PTSD: Can Meditation Help?

When you hear the term post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, you might think of a returning veteran who has flashbacks of being in combat. But PTSD is not something veterans experience. VA’s National Center for PTSD estimates that 7 or 8 in every 100 people (or 7% to 8% of the population) will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. Many people have found that meditation can help treat PTSD.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health problem that some people have after going through a traumatic event, which can range from being in a car accident or surviving a natural disaster, being the victim of a violent crime or to experience a fight. Most people have some sort of stress reaction after trauma and feel upset, nervous, or have trouble sleeping. But in most cases, the symptoms subside over time. But for some people, they can go on and get in the way of everyday life.


“Even though the event happened a long time ago, physiologically and psychologically, it’s as if it was still happening then for that person,” says clinical psychologist Autumn Gallegos Greenwich, PhD, professor. assistant psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “The body will react like it’s in danger,” and that’s what keeps these symptoms going.

The four main symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Relive the event
  • Avoid places, situations or people that remind you of the event
  • Feeling more negative than before and having a hard time being happy or having positive emotions. Many people with PTSD report feeling numb.
  • Feeling at the end of it. This symptom, called “hyperarousal”, means that it is difficult to relax, that you jump easily, and that you may be more angry and cranky than you were before.

Can PTSD be treated?


“In the past, when we were learning to treat PTSD, it was seen more as a chronic disorder that we had to learn to live with and manage symptoms with,” says Paula P. Schnurr, PhD, Executive Director of the National Center for PTSD and professor of psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth. “We now know that many people will be successful in recovering from PTSD, especially with the right treatment. And it’s common to try more than one. “

Treatments can include prolonged exposure therapy, where you work with a therapist to safely expose yourself to the thoughts, feelings, and situations you’ve avoided, and cognitive processing therapy, where you learn to identify and change. negative thoughts. . They are very effective in helping to overcome PTSD. The National Center for PTSD has a decision tool to help you find the right approach for you:

How can meditation help?

Meditation is a mind-body practice of paying close attention to the present moment, combining concentration and awareness of your body, your breathing, your thoughts and the sensations around you. It helps focus, reduce stress and increase calm. Meditation itself is not a treatment for PTSD, but when used with any of the treatment programs described above, or as an ongoing practice to help manage stress once you have followed through. treatment, it can be very helpful.

“Training attention is the first step,” says Gallegos Greenwich, who studies how mind-body practices affect symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. “In mindfulness meditation, you focus on the present moment. Not everything you feel will be comfortable. Maybe you hear the traffic. Maybe your body is uncomfortable. With mindfulness meditation, you notice how you feel and stay in that still position, just allowing that feeling to be there and not needing to change or fight anything.

“My patients who practice meditation and other types of mindfulness practices frequently report less irritability, less anger, and more sense of control,” says Shaili Jain, MD, psychiatrist at VA Palo Alto Health System in California. , affiliated with the National PTSD Center. “They can slow down their reactions and be a little more in control, more present and more attentive than reactive.”


Although little research has been done, a limited number of studies have shown that meditation improves symptoms of PTSD and depression. “As a clinician, I see meditation as a very powerful adjunct to therapy,” Jain says. “There certainly doesn’t appear to be any unwanted effects or drawbacks to meditation for PTSD.”

How can you find a meditation program that will work for you if you have PTSD? Gallegos Greenwich suggests searching for the terms “trauma-informed meditation” or “trauma-sensitive meditation”. “For people with PTSD, part of recovery is learning to feel in control again, so you want to work with a program that doesn’t insist that you close your eyes or sit down a certain way. way.”


If you’re in therapy, Schnurr suggests asking your therapist for a recommendation for a meditation class or app that they think might be of use to you. “Many VA facilities offer meditation classes to support veteran care,” she says.


The VA also offers a free Mindfulness Coach app to help you adopt a simple mindfulness practice accessible to everyone, not just veterans. Other apps recommended by experts include Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier.

Just taking 5 minutes a day to incorporate meditation into your routine can make a huge difference. “It’s not like the antibiotics you use to treat an infection until it’s over,” says Schnurr. “It is an ongoing wellness practice that many people with and without PTSD use every day in their lives.”

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