Mindfulness for PTSD & Complex PTSD
Mindfulness, is another excellent coping strategy for PTSD, infact for anyone to manage stress, anxiety and busy lives. It is a vital management strategy I know works.
It was one of the strategies I learned in counselling within the first few months.
Like all management strategies, it takes persistence and practise.
Mindfulness Can Ease PTSD Symptoms
By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH
There has been a lot of research in mindfulness meditation in the last decade. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been shown to be extremely effective in a relatively short period of time. It has shown to be helpful with anxiety, stress and depression, as well as chronic pain and illness. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is another evidence-based practice that uses mindfulness skills to help individuals cope with depressive symptoms and has recently been shown to help veterans with PTSD reduce their symptoms.
People who practiced mindfulness meditation about half an hour a day for 8 weeks saw a change in several brain structures related to learning, memory, emotion, and the fear response. These are all things that play a role in post-traumatic stress responses.
Among parts of the brain impacted were the hippocampus and amygdala. After a mere 8 weeks, there was an increase in gray matter in these parts of the brain—the same part of the brain that sees a decrease after someone develops PTSD. So if PTSD is associated with a decrease in density in gray matter in the hippocampus and then there is increase in density after several weeks of practicing mindfulness, there is at least a basis for future research on how mindfulness can help reduce symptoms of PTSD.
The nearly universally agreed upon protocol requires some manner of exposure to, or processing of, the traumatic event itself. Therefore, mindfulness can’t yet be considered a stand-alone treatment for PTSD. That said, avoidance symptoms are a huge obstacle in being able to do exposure and processing. Mindfulness has been shown to help people increase their distress tolerance, which can then help them “stay with” memories and symptoms during treatment. My clients successfully learn and implement mindfulness skills in trauma therapy to prepare to process their trauma.
How to practice this yourself?
Mindfulness just means being present, and there are a lot of ways to do this. A classic mindfulness exercise is to eat a raisin or an orange while completely engaged in the entire process. Absorb the sight, texture, smell and taste of the item. Fully experience preparing to eat it, placing it in the mouth, and finally, chewing and swallowing the fruit.
You can also practice mindfulness while walking, listening to music, doing the dishes, cooking, or just about any other activity. These are all types of informal mindfulness practices, and can often be easier to schedule and participate in than formal practice, which can seem intimidating and foreign to newcomers.
If you want to learn more about how to practice these, a local Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course can be a nice introduction to many different mindfulness practices, and has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and pain in a number of studies.
Using Mindfulness For PTSD
Using mindfulness for PTSD may be a good way of coping. Mindfulness has been around for ages.
However, mental health professionals are beginning to recognize that mindfulness can have many benefits for people suffering from difficulties such as anxiety and depression.
In a nutshell, mindfulness is about being completely in-touch with the present moment. So often in our lives, we are stuck in our heads, caught up in the anxiety and worries of daily life. This exercise will introduce you to mindfulness and may be helpful getting you "out of your head" and in touch with the present moment.
Time Required: 10 minutes
- Find a comfortable position either lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting down, make sure that you keep your back straight and release the tension in your shoulders. Let them drop.
Close your eyes.
- Focus your attention on your breathing. Simply pay attention to what it feels like in your body to slowly breathe in and out.
- Now bring your attention to your belly. Feel your belly rise and expand everytime you breathe in.
- Feel your belly fall everytime you breathe out.
- Continue to focus your attention on the full experience of breathing. Immerse yourself completely in this experience. Imagine you are "riding the waves" of your own breathing.
- Anytime that you notice your mind has wandered away from your breath (it likely will and this is completely normal!), simply notice what it was that took your attention away and then gently bring your attention back to the present moment - your breathing.
- Continue as long as you would like!
Before you try this exercise, it may be useful to first simply practice breathing. This may sound silly, but many people don't breathe properly, which can fuel stress and anxiety.
Make this a habit. Practice this exercise at least once a day.
At first, it may be important to practice this exercise at times when you are not overly stressed-out or anxious. When you were first learning to drive a car, you likely didn't start out on the highway during a thunderstorm. The same goes for mindfulness.
Remember, it is normal for your mind to wander during this exercise.
That's what it does. Don't get discouraged. Instead, at times like this, it may be useful to think of mindfulness in this way: If your mind wanders away from the breath a thousand times, mindfulness is about bringing your attention back to the present moment a thousand and one times.