How Can Mindfulness Help PTSD Symptoms?

Mindfulness is About Being In Touch with the Moment

mature woman breathing deeply outdoors as a mindfulness practice
Practicing mindfulness can help people cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Westend61/Getty Images

Practicing mindfulness can be an excellent way of coping with your post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. People with PTSD may sometimes feel as though they have a hard time getting any distance from unpleasant thoughts and memories. They may feel preoccupied with and distracted by these thoughts. As a result, many people with PTSD find that they have a hard time focusing their attention on what matters most in their life, such as relationships with family and friends or other activities that they used to enjoy.

Mindfulness may help people get back in touch with the present moment, as well as reduce the extent with which they feel controlled by unpleasant thoughts and memories.

What is Mindfulness?

In a nutshell, mindfulness is about being completely in touch with the present moment and being open to experiences as they come. 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.

Studies on Mindfulness and PTSD

As is the case with many "therapies" such as mindfulness, research has only begun to explore the benefits for people with anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress syndrome. That said, the research done thus far implies that there is a significant benefit of these practices.

Mindfulness has been shown to be an effective stress reduction practices in general, but there may be other ways it works for people with PTSD as well.

Recent research suggests that mindfulness may help to mitigate the relationship between maladaptive thinking and posttraumatic distress.

Skills of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is made up of a number of skills, all of which require practice. These skills are briefly described below:

  1. Awareness
    One skill of mindfulness is learning how to focus your attention on one thing at a time. This includes being aware of and able to recognize all the things that are going on around you (for example, sights and sounds), as well as all the things that are going on inside you (for example, thoughts and feelings).
  1. Nonjudgmental/Nonevaluative Observation
    This skill is focused on looking at your experiences in a nonjudgmental way. That is, simply looking at things in an objective way as opposed to labeling them as either "good" or "bad." An important part of this skill is self-compassion.
  2. Being in the Present Moment
    Part of mindfulness is being in touch with the present moment as opposed to being caught up in thoughts about the past (also called rumination) or the future (or worry). An aspect of this skill is being an active participant in experiences instead of just "going through the motions" or "being stuck on auto-pilot."
  3. Beginner's Mind
    This skill of mindfulness focuses on being open to new possibilities. It also refers to observing or looking at things as they truly are, as opposed to what we think they are or evaluate them to be. For example, going into a situation with a preconceived notion of how things will turn out can color your experience. This can prevent you from getting in touch with the true experience.

Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness takes practice. Some people may put aside time to formally practice mindfulness, such as devoting time to practice mindful awareness of their breath or thoughts.

However, the good thing about mindfulness is that you can also practice it at any point throughout your day. For example, you can bring mindfulness awareness to a number of activities that we often do without thinking, such as eating (mindful eating), washing dishes, cooking, taking a shower or bath, walking, driving in the car, or listening to music.

You may wish to begin by trying these ideas on incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life. Before thinking this is too difficult, try out these six everyday mindfulness exercises that you can do almost anytime and anywhere, and advance from there.

As you go about your day, try to find as many opportunities as you can to practice mindfulness. The more you practice, the easier it will become to bring mindful awareness to your life experiences, which in the end may also help you cope with your PTSD symptoms.

Finally, you may think of technology as being the opposite of something conducive to mindfulness. Yet for those who love being connected, you may find that there are a number of ways to center yourself with mindfulness technology. The sky is truly the limit, and unlike so many "treatments" for anxious feelings, practicing mindfulness is usually without side effects and best of all, free.

Sources:

Banks, K., Newman, E., and J. Saleem. An Overview of the Research on Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Treating Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2015. 71(10):935-6.

Khusid, M., and M. Vythilingam. The Emerging Role of Mindfulness Meditation as Effective Self-Management Strategy, Part 1: Clinical Implications for Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Anxiety. Military Medicine. 2016. 181(9):961-8.

Roemer, L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2008). Mindfulness- and acceptance-based behavioral therapies in practice. New York, NY: Guilford.

Shipherd, J., and K. Salters-Pedneault. Do Acceptance and Mindfulness Moderate the Relationship Between Maladaptive Beliefs and Posttraumatic Distress?. Psychological Trauma. 2017 Jan 9. (Epub ahead of print).

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