Can something as simple as watching a movie or news coverage of human tragedy and natural disasters trigger feelings of stress and anxiety?
For those who fought in wars, sometimes just watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk or the upcoming Ken Burns PBS documentary The Vietnam War can spark late-onset stress syndrome, which is similar – but not as severe or long-lasting – as post-traumatic stress disorder. In some of these movies, the battle scenes are so realistic that it can trigger people to seek help from therapists to cope.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be immediate or late onset, and it’s hard to know what might trigger these feelings. It could be something as simple as tuning into the evening news and seeing people suffering from a hurricane or flooding. It could even be what most would consider a happy event – getting married or the birth of a child – but those events could also lead to greater anxiety.
The older we get, the more we tend to think about our lives, and some memories can be stressful or upsetting. For those who may be struggling with late-onset stress syndrome, here are a few tips for coping:
Build a support system
Know who you can talk to if you’re feeling stressful or anxious. It could be a spouse or a sibling, or perhaps a co-worker or therapist, but it should be someone you trust. For some people, late-onset stress syndrome can set in after they’ve raised their families and have more time on their hands to reflect on their lives and what’s meaningful to them.
Avoid 'trigger' situations
Try to identify specific situations, people or actions that trigger your feelings of stress and anxiety, and then try to avoid them when possible. For some veterans, loud fireworks around the Fourth of July holiday can be jarring, reminding them of explosions and gunfire during battle. For others, something as innocent as reconnecting with old friends on Facebook can bring up memories of those who served in combat and never came home. I’ve often heard veterans say they’ve never felt closer to anybody than when they were in combat.
Reframe your thinking
Instead of thinking “If I’d only …” or “I should have …,” try to challenge your thoughts and how you respond to your environment. You may need to work with a professional therapist to determine the best approach to master changing your response to an event to alter the outcome moving forward. Some approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Don’t be afraid to ask for help.