Recent studies on how meditation can help veterans and active military personnel cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are showing promising results.
Let's take a look.
Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic Study
In one 2016 study, researchers gave 74 active-duty service members who were seeking treatment for PTSD at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic the option to participate in a meditation class regularly.
They also participated in scheduled therapy, medications and other treatments. The patients involved had experienced multiple deployments in recent years and were exhibiting both PTSD and extreme anxiety disorders.
Positive Results in Meditators
Half of the service personnel in the study practiced meditation. The other half did not. After just a month,
After just a month, researchers found that 83.7% of the meditators stabilized.
They also had either reduced or stopped their need for psychotropic drugs. And doctors increased medication dosages for only 10.9% of those who practiced meditation.
Less Positive Results in Non-Meditators
Conversely, for those who didn’t participate in the meditation program, only 59.4% stabilized or reduced their medication after a month of traditional therapy.
Doctors increased medication dosages over the course of a month for 40.5% of patients who were not participating in the meditation program.
Doctors re-visited the patients in a six-month follow-up. And the percentages remained roughly the same, with patients who practiced meditation continually doing better than their counterparts.
Neural Functional Impact Study
Another separate study looked at the neural functional impact of military personnel with PTSD who practiced mindfulness meditation.
In this study, researchers divided more than 20 veterans who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq into two treatment groups. One group practiced mindfulness meditation while the other group did not.
This study used both patient reports as well as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track results, from both before and after the meditation treatments.
At the beginning of the study, veterans showed high levels of activity on the part of the brain associated with perceived external threats.
Deregulation of Brain Areas
In patients with PTSD, doctors say the deregulation of brain areas associated with memory and emotions are common symptoms, as is heightened activity in the amygdala, or the “fear center” of the brain.
After the study, the brain scans taken weeks later showed a decrease of gray matter in the amygdala, as well as an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus.
This was in addition to testimonials from the veterans themselves who reported that they felt better, and were less stressed.
Helping Anxiety Issues
Clearly, studies like these are a hopeful sign that mindfulness meditation can help with all kinds of anxiety issues – especially the most traumatic and hard to treat conditions, such as PTSD.
Many researchers believe that individuals who have PTSD undergo neurological changes, but that these changes can be, in fact, reversible.
And considering that meditation changes the chemicals and make-up in our brains, it can be an effective treatment in changing the way people living with PTSD respond to past, present, and ongoing stressors and triggers.
PTSD Is A Broad Issue
PTSD and extreme trauma is a broad issue, after all. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), they define trauma as an emotional response to a horrible event.
These events can include combat, but also includes other life-changing events such as:
- Natural disasters
- Instances where a person has witnessed a threat to their life
- Instances where a person has had a close encounter with death or violence
In turn, doctors define PTSD as a severe response to a traumatic event. Symptoms can include:
- Re-experiencing the past event even though there is no longer a present threat
- Avoiding all reminders of the past trauma
- Feeling emotionally numb overall
- Having a very sensitive response to stress and triggers
These persistent symptoms cause a huge amount of distress in all aspects of life. They severely limit an individual’s ability to function.
Naturally Relieving Symptoms
But by changing the underlying brain chemicals that respond to stress and impact patients who suffer from PTSD, meditation can naturally relieve their symptoms.
Patients may also have a better response to other kinds of treatments and therapies, including counseling and group sessions.
Gone are the days when scientists believe that once we become adults our brains simply cease to develop and grow.
This means that treatments like mindfulness meditation that get to the root of the problem are far more effective than simply treating the symptoms through drugs and medication.
Like many fields of study that are directly related to mindfulness meditation research, we are in the relatively early days (or years) of using meditation as an effective treatment for a myriad of psychological and neurological disorders.
But these promising links and the increased use of mindfulness meditation in veterans’ hospitals and trauma centers all over the world is certainly a hopeful start.
Having a professional teacher on your side will go a long way in getting you started. Once you’re on the path, you’ll be amazed at how far meditation will take you.
Image attribution: https://pixabay.com/en/wooden-track-web-away-nature-trail-1932611/