Trauma, in a psychological context, is broadly defined as a person’s emotional response to a horrific or terrifying event. Such events may include abuse, sexual assault, a serious car accident, or time served in combat. These are only a few examples and many other events can contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Research has shown that mindfulness is an effective stress-reducer for people suffering from PTSD. Mindfulness includes being present and attentive to the space and time you are occupying. PTSD can preoccupy the mind with sensations and negative thoughts associated with our traumatic event. Mindfulness re-centers the mind and body and prevents us from feeling overwhelmed by our surroundings.
What Does Trauma Look Like?
PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs after a traumatic event. Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event can lead to PTSD. Symptoms can occur soon after the event or years down the road. Many people will experience trauma in their life and may be able to heal through self-care. But sometimes trauma is long-lasting and can interfere with a person’s day-to-day functioning.
Here are a few symptoms related to trauma:
- Flashbacks, or recurring and uncontrollable memories of the traumatic event
- Recurring dreams and nightmares of the traumatic event
- Avoiding people and places that are reminders of the traumatic event
- Avoiding thoughts and feelings that associated with the traumatic event
- Persistent feelings of fear, anger, guilt, and shame
Trauma can also lead to depression and anxiety. Further symptoms related to depression and anxiety include:
- Being on edge, or startling easy
- Increased difficulty feeling positive emotions
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Constantly feeling irritable or inpatient
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of numbness and emptiness
- Social isolation
- Lack of interest in daily activities
How Can Mindfulness Help?
Humans naturally respond to their present situations with judgments, questions, and biases. Mindfulness is about approaching the present situation without judgment or concern. It is about being fully present, but not reactive.
These skills can aid in the treatment of PTSD and other trauma responses by refocusing the mind. Everyone has the ability to use mindfulness within them, but it is not always easy. Actively practicing mindfulness is the only way to make use of its benefits.
Mindfulness techniques include:
- Focusing on breathing. When overwhelming thoughts occur, close your eyes and take deep breaths in and out. Try to make your exhales longer than your inhales.
- Sitting and moving meditation. Sitting meditation involves sitting in a comfortable position, clearing your mind, and focusing on breathing. Moving meditation involves the same techniques, but walking a short distance. One of my favorite types of moving meditation is walking a labyrinth. You can find out more about that here. If intrusive thoughts enter your mind while meditating, do not ignore them. Acknowledge these thoughts and dismiss them, returning to focusing on breathing.
- Pay attention to the moment. Take a moment to slow down, stop what you are doing, and pay attention to your senses. Notice what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Approach these senses without judgment. Simply notice their existence.
- Accept yourself and your current situation. Treat yourself with kindness and use positive affirmations. Telling yourself “I am safe,” or “I am in control of my body,” can help you cancel out negative thoughts and focus on the positive.
Everyone is capable of using mindfulness. It does not require special skills or money or a specific environment. Mindfulness can be practiced anytime, anywhere, and by anybody.
There is also no single “right” way to use mindfulness. As long as you are able to focus on the present and make an effort to approach your situation without judgment, you are being mindful. These skills are particularly useful when dealing with trauma. It allows us to acknowledge negative feelings and dismiss them all at once.
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