Stress Tips from a POW

Written by Paul Wolf

If anyone would know about stress, it would be a prisoner of war survivor. Arizona Senator John McCain shared his advice on long-term stress during his five-year struggle for survival as a Vietnam POW.

Despite enduring the longest wartime captivity in U.S. history, the group of POWs that included Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John McCain has fared remarkably well, physically and mentally.

POW Advice
McCain gives his advice as a result of his experience as a POW:
Past humiliation or abuse cannot keep you down if you are driven to achieve.
Turn the hardships and trials of the past into the fire that fuels your commitment to tackling important causes.
Life is full of tests. Let them teach you self-confidence and an appreciation for a higher purpose.  
The Arizona senator was imprisoned for 5 1/2 years, and was among 591 POWs to return from Vietnam in 1973. Like his compatriots in captivity, he endured years of torture, humiliation and neglect.

"Considering the fact that their ordeals in many cases lasted for almost a decade, they have done well," says Stuart Rochester, deputy historian of the Secretary of Defense's Historical Office and co-author of Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia.

However, suicides, failed marriages, health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder are also part of the story, according to Rochester's interviews with more than 100 POWs.

In his 1999 book, Faith of My Fathers, McCain says that few veterans struggled to recover their balance.

"But for most veterans who came home whole in spirit if not in body, the hard uses of life seldom threatened their equanimity."

When his plane was shot down, McCain broke both arms and his right leg during ejection from his A-4. Vietnamese soldiers found him in a lake and greeted him with blows and bayonets.

American POWs in Vietnam were mostly officers who were older and more experienced than prisoners of previous wars, notes Rochester, as a possible explanation of their resilience.

Perhaps what got McCain through the agony of war is the same focus he has used to overcome life's adversities:

Fight, and thus survive, one battle at a time.

Don't cling to false hopes or you will "ride an emotional roller coaster of your own making."

Forgive yourself for being human.

Accept your limitations.

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