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Mindfulness Meditation Can Help Your Brain Handle Stress

Service member in silhouette outlined by sunshine
U.S. Army photo

This is the first in a series of posts on mindfulness meditation. Future posts will feature mindfulness meditation techniques and how the practice can help treat various health concerns.

After two tours of duty in Iraq, Michael (not his real name) struggled with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild depression. A psychiatrist prescribed the 32-year-old service member medication and exposure therapy and saw him every two weeks.

The therapy helped, but after a year Michael had trouble keeping up with the visits. He didn’t want to backslide; was there something he could do at home? Actually, there is: mindfulness meditation.

While the term mindfulness trends in many health-related news outlets, this article is about mindfulness meditation – a popular form of meditation that helps treat various psychological health concerns. And it has clinical evidence to show that it’s effective.

What exactly is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is the nonjudgmental awareness of the thoughts and feelings drifting through one’s mind. The goal of a mindfulness program is to help people improve their well-being and learn to better regulate their emotions. Instead of dwelling on negative feelings, people learn to experience these feelings as momentary impulses that will pass.


Pictures of the human brain before and after a course in mindfulness meditation show significant changes in its activity, according to Dr. Marina A. Khusid, chief of integrative medicine for the Deployment Clinical Health Center. Mindfulness meditation appears to make the amygdala — the part of the brain that controls memories associated with traumatic events — less active, and the prefrontal cortex — the part that involves decision-making and social behavior — more active, she said.

“The amygdala is activated during fear. The prefrontal cortex sends signals to inhibit this reaction when there’s nothing to fear,” Khusid explained.

In patients who abuse drugs or alcohol, or have PTSD, the amygdala isn’t properly deactivated, she said. Mindfulness meditation increases the speed and connectivity of the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala.

Studies look promising

Also, a number of research studies indicate that mindfulness meditation, alone or in conjunction with medication or therapy, reduces symptoms of depression, substance abuse disorder, chronic pain and PTSD. It also reduces depression relapse rate and the amount of substance use, she said. Although more clinical trials are needed to confirm the findings for PTSD, she added, early studies are very promising.

“The reason it’s so impressive is that very few interventions are so broad spectrum,” Khusid said. “Also, [mindfulness meditation] is free and portable.”

Although there are dozens of recommendations for adding mindfulness to one’s day or practicing meditation, those that were clinically shown to be effective are certain six- to eight-week programs led by a certified teacher. We plan to highlight particular types of mindfulness meditation and their value for specific psychological health concerns in future posts.

Subscribe to the DCoE Blog for future articles on mindfulness meditation and other topics related to psychological health and traumatic brain injury.

Comments (8)

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Every individual is different and requires a specialized treatment plan. For some, the most effective treatment is a combination of clinical-based therapy, medication and complementary practices such as mindfulness meditation. Anyone who is suffering, or doesn't think their current treatment is working, should connect with their health care provider.
  • I am a LMFT, and psychiatric RN, and see many patients with PTSD. Resources are always a big help.
    thank you.
  • I'm so glad to see this article. But I'm saddened, that it has been polluted by the lies of the pseudo-science and drug racket known as "psychiatry", - which is at best, "21st Century Phrenology". ( "phrenology"....)
    As for "mindfulness meditation", or "Vipassana", as it's known, it can work much better even than this article suggests. Look at the anecdote above: About 25 visits over a year, for the BOGUS "exposure therapy", and DRUGS from a shrink.... Very little improvement beyond what the passage of time would allow. And very expensive, besides. Then, the guy does some meditation exercises, and there's a rapid, dramatic improvement. How stupid are you people? If it wasn't for the obstructionism of the shrinks & pharamceutical industry, these very beneficial meditation practices and therapies would be much more widely known. India is one of the oldest, largest civilizations. It's the home of Yoga. Maybe they do know something, after all.
  • Nancy, we're glad you found the article helpful!
  • Found this from DHCC. Thanks for the comment on 26Feb. Almost 50 yrs ago I demonstrated PTSD while in -country. Still seeking treatment and serving others with same + TBI. Thanks!
  • Carl, if you need any resources or local providers, please call 866-966-1020. Our trained health consultants are available 24/7 to answer your questions and provide resources.
  • All of these articles related to PTSD options using mindfulness and meditation are a great resource of understanding for all readers.
    Biofeedback usage as a tool for mindfulness, meditation techniques and attention control for better self-regulation has become another proven method for the PTSD veteran to use.
    Here is a link to a study:
    PTSD HRV Biofeedback Study:
    Here is a link to one type of easy to use biofeedback system:
    Personal HRV Biofeedback System:
    I look forward to reading more about non-drug alternatives, complementary techniques such as these proven effective for helping our veterans.
    Thank you!

    • Thanks, Clay, for sharing resources with our readers!

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