Sign up for the Spouse & Family Newsletter

Related Spouse Articles

What's Popular on Military Life

Military Life 101

  • job fair
    Military Spouse Employment 101
    While the military will always throw a monkey wrench in any best-laid plans, your career doesn't have to be one of them.
  • (Photo: U.S. Department of Education)
    Military Spouse Education Help 101
    Good news for you: Being a military spouse can actually make some parts of going back to school easier.
  • (Photo: U.S. Navy)
    Military Life 101
    Military life has a lot of nuts and bolts. You know, the little things that make up just an ordinary day.
  • stack of one dollar bills
    Military Spouse and Family Benefits 101
    Don't know exactly how to get your military spouse and family benefits or want to know more about what they are? Read on.
  • Movers at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, load up a truck with household goods. Jose Ramirez/Air Force
    Military Spouse and Family Moves 101
    Whether you're an old pro or new to the military moving game, there's stuff to learn about PCSing. Here's our easy PCS 101 guide.
  • (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Sullivan Laramie)
    Military Family Deployment 101
    Preparing for deployment can seem like an uphill battle. But we've been there. Here's what you need to know.
  • Military family
    Military Family Life 101
    Military life is not easy, but we've got your back. From marriage to kids and parenting, we have the resources you need.

Combat Stress or PTSD? How to Know the Difference

Combat Stress Reaction (CSR) is most frequently known as shell shock or battle fatigue. It results in a range of adverse behaviors as a result of stress from battle. Some universal symptoms are exhaustion, decrease in responsiveness, hesitancy and uncertainty, feeling like you are disconnected, and inability to focus. Combat stress reaction is generally short-term and should not be confused with acute stress disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, even though some of the symptoms are similar in nature.

Reactions to a combat experience can be emotional, physical, mental and even have behavioral reactions too. All reactions will differ from one person to the next. More importantly, it is imperative to normalize your reactions given your experiences instead of being overly critical of yourself if you are experiencing combat stress.

Emotionally you may:

  • Feel frustrated
  • Experience mood swings
  • Become more fearful and have anxiety
  • Experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness
  • You may even have nighmares and flashback too
    Some physical reactions may include:
  • Increased body aches and pains
  • Trouble sleeping: either too much or too little
  • You could have panic attack symptoms like, heart pounding, sweating, and trouble breathing
  • Changes in your appetite: eating more than usual or eating too little
  • Woman may experience changes in their menstrual cycle

Mental reactions include:

  • The inability to focus and concentrate
  • Obsessive thoughts about the stressful event(s)
  • Increase in thinking about death and dying
  • Making impulsive decision or even showing a lack of judgment
  • Making self- critical remarks

Behavioral Reactions include:

  • Increased alcohol use or other substances
  • Compulsive behavior like checking doors and locks for safety
  • Increased anger: confronting others, throwing, breaking things
  • Isolating from others
  • Decreased sexual activity

It is important not to blame yourself if you are experiencing combat stress-related reactions. There are many ways to speak to someone about your concerns. Some helpful resources for you and your family are below.

After ( is a website addressing post deployment challenges including psychological health, substance abuse, employment issues, reconnecting with family and friends, and spiritual guidance.

Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (
DcoE serves warriors and their fmailies needing help with psychologicla health and traumatic brain injury issues, promoting resilience, recovery and reintegration. DcoE operates a toll-free Outreach Center (866-966-1020).

Military OneSource (
Education, relocation, parenting, stress-you name it. Military OneSource was created to help with just about any need. Call 24/7, 800-342-9647.

Military News App by

Download the new News App for Android on Google Play or for Apple devices on iTunes!


Ms. Vicki, a native of Dallas, has been the ‘Dear Abby’ for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her column has appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Ms. Vicki has retired from writing new columns for Although Ms. Vicki is no longer offering new advice on, you can still email military benefits questions to our Questions and Benefits team. Need military spouse career help? Email our Dear Career writers.

Featured VA Loan Articles