Why is Mindfulness Important for PTSD?
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a very normal reaction to a very abnormal situation. It is a way for our brains to protect the body, while still retaining the ability to somewhat function in everyday life. According to the Canadian statistics into the prevalence of PTSD , an estimated 9.2% of Canadians will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime. This translates to approximately 3 million Canadians who will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. In addition to PTSD, many Canadians also experience other forms of trauma. For example, in 2018, there were over 160,000 police-reported incidents of sexual assault and other sexual offenses in Canada.
Under non-trauma circumstances, a person’s stress hormone levels will temporary rise in reaction to a threat. When the threat has passed, these levels will return back to normal. What a great machine our body is!
For people with PTSD, the system still works the way it is meant to work. The person encounters a threatening situation, stress levels rise and… take much longer to return back to their baseline. In addition, because now the fight-or-flight response is continuously operating in the background, the stress hormone levels spike in response to even very mildly stressful situations.
These constant elevated levels of stress hormones contribute to an array of different factors: memory and attention problems, difficulty concentrating, feeling irritable and easily agitated, feeling highly anxious and on edge, digestive issues and trouble sleeping. If you think about why this is happening; when your body is in a constant state of stress, your brain is more preoccupied with keeping you alive than having you solve mathematical equations or finish reading a Harry Potter book. Makes sense right?
Except now, in the case of PTSD, you are on high alert.
Being traumatized means that you are, subconsciously, organizing your life as if the trauma is still happening. Sights and sounds in daily life trigger you to have flashbacks about the trauma, your emotions are hypervigilant and in constant alertness to any kind of danger, and your energy is focused on silencing the inner chaos. Over time, the stress response can become dysregulated, leading to chronic physical and mental health problems. Understanding the complex interplay between the body’s stress response and PTSD is essential for effective treatment and recovery.
And this is exactly why practicing mindfulness is so important!
What is Mindfulness Exactly?
I’m not talking about meditating for hours on end. Mindfulness is so much more than just that. In case you are not too familiar with mindfulness, it is the practice of being in the here-and-now, without judgement towards yourself or others, and having a curiosity towards the things around you. Mindfulness is about being present and fully engaged in the current moment, without judgment or distraction. It involves intentionally directing your attention to the present moment, while also being aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.
Mindfulness can be cultivated through a variety of practices, including meditation, breathing exercises, and body scans. These practices can help improve your ability to focus, regulate your emotions, and reduce stress and anxiety.
Visualization is a form of mindfulness. This teaches your brain to calm down, relax, and acts as a reset button. Day dreaming is a form of visualization. Picture yourself on your favourite vacation, whether that is on the beach in Cayos Coco, or on a trail walking across Europe. Use visualization to envision what happiness feels like, or what your perfect day looks like, or even what you will be cooking for dinner.
Five minutes, that is all it takes.