Using Mindfulness in PTSD Recovery
Sunday, November 8 2015 Jami DeLoe
Using mindfulness in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery can be a lifesaver. One of the most difficult things about having PTSD is dealing with the PTSD symptoms -- but mindfulness can help, even when triggered. There are a number of things that I know will trigger me, and I do my best to avoid those triggers. Some things sneak up on me, though, and I have to deal with the anxiety and fear that is caused by the fight or flight response my body has. One of the most effective ways I have found to get through those types of situations is by using mindfulness in my PTSD recovery.
What is Mindfulness as Used in PTSD Recovery?
I first learned about mindfulness while in treatment for alcoholism, and I realized how much it helps with my anxiety (Mindfulness Can Calm Anxiety). The concept focuses on being aware of where you are in the present moment, and being accepting of whatever thoughts and feelings you are having. Being aware of the present involves focusing on the thoughts, emotions, and sensations you are having in the current moment. It can be as simple as just paying attention to your breathing, or noticing what you smell or hear. Mindfulness is about staying in the here and now -- not dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future. It is also about being accepting and nonjudgmental of those thoughts when they do come, and realizing that we don't have to get caught up in them, or even believe them.
Using Mindfulness When Triggered In PTSD Recovery
When my PTSD is triggered, my first response is usually to get away from it as fast as I can. Sometimes that means actually, physically, removing myself from the situation, and sometimes it means trying to suppress, or stuff, my thoughts or emotions to get away from them. My flight response is almost always stronger than my fight response. So the thing that works for me is asking myself, "Am I ok, right now, in this moment?" I focus on my breathing and my surroundings and I tell myself the answer, "Yes, I am okay right now." It may sound too simple, or even a little bit silly, but making myself conscious of the fact that there isn't imminent danger, helps me make it through the feeling that there is.
The second part of mindfulness is accepting feelings and emotions without judgement. When I have made it through a triggering moment, I often have leftover feelings of embarrassment and shame. I wonder why I reacted that way, or feel foolish for having such a strong response to something (The Stigmatization Of Your Emotions). Mindfulness tells me to accept how I was feeling and let it go -- without having any opinion (good or bad) about it. It means remembering that they are just feelings, and they may or may not be based in truth. It isn't always easy, but I have found that when I am accepting of my feelings, whether they are true or not, I can let them go faster.
Making Mindfulness Work In PTSD Recovery
Being mindful takes practice. I try to stay present and be aware all the time so that when I am feeling triggered it feels natural to go there. It can feel awkward in the beginning, so practicing being mindful even when I'm not triggered helps me to be mindful when I am. So throughout my day, I remind myself to pay attention to what is going on in the present moment with my thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I try to focus on the things that I normally overlook or take for granted -- the sound of the birds outside, the feeling of my lungs filling, my background thoughts. Besides, there are at least 15 amazing mindfulness benefits besides using mindfulness to cope with PTSD symptoms.
We are often on autopilot in our lives, we go from point A to point B without paying attention to how we got there. Mindfulness is just redirecting the focus to right now, paying attention to what is around us, and what is inside of us. It has helped me make it through some really tough times, and it may help you too.