Today I’m delighted to welcome Dr Kate Hendricks Thomas to my blog. Kate is a neuroscientist and leading expert on resilience & stress management. She has been a guest on my podcast James Talks twice, most recently last Wednesday. Kate has lots of wisdom on personal wellness and spiritual health, it’s a privilege to host her today.
Despite the vast news coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, one figure has remained mysterious: the number of suicides among U.S. servicemen and women, compared to combat casualties.
Here’s one statistic to contemplate: In 2012 the U.S. military lost 295 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in combat in Afghanistan.
But over this same time period, 349 took their own lives.
Right now we are losing more veterans to suicide than to combat.
I’m a pretty decisive person with limited ability to ask for help and zero trouble taking risks; there was a time I could have become one of those statistics.
I became a Marine to serve, and I loved being part of the Corps.
As with anything I have ever loved intensely, the military changed and shaped me.
That process of obstacles, mastery experience, and shared hardship offers growth and transformation, but coming back to civilian life after it can be incredibly hard.
Standards are different. Camaraderie is different. Values are absolutely different. I witnessed first-hand the toll that leaving the service took on many of us.
My own public story was of crisp uniforms, physical fitness metrics, and successes.
I always looked good on paper.
My private story involved destructive choices, broken doors and holes in the walls, hiding weapons in the house, and getting dragged across the living room floor by my hair.
I was always tense, believed fitness should be painful, and was as far from God as a person could be.
Of course, I had no idea at the time.
I’m no one’s patient and I had no desire to go sit on a clinician’s couch.
For me, getting back to wholeness had to happen a different way. Practicing Resilience.
I believe there is tremendous work to be done to re-frame current narratives about veterans’ health.
We need to alter our and focus on resilience as something that can be trained and cultivated before combat is experienced.
We can do this- resilience can be taught.
Self-care modalities, social support cultivation, and spiritual practices are the components upon which we must rely.
Finding Spirituality and Yoga
For me, a huge part of self-care involved slowing down enough to listen to my body and create space for spirituality.
I found myself on a yoga mat and never wanted to leave.
In truth, I came to yoga as an athlete looking for something challenging, a fitness fad to master, and something to help me bend my unyielding muscles a bit more easily.
What I found on the mat changed my life entirely.
I found a practice that was about more than my body.
Be still and know that I am God –Psalm 46:10
Today I share yoga with other veterans as one part of a toolkit to improve mental fitness.
Do you want to move past something painful?
Yoga can help you sit with it.
Do you want to know or make space to understand God?
Yoga can quiet your mind and allow the space.
Want to become more resilient?
Yoga can do that.
YOU can do that.
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance, here.
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