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Meditation May Help PTSD Symptoms

Mediation helps Soldiers, family members find serenity
Maj. Victor Won, left, teaches fellow soldiers and family members at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern some techniques to reduce stress and improve resiliency. (U.S. Army photo by Mindy Campbell)

Dr. Marina Khusid is the chief of integrative medicine for psychological health research at Deployment Health Clinical Center. Khusid translates research findings to guide clinical recommendations related to complementary and integrative medicine applications for psychological health.

If you or someone you care about has posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy remain the gold standards for treatment. But, you may also find relief in complementary therapies, treatments that don’t yet have sufficient evidence to be considered as a first-line treatment, but are shown to help some people with symptom management and relief. Meditation is a complementary therapy many service members and veterans with PTSD find helps them feel better.

Meditation is a form of mental training. You train your mind by practicing various breathing and concentration techniques to improve your mental state and regulate your emotions.

The therapy has support in clinical practice. The departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense clinical practice guideline for post-traumatic stress mentions meditation as a method to help manage PTSD symptoms when used in addition to standard treatments. The guideline and several recent scientific reviews suggest meditation may decrease some PTSD symptoms by helping you to relax. It’s also thought to help with other mental health conditions, like depression or addiction, which often co-occur with PTSD.

Why else is meditation popular? The practice appeals to many service members with demanding jobs and hectic schedules because it’s safe, effective, easy to learn and can be done anytime, anywhere. You could experience therapeutic effects as soon as two to four weeks into regular meditation practice. Changes to brain patterns can occur as early as eight weeks. The maximum benefit comes when you adopt meditation long-term as a life-style practice.

Also, the self-care nature of meditation practice can help you feel more in control of your symptoms, and empowered to take an active role in your healing process.

While meditation practices vary, here are the three with the most scientific evidence of support for PTSD symptoms:

Mindfulness Meditation

Changes in the brain after a traumatic event can cause you to repeatedly re-experience disruptive thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness meditation is a technique to increase awareness of the present moment by focusing attention on the essential process of breathing.

You may benefit from mindfulness meditation because it interrupts the stream of intrusive thoughts and memories of the past trauma that characterize PTSD. The benefits extend to helping you process emotions and reduce avoidance symptoms and self-blame.


PDF: Mantram Repetition

In this practice, you silently repeat a mantram, a word or phrase that carries a spiritual significance. You should choose a mantram that’s a source of inspiration, comfort and peace. Repeating a mantram directs attention away from disruptive negative thoughts. The technique slows down thought patterns to allow time to prioritize, reflect and evaluate.

Mantram repetition program reduces PTSD symptoms through improving spiritual well-being, and decreasing negative emotions of guilt, shame, and anger related to the experience of trauma.

Compassion Meditation

Compassion or loving kindness meditation involves allowing your mind to be filled with feelings of compassion or of PDF: loving kindness to self, loved ones and all beings. According to Buddhism, compassion involves wishing oneself or another freedom from suffering, and results in the desire to help others.

Compassion meditation has a unique and rare ability to increase positive emotions, which almost no other treatment can provide. Since the brain’s ability to experience positive emotions like joy, happiness, love and satisfaction may be impaired after trauma, this is a very valuable therapeutic benefit. It also promotes self-compassion, a sense of connection to others, and challenges feelings of social isolation.

If you’re open to learning meditation and committed to adopting it as a long-term behavior change, it can be a powerful self-care tool for mental health.

Comments (4)

  • Thank you for including the Mantram Repetition Program which has been described as a "pause button for the mind" by Veterans suffering from PTSD. Randomized clinical trials are being conducted on this novel approach. Results indicate this form of a "portable contemplative practice" is an effective means for calming symptoms of hyperarousal, in particular. We have also found significant and clinically meaningful decreases in the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) and the PTSD Checklist (PTSD). A qualitative study published by Bormann, Hurst, & Kelly (2013) in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development (JRRD) highlights the wide variety of ways that Veterans have reportedly used mantram repetition to manage road rage, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, personal relationships, anger, and so on.
  • @Dr. Bormann, Thank you for reinforcing the scientific research supporting the effectiveness of Mantram Repetition.
  • The many excellent benefits of meditation have been PROVEN over the past several thousand years, by literally millions of people world-wide, from ALL major Religious and Spiritual traditions. Only the drug racket known as "Pharma", and their handmaidens, the "American Medical Assn.", would spout such classic psychobabble as this, from the article above: "...psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy ("DRUGS") remain the gold standards for treatment.".... We here in America no longer have even the "gold standard" for our currency. Thus the hype and spin continues.
    Meditation never has been, nor will ever be, a "miracle cure", and there are many caveats. Doing certain meditations can in fact increase negative symptoms, but this is very rare. Usually, at worst, it's just not as effective as it could be. And success with meditation requires the active, informed, willing participation of the individual, acting under skilled, knowledgeable guidance.
    It doesn't help the progress, when the entrenched "old guard" issue these sappy little public announcements, as a veiled means to continue to push their clinically bankrupt "psychotherapy" and "pharmacotherapy". The TRUTH is that many, if not most suicides by veterans involved "medications", often prescribed in high doses, and in multiple combinations. The so-called "SSRI's" are the worst offenders here, and until recently, they were passed out literally like candy. We TRIED to tell you so, but you wouldn't listen. Can you hear us NOW? Drugs KILL, and the PUSHERS of these drugs should NOT be given this platform to continue to wreak havoc on veterans lives....
    Yes, that's my real name. I WILL SPEAK OUT, from my own personal experience. They fought for me, and now I speak for THEM. signed, Bradford Hutchingson
  • @Bradford, Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.