Mindfulness & Trauma

Practicing Mindfulness To Advance Recovery

By The Health For Life Staff

Mindfulness has been increasing in popularity over the last few years, but many people are not sure what mindfulness really is. Mindfulness has been around for hundreds of years as it is one of the regular, meditative practices in Buddhism (Bremner et al, 2017; Thompson, Arnkoff, & Glass, 2011, p. 221). Mindfulness is a practice that helps individuals to stay in the present while paying close attention to their body–this includes feelings, sensations, and thoughts that arise while still remaining in the present (Bremner et al, 2017). Mindfulness consists of “self-regulation of attention,” or keeping your attention to your body, your breathing, and staying present. It also involves cultivating a curious and accepting stance toward your experience which looks like “letting go of judgments of your own experience” (Thompson et al, 2011, p. 222).

Mindfulness is great for anyone to try, but it’s especially helpful for those who have experienced trauma at some point in their life. Since mindfulness is based on remaining in the present moment while paying attention to your body, you aren’t avoiding an experience (Thompson et al, 2011, p. 221). Those who have experienced trauma, especially those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) tend to avoid experiences that might have to do with their trauma (Thompson et al, 2011, p. 221). Mindfulness can help those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) take control of their emotional experience (Thompson et al, 2011, p. 221) by decreasing symptoms such as “hyperarousal, emotional numbing, negative emotions such as shame and guilt, and dissociation” (Boyd, Lanius, & McKinnon, 2017, p. 8). Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness advances recovery from the main symptoms of PTSD such as anxiety and avoiding triggering situations (Thompson et al, 2011, p. 228). In a study by Silver and colleagues (2002), the use of mindfulness as a “coping strategy” was related to a decrease in PTSD symptoms as well as a decrease in “levels of distress” within the six months post September 11, 2001 with the terrorist attacks (Silver et al, 2002 as cited in Thompson et al, 2011, p. 228).

Mindfulness has also been shown to change the brain structure in PTSD patients as it can aid in repairing connections between important brain networks such as the “default mode network (DMN) and the central executive (CEN) and salience networks (SN)” (Boyd et al, 2017, p. 7). These networks are damaged by trauma, but practicing mindfulness has been associated with the activation and connection of these networks (Boyd et al, 2017, p. 12). For example, during mindfulness, your mind can wander which is linked to activation within the DMN (Boyd et al, 2017, p. 12). Being aware that your mind is wandering is linked with activation in the SN, and trying to change your attention back to focusing on the present and focus on your present experience is linked with activation in the CEN (Boyd et al, 2017, p. 12). Other structures of the brain that are impacted by mindfulness are in the limbic system. The limbic system is primarily responsible for your memory as well as emotions, but PTSD is associated with hyperarousal in this area (Boyd et al, 2017, p. 10). Repairing the limbic system through mindfulness aids in normal and healthy functioning of emotional responses (Boyd et al, 2017, p. 10).

There are several ways you can practice mindfulness: one popular way is by practicing yoga.  Another way is to try to live a “mindful” life by applying the strategies and skills to your daily life for short periods of time throughout your day. In a study by Clark and colleagues (2014) on trauma-sensitive yoga, those who had experienced trauma felt like it was a safe way of practicing mindfulness and meditation and felt that it helped them reduce anxiety symptoms (Clark et al, 2014, p. 158). There are also numerous mindfulness-based treatments that are based on the tenets of mindfulness such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and mindfulness-based exposure therapy (MBET) (Boyd et al, 2017, p. 15).

Practicing mindfulness is a useful method to cope with a wide range of events from everyday stressors to traumatic events. It has even been shown to be a “protective factor” against trauma associated disorders such as PTSD (Boyd et al, 2017, p. 8). Almost anyone can benefit from practicing mindfulness.

Visit healthforlifegr.com today to learn more about the ways we can help you grow in your own life and how to keep practicing mindfulness. You can also visit The Trauma Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids to learn more about trauma and how it affects us.

References:

  1. “Conceptualizing Mindfulness and Acceptance as Components of Psychological Resilience to Trauma” http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1029.497&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  2. “Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: a review of the treatment literature and neurobiological evidence” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5747539/
  3. “Trauma-sensitive yoga as an adjunct mental health treatment in group therapy for survivors of domestic violence: A feasibility study” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215954/
  4. Mindfulness-based stress reduction https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574875/

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