Listen to “#12: Mindfulness for Self-Care” on Spreaker.
In this episode of PTSD Bytes, host Pearl McGee-Vincent discusses mindfulness with Dr. Timothy J. Avery, a clinical psychologist and readjustment counselor at the Peninsula Vet Center in Menlo Park, California.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of thinking that can help you become more aware of your present experiences. Avery defines mindfulness as awareness based on nonjudgmental self-observation in the present moment. This self-observation focuses on the facts of the situation, not personal evaluations of yourself. It also focuses on how you feel, emotionally and physically – again, without judging yourself for having these feelings.
An important aspect of mindfulness is staying in the present and recognizing that you can only make decisions about present situations. You can’t change the past and you can’t predict the future. By paying attention and not judging your thoughts and feelings, you can choose how to respond to situations instead of responding automatically.
Mindfulness and PTSD
Avery notes mindfulness can help with PTSD symptoms in different ways. For example, not judging yourself for having unwanted memories can decrease the impact of those memories. As McGee-Vincent says, being aware of any negative feelings can “Help us go from being on autopilot to making informed choices about what we can do in our lives.”
Mindfulness has been shown to help with PTSD symptoms, too.
Though research is still underway, mindfulness-based stress reduction is a promising therapy aimed at helping people with PTSD. Mindfulness in general can also enhance your ability to use the other tools that you learn in evidence-based psychotherapy, helping to decrease symptoms of PTSD.
Challenges when trying mindfulness
Avery says that it is not necessary to have a quiet mind to practice mindfulness. Instead, practicing mindfulness may actually help quiet a mind that is busy, anxious or depressed. It is important to pay attention to the thoughts you are having and practice not judging yourself for having these thoughts.
Being aware of your thoughts and feelings and allowing yourself to “Be as you are” can lead to feeling better.
Getting started with mindfulness
There are many different ways to get started with practicing mindfulness. Many religions and faith traditions already have mindfulness practices built in. You can also talk to your primary care provider or a mental health provider about counseling that involves mindfulness practices.
Most VA sites and Veterans Centers have various resources for mindfulness available, such as yoga or meditation classes. One tool that Avery recommends is the Mindfulness Coach mobile app, which has a training plan that can help you get started and guide you through practicing mindfulness.
If you are a Veteran who is experiencing a crisis or supporting a loved one who is, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 for immediate assistance, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat.