Did you know military service changes the brain? I didn’t realize how much the military had an impact on my life today until I learned about how your brain doesn’t finish forming until around the age of twenty-four. And did you know this final growth stage from around eighteen to twenty-four is a crucial time in brain development as it affects how we relate to the world as an adult? Interesting many military members join the military in that crucial age gap.
And while there is a lot of focus on transitioning out of the military so much of that focus ignores the fact that our final stage of development was developed our first few years into the military. The military fundamentally changed how our brain reacts to the world because it is viewed through the training the military gave us. This is both good and bad. It was the training we needed to serve in the military and in some instances, it was lifesaving. But most of the world operates outside of the military structure and when we transition, we need to retrain our brain on how to interact with the world around us.
Get it Done
One positive aspect of military life is you learn how to get work done. You find a way to squeeze more time out of one hour than most people. I often am asked how do you get so much done. To me, I don’t see my level of effort as irregular. It was just how I was trained to work. If I have twenty minutes to get something done, I find a chunk of time during the day to accomplish that task. I make lists and check things off one by one.
But I also cut out some of the social aspects naturally added to people’s regular day. While working with a volunteer group, I once ran in to tell someone all the things I did and that we still needed to get done. She stopped me halfway through my list to say “Good morning, how are you?” It took me aback…we need to get work done…why do we have to stop with plenaries. But I was quickly brought out of my military mission mindset and realized the whole point of volunteering was to be a part of a community. The work wasn’t as important. So, I stopped took a breath, and began to catch up pushing down the “training” the military had taught me that these things were not important.
Ignoring your emotions
Sometimes emotions stop you from doing something. In the military, those emotions often have to be suppressed either to get you through training or to keep you safe. And while pushing past the fear or uncertainty and doing what is required often leads you to find that you were more capable than you expected. It also subconsciously teaches your emotions can misguide you and suppressing them is the best way forward.
This is likely why so many military members and veterans struggle with their emotions. We have been trained to not listen to our emotions and just push down the pain. And while temporarily it is a good thing during war. Continually suppressing hurt and pain can come out in toxic ways and should be addressed in a positive way. Counseling, support groups, and meditations are all viable options that can help bring healing. Meditation is especially helpful as it combats both emotions and gets it all done without stopping. If you are looking to start your meditation journey, I have found the 10 Percent App to be most helpful. Get a 30-day free trial here.
Military service changes the brain
These are my big takeaways from the conversation I had. For a long time, I thought there was something wrong with me. I didn’t understand why I was so different than my friends. I didn’t realize my military service had a deep impact that went deeper than service to my country. So, if you are a veteran and do things a little differently, know that you are normal. Talk to another veteran you probably have more commonalities of odd behavior or thoughts than you would have expected. And also know that your brain is constantly growing and changing. Just because the military trained you to be one way doesn’t mean there isn’t a possibility to change those habits and gain new ones that help you fit in better with the world you live in.