“Mindfulness is actually a great way to treat pain.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can cause the mind to flash back or relive memories related to a traumatic event. Veterans with PTSD may feel physical signs of panic like sweating or a racing heart as they have these distressing thoughts and memories. For this reason, mindfulness can be one of the powerful coping tips for veterans with PTSD.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental health strategy that can be helpful in many aspects of life. In particular, it can be very effective for people with anxiety disorders (including PTSD).
“Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, focused awareness on the present where we experience what we’re feeling in the here and now,” says Collin Reiff, MD, psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health. “We’re stopping the sensation [of] traveling thought off to other places, and dealing with the experience in front of us.”
This doesn’t mean making your brain quiet or stopping your thoughts—that’s kind of impossible. Instead, you’re changing your thoughts to focus on the world around you. For example, what does your breath feel like as it lifts your belly and chest, and moves through your nostrils? What do you hear around you? How does it feel to clench your muscles and then release them? What does the ground beneath your feet feel like?
How Mindfulness Can Help PTSD
Since PTSD is associated with racing thoughts, mindfulness is a natural coping strategy. “Oftentimes we try to avoid and numb pain and don’t deal with it,” says Dr. Reiff. “What we often learn is that if we deal with it and sit with it, the distress decreases.”
Dr. Reiff suggests using mindfulness to pull yourself out of a flashback. “A flashback is a sensory experience typically characterized by visual, auditory, [and] tactile hallucinations,” he says. “Mindfulness can disrupt that. You’re mindful that, ‘Hey, I’m sitting in my living room. My feet are on the ground, here, in the United States.’”
Anthony Aiello, a U.S. Army veteran, believes meditation is particularly effective for soldiers. Their focus and discipline naturally lend themselves to meditation.
“The effectiveness of meditation is really difficult to overstate,” says Aiello. “When you’re on guard, when you’re on watch, or when you’re sitting out in the midnight hours on some weird duty, you’re basically meditating.”
With practice, mindfulness can help avoid unpleasant and distressing flashbacks and the full dissociative experiences associated with PTSD. Learn more about recommended treatments for PTSD here.
Collin Reiff, MD, is an addiction psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health and a clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
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(Dr. Reiff) Mindfulness is a non-judgmental focused awareness
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on the present
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where we experience what we're feeling in the here and now.
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Essentially, we're stopping the sensation of thought
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or the traveling thought off to other places, and dealing with
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the experience in front of us.
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(soft piano music)
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Pain is a great example.
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Oftentimes we try to avoid and numb pain
and don't deal with it.
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Mindfulness is actually a great way to treat pain.
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Actually sitting with the pain, dealing with the pain,
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in time, what we often learn is that if we deal with it
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and sit with it, the distress decreases.
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Some excellent ways to practice mindfulness
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are meditation, you can do yoga,
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you can do a walking meditation.
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The effectiveness of meditation
is really difficult to overstate.
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And I think for soldiers particularly, it's an
incredibly useful tool
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and I think soldiers particularly
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are built to benefit from meditation.
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When you're on guard, when you're on watch,
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or when you're sitting out
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in the midnight hours on some weird duty,
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you're basically meditating.
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The tool that's used in all these practices is breath
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because breath keeps its focus in the here and now.
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An example of being mindful is the taxi driver.
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When we're in a cab, the driver is paying attention
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to where we're going, and they can recall
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the path that they took to arrive at the destination.
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Whereas if we're sitting in the back, we're not mindful,
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and we're not observing and we're not aware
of what's happening.
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We're not gonna be able to recall it.
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So being mindful would be
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focusing on what's happening,
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not avoiding it, not being distracted.
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Mindfulness can be incredibly helpful
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in treating PTSD.
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For instance, if an individual starts to experience
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A flashback is a sensory experience
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typically characterized by visual, auditory,
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where the individual may feel like
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they're back in a traumatic event,
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and they can easily go back there and maybe have
a full dissociative experience.
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Mindfulness can disrupt that.
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You're mindful that, 'Hey, I'm sitting in my living room.'
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'My feet are on the ground, here, in the United States.'
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'I smell my coffee in front of me.'
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'It's a beautiful sunny day outside. '
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'I'm not gonna let myself go into this other experience'
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'which is not consistent with the reality of the here and now.'
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That's how you can use mindfulness,
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or one example of how you can use mindfulness
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to cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
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