on the horizon when clouds are gathering and thunder is sounding. Instead, just commit to today and resolve that you’re on a mission to get through whatever may come your way—while resisting the temptation to throw in the towel. Just today.

Soldier on. Just today. And be kind to yourSELF, just today. Even someone climbing a steep mountain knows to drink water and rest a bit between periods of effort. Notice that you can choose to breathe, even when you feel spent. Notice that you can decide to delay responding five or ten minutes to most anyone who is clamoring for your time. Claim your minutes and notice that the world waits. The whole world will wait—for you. Miraculous, right? And you thought you were powerless? I guess not, huh?

See, the worst forms of stress are just imposters and bullies urging you to forget you’re the master of your own destiny. This minute. This hour. This day. Don’t let the imposters and bullies make you think about tomorrow or next week. Just think about today. Can you buy yourself a cup of coffee and sit somewhere undisturbed and drink it? Then, you’re a king.

Own your breath. Own your minutes. Own your day. Tomorrow is another day. And, guess what, you’ll realize soon enough that you can own that one, too. And the next.

Don’t forget that anything might happen to turn today dramatically in your favor. You can’t predict the future, so any internal voice telling you that you can only expect trouble is full of it. Feel free to tell that annoying voice as much. You don’t know who you’ll meet, who might call, what act of kindness you may have the opportunity to bestow on another, what might make you smile, if only inwardly, if only for an instant.

Choose to breathe. Own your minutes. Drink your coffee. Talk back to that voice inside you that thinks it knows it all—for all the days to come. Just own this day. This one day. Sail on. Soldier on.

Onward, today, by all means.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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