"When we have something from a loved one, it has meaning and it gives us comfort," she said.
Such physical forms of communication can help even if a person isn't in the high-stress environment of combat, Frank said. Letters, cards and e-mails can help bolster the spirits and possibly reduce the stress of family and friends who are away at college or on an extended business trip, for instance.
"It certainly helps if you're leaving a loved one," Frank said. "When people send a memento or a card, it helps the person feel connected to home. It's the whole idea behind the greeting card industry."
However, Frank said such letters would probably not have the same effect as those received by people in the sort of high-risk, high-stress, life-threatening situations that can produce post-traumatic stress.
"That's when you're in danger in terms of your life," she said. "In civilian life, letters and cards won't prevent stress from happening, but they can be helpful in reducing stress for people who have left a loved one."
But for those in the military, the aftereffects of trauma can be powerful.
"What people are doing in the service often exposes them to traumatic experiences," Frank said. "Even if they have this kind of concrete support, they could still suffer PTSD."
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a form of anxiety brought on by exposure to a horrific, life-changing or traumatizing event, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Symptoms can include reliving the event in your mind, avoiding things that remind you of the event, feeling numb to the world around you or becoming jittery, keyed-up and on a hair trigger.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that PTSD afflicts nearly 31 percent of V
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