Reverse Culture Shock: Tips for Veterans

Reverse Culture Shock: Tips for Veterans

by Tahj Mayes, May 10, 2016

Reverse culture shock–or difficulty adjusting back to civilian life–is something every veteran experiences. It is different than the culture shock of deployment, but it can feel like the rug is pulled out from under your feet.

The rigidity of military life provides an important part of daily life: routine and expectations.

Even with the unknowns of deployment, military life contains a set of clear expectations, and leaving those behind can cause confusion and unsettled feelings that are hard to pinpoint.

Tips for Coping with Reverse Culture Shock

Take Care of You

We talk about this a lot and with good reason. We all–military and otherwise–need to care for our mental health.

Self care is important and so is getting help for dealing with trauma, even if it doesn’t seem to bother you at first. Stress affects us in many ways, and unfortunately, we often don’t pay attention to the signs our bodies or minds give us when things are getting stressful.

Self care is both a kind of self-therapy and a preventative tactic for maintaining overall health.

Connect with Friends and Family

I hope that you have friends and family who are understanding, kind, and able to give you attention. Some of us are lucky in this respect; others aren’t so lucky. If you don’t have family, aren’t close with family, or have family that are facing challenges on their own and are therefore unable to support you, find support.

Friends can be incredibly supportive. It’s helpful to have friends away from military life and also, to have friends who understand what you’ve been through.


Connect with Other Veterans

There are lots of reasons that this isn’t as easy as it sounds for veterans or military persons returning home after deployment. Thankfully, social media and technology provides us more accessible ways to do this, but on the flip side, it makes breaking ties with negative people more difficult, too.

Connecting with others who relate to the struggles of deployment and of reverse culture shock is important. This might mean hitting up your local VFW headquarters or befriending others online. It doesn’t have to be someone you served with. Don’t be afraid to make new connections. Old friends where once new connections.



You have traveled and now you are “home.” Sort of. Coming home (or to a new city that is now suddenly home) after life-changing events makes it even more clear that you have changed. Your perspective changed. Your emotions and your mind has faced difficulties. You aren’t the same.

So, what now?

Explore your new locale and your new life with as much curiosity as you can muster. Even if you are back in your hometown, explore. Do something you haven’t ever done. Or travel to a nearby city. Try a new hobby.

Find something new to do.

Your mind, your body, your heart needs newness.


The New Normal

You’re no longer on active duty so you have all the possibilities in front of you. This can be excited or frightening or both.

Establish your new normal. Establish a routine–if that is working out or weekly coffee with a mentor–do something that is healthy and nurturing on the regular. It doesn’t have to be big or spectacular.


Give Yourself a Break

If anyone tells you that integrating back into civilian life is easy or that reverse culture shock is no big deal, move on. It is not easy for most veterans and it is a big deal to most people. Don’t expect you to be the exception. Just remind yourself that you can deal–not that you shouldn’t have anything to deal with.


Go Forward

Even the phrase “Welcome back to civilian life,” is a misnomer. The word back makes it seem like you are returning to a state you once were in. You may be returning to a place or to a job or to a certain way of life, but you are different, now. Life is different, now. Technology, politics, families–all these thing change perpetually.

I don’t even like to say that someone is going back to school. If you are completing something you once started or if you are trying something new, you are moving forward.