Nightmares are a sign of high levels of stress. So no wonder combat veterans who suffer from PTSD suffer from frequent and hellacious nightmares from their time at war.

The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, either during or shortly after combat. The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as having three main categories of symptoms: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These categories can be simplified to describe symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares, feeling of guilt and depression, and insomnia, respectively.

However, chronic nightmares can greatly inhibit a veteran’s recovery from his or her traumatic experience. Sleep deprivation caused by nightmares can only raise stress levels as well as a veteran’s level of impatience and intolerance with his/herself and others.

An article published by Dan Harris of ABC News called “Learning to Fight Chronic Nightmares” provides some very useful information regarding the cause and treatment of chronic nightmares in adults. Harris articulates the work of psychiatrist Ross Levine, who purportedly specializes in “terrifying dreams,” which is why Levine says “[he] actually ha[s] very few nightmares”.

Levine studied a female college student by the name of Rachel Smalls who frequently experienced horrific nightmares that usually involved herself and her family being confronted with demons and even the Devil. But when asked by Levine to keep a diary of her daily emotions and subsequent dreams at night, Levine discovered that the days where Smalls suffered from “a lot of interpersonal difficulties…a lot of troubles with loved ones” during the day, her levels of stress would reach “crescendos” at night, leaving her with intense nightmares as her body’s way of relieving the mental stress.

Combat veterans are likely to experience similar nightmares that therefore involve similar mental responses. Constantly being surrounded by death and danger in such a volatile atmosphere that is combat greatly hinders a person to be able to remain mentally and emotionally stable. Many veterans often relive their time at war during their nightmares, and might even revisit those who have passed on either as a fallen soldier or a civilian who was killed during combat.

So how can a veteran finally break free from this mental torment? Levine says that since about a third of his patients happen to suffer from PTSD, he says that “reducing the nightmares actually dampens [the whole nervous system] down”. So in order to eliminate this anxiety before bedtime, Levin suggests that a veteran must “replay” his or her nightmares during the day (while they are awake and in control of the dream), and by night, “change the script”.

"They close their eyes and they imagine the dream happening and they walk themselves through it in the script,” says Levine. “And they imagine it with the new ending. And they do this over and over again."

Veterans with PTSD are highly encouraged to take Levine’s approach. Of course, if veterans feel as though they need more psychiatric help in other areas of their lives that have also been affected by PTSD, such as their marriage and career, they should seek further and individualized help such as talk-therapy and perhaps even prescription medication.

However, veterans should be wary of seeking this sort of treatment through the VA, since reports released by CNN in 2012 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. Therefore, ailing soldiers and veterans who suffer from PTSD might want to consider consulting outside organizations to rehabilitate their physical and mental health.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.