Meditation and Mindfulness Therapy for Treating PTSD

PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) is a condition that affects a person’s mental wellbeing  after they’ve witnessed or experienced a distressing or frightening event. The condition causes a person to relive the event’s details, leaving them feeling helpless, shocked, and fearful. It used to be known as battle fatigue syndrome because it was usually associated with war veterans.

PTSD is marked by intense thoughts and feelings of the event that lasts long after the experience has passed. Patients may experience vivid flashbacks and nightmares accompanied by feelings of fear, sadness, and anger. They may also avoid people, places, or objects that bring back memories of the event. They also tend to have heightened reactions to simple things like a sound or visual related to the event.

PTSD affects about 7 to 8 percent of the population, with women more likely to develop symptoms than men. The condition often worsens with time and disrupts a person’s daily life. Treatment involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and counseling. Meditative practices and mindfulness techniques also offer some promise in helping individuals with PTSD.

Why Do People Develop PTSD?

PTSD happens to people after a traumatic event. Individuals process trauma differently, and it’s unclear why some people develop PTSD and others who have the same experience don’t. Experts think that some biological and physical factors may make some people more prone to PTSD and other mental health conditions than others:

Brain Structure

The structure of the hippocampus – the part of the brain involved in emotion and memories may play a role in PTSD development. Individuals with PTSD often have a smaller hippocampus, though it’s not clear if the hippocampal size is the cause or result of trauma.

Genetics

A family history of depression and mood disorders may increase risk. Having a disease like a heart attack or even a minor illness can trigger PTSD.

Gender

Men are generally exposed to more violence, but PTSD is more common in women. Women who have complications during pregnancy or give birth prematurely have a higher risk of PTSD (postpartum PTSD).

Stress Response

People who have a heightened stress response have a higher chance of developing PTSD.

Other reasons a person may develop PTSD include:

  • Having life issues like job loss or losing a loved one after the traumatic event
  • Past experience of abuse
  • Poor physical health as before or as a consequence of the trauma
  • A history of substance abuse
  • The absence of a support network of friends or family after an event

Symptoms of PTSD

There’s no specific test for PTSD, and it can often be challenging to diagnose due to the reluctance of patients to relive the events. PTSD symptoms typically begin three months after the traumatic event or later in some cases.

The DSM-5 sets the following guidelines for a PTSD diagnosis:

  1. The patient must have been exposed to death, severe injury, or sexual violence directly or indirectly.
  2. The patient must have experienced at least one intrusion and avoidance symptom, at least two symptoms affecting mood or thinking, and at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms after the traumatic event.

PTSD symptoms are classified as:

Intrusion/Reliving

Patients tend to relive the details of the event. Intrusion symptoms manifest as flashbacks, nightmares, hallucinations, and disruptive thoughts about the event.

Avoidance

Patients try to avoid people, places, and objects that remind them of the trauma. They can become detached and isolated from people and events around them.

Arousal/Reactivity

Arousal symptoms are characterized by a heightened emotional state and an increased response to stimuli. Patients may become jumpy, easily angered, and irritable. They may also have trouble concentrating or sleeping.

Symptoms Affecting Mood and Thinking

Patients can have negative thoughts about themselves and feelings of guilt and worry related to an event. They may also have trouble recalling details of an event. Other symptoms may include depression and panic attacks.

Treatment of PTSD

PTSD treatment involves a combination of drugs, psychotherapy, and counseling. Other treatment approaches such as meditation and mindfulness have also shown great promise in dealing with PTSD symptoms.

Mindfulness and Meditation for PTSD

Mindfulness and meditation have gained popularity among mental health professionals for their many benefits. Studies show that individuals who practice mindfulness and meditation see a marked reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

PTSD patients struggle to get away from the negative thoughts and memories of their triggering event and so can’t focus on the things that matter in their lives. Mindful practices aim to break patients away from the negative past by consciously focusing their thoughts on the present.

Many people with mental health conditions report marked improvements in their symptoms upon commencing mindful meditation. Practicing mindfulness and meditation for PTSD is a skill that takes time to master. Patients may need to work with a skilled mental healthcare provider to help them devise a mindfulness and meditation practice suited to their symptoms.

Here are some simple mindfulness and meditative practices to help people battling PTSD:

Awareness

The practice of awareness teaches the individual to focus their attention on one thing at a time. It involves being mindful of things in the environment like the sights, sounds, and activities. Awareness also involves being conscious of one’s present thoughts and feelings.

Nonjudgmental Observation

This practice involves looking at one’s traumatic experience compassionately and without judgment where the individual doesn’t classify their experiences as good or bad.

Focused Breathing

Here, the patient finds a quiet place and a comfortable position sitting or lying down with a straightened back. With closed eyes, the patient begins to take deep breaths without taking their attention away from their breath. The goal of breathing exercises is to keep in touch with the present, taking the mind away from the things that trigger PTSD.

These practices take time for their full benefits to kick in, so individuals may want to give it some time. They’re also not accepted as beneficial by everyone in the mental health community. Patients may wish to speak with their healthcare provider before starting any mindfulness or meditative practice.

Conclusion

Early diagnosis and treatment of PTSD provide the best chance of symptom relief and return to a normal life. Symptoms don’t disappear at once, but with the right combination of treatment approaches, patients can learn to live with and manage PTSD effectively.


Images: Envato

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