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Adjusting to life after the services

This can be a challenging time and involve a period of adjustment which can trigger a number of emotions from exhilaration to pain and anxiety. It may not just be you who is affected; it may also impact upon family and friends.

We have produced an e-learning resource to support service leavers, veterans and their families going through the adjustment process of living outside of the Armed Forces. This specifically addresses the issues that are commonly experienced in the lead up to, and after leaving the Armed Forces. These include issues such as:

  • acquiring accommodation
  • employment
  • finances 
  • health
  • personal, family and social adjustment

View the adjusting to life outside the Armed Forces e-learning resource.

This change can be experienced, to a greater or lesser degree, as a form of loss, or bereavement as you move to develop a new sense of identity, or who you are outside of being a member of the Armed Forces. There can be a number of components to this loss:

  • loss of identity, role and status – you no longer have your rank and job or career and may be unemployed.
  • loss of team – you’re no longer working as part of a Unit, Ship, Establishment or Station fulfilling a specific task or set of orders or working to a particular function.
  • loss of comradeship – you’re now outside the wire and may no longer have the social network you once had.
  • loss of purpose – being part of the Armed Forces can be experienced as being part of something with a higher purpose which can contribute to actions on a national scale. This contribution to something bigger may no longer be available.


The change and transition from military to civilian life can bring about a range of emotions, including uncertainty, anxiety and feeling of a lack of control. It is important to note that these feelings are all natural for someone going through a significant change in his or her life.

Who you are

Being part of the Armed Forces you fulfil a variety of roles (armed conflict, peacekeeping, humanitarian, ceremonial). Once you leave you, are no longer part of the organisation and community. This change can be experienced as a form of ‘loss’ or ‘bereavement’.

A useful exercise in adjusting from military to civilian identity is to answer the question – who am I? And try to generate up to 20 answers. If there is a lot of reference to the military in your answers, then you might want to look at what the civilian equivalent would be.

Another useful exercise is to recognise your values and what is important to you in life. There are lots of useful tools and exercises from Mind Tools.


Some ways in which the adjustment can be supported include:

  • talking honestly and openly about what’s going on and how you feel with your spouse/partner and other significant family members, or friends
  • encouraging and allowing your children to voice their concerns and finding ways to resolve them
  • developing or reviewing a plan for adjusting to being a civilian
  • maintaining structure and routine, especially if there are children involved
  • taking time out; doing something as a distraction from any anxieties or distresses
  • involving other people in supporting yourself and/or your family
  • looking after your health, lifestyle, getting enough sleep, eating healthily, maintaining exercise programmes or developing new ones.
  • challenge thoughts or feelings about being reluctant to ask for help. Recognise when you or your family may need help and go out and get it. If you were in a tight spot in your military role you wouldn’t think twice about asking for back up. Don’t think twice about it if you need to now.

Support organisations

These include:

  • Veterans Contact Point (VCP) is a local support group created and run by veterans for veterans and their families. Volunteers at the VCP can provide information, advice and referrals to a wide range of specialist organisations and charities.
  • Big White Wall is a safe online community of people who are anxious, down or not coping who support and help each other by sharing what’s troubling them, guided by trained professionals. Available 24/7, Big White Wall is completely anonymous so you can express yourself freely and openly. The Big White Wall is FREE for UK serving personnel, veterans and their families.
  • Family Information Services in CoventrySolihull and Warwickshire.
  • Relate aim to help you understand what is going on in your relationship and change things for the better.
  • National Family Mediation is the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales.
  • British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has information about counselling and psychotherapy, especially those who are considering therapy as an option for themselves or someone else.
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