Military veterans face many challenges when returning to civilian life: reconnecting with family and re-establishing a role in the family; joining or creating a community; returning to a job or preparing to enter the work force; and adjusting to a different pace of life and work. Some Veterans return home with severe injuries, some visible, and some invisible.
Thousands of veterans—though just a fraction of the US veteran population—have found that creative arts and nature activities bring them relief from symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injury. In health care and community settings, veterans are discovering vital outlets for expression and pathways to purpose and joy through activities such as writing, gardening, performing music, hiking, painting, and fishing.
Although not a substitute for professional treatment, community arts and nature-based activities have several advantages. They carry little stigma compared to psychotherapy, making them a more readily accepted avenue through which to share traumatic experiences, confront emotions, and gain support. Arts and nature activities are also free of the side effects of medication.
Researchers, professionals who work with veterans, and veterans themselves have reported myriad benefits of spending time in nature and the creative arts. They include, among others:
Decreased feelings of anxiety
Reduced levels of stress hormones
Greater focus, self-awareness, and sense of confidence
Improvement in cognitive skills and the ability to process trauma
Higher capacity for confronting frustrations, transitions, and grief
Veterans say creative arts and nature activities:
Facilitate bonding with other veterans
Enable them to feel calmer and more in control
Offer respite from problems and stress
Ease their transition from military to civilian life
Help them find meaning in their recovery
Make it easier to talk about difficult subjects
Give them a reason to live
A growing body of research has demonstrated the therapeutic value of the arts and spending time in nature. Below are selected studies:
Creative ArtsComing home to the arts: theatre with military veterans and families
NatureSharing a New Foxhole with Friends: The Impact of Outdoor Recreation on Injured Military