Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a fairly common mental health condition.
People think of military service as a sign of post traumatic stress disorder, but anyone can develop it.
As a matter of fact, estimates suggest more than 80 percent of people in the United States will experience some type of trauma in their lifetimes. Among those who survive trauma, over 8 percent will go on to develop PTSD.
There are four different symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Re-experiencing the event. You may have nightmares or flashbacks that leave you feeling as if you’re physically reliving your trauma.
- Avoiding reminders of the event. You may stay away from crowds or refuse to watch movies that involve situations similar to the trauma you experienced.
- Negative thoughts and feelings. You may experience survivor guilt or have trouble trusting other people.
- Heightened arousal. You may startle at loud noises, have trouble sleeping, or feel constantly angry.
If you have PTSD, know you have plenty of options for treatment, including therapy and medication as well as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches like meditation.
Many people with post-traumatic stress disorder find it helpful.
In one 2013 study, 39 percent of 599 people with PTSD reported using CAM approaches, including meditation and relaxation techniques, to help relieve symptoms.
Learn how meditation can help with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. There are more details about other approaches that could benefit from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“mediation isn’t considered a front-line treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder”
- Cognitive processing therapy (CPT). CPT focuses on the ways trauma may have distorted your thinking, such as “It’s all my fault” or “No one can be trusted.” This approach can help you find a balance between honoring your feelings and challenging extreme beliefs.
- Prolonged exposure (PE). PE can help reduce your emotional response to triggers through guided confrontations. For example, in therapy after a car crash, a therapist might have you watch videos of cars and practice calming exercises throughout.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR aims to change how your brain stores traumatic memories so they stop reappearing. An EMDR therapist may, for example, have you make specific eye movements while focusing on a specific memory.
CPT and PE are specialized forms of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapy that helps you address unhelpful thoughts and actions. While CBT can still help people with PTSD, the review mentioned above found it less effective than its trauma-focused adaptations.
Your care team may also recommend medication alongside therapy to help you cope with PTSD-related stress. They might, for instance, prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This antidepressant helps the mood chemical serotonin travel through your brain more effectively.
“Therapy can help with the underlying cause of post-traumatic stress disorder, but it won’t help with the symptoms.”
Meditation is a practice that can help you focus your mind and gain greater awareness of your:
- thoughts and experience
- The surroundings.
- Moment-to-moment needs.
What you choose to focus on may depend on the type of meditation you practice, and the various types of meditation may offer slightly different benefits.
Some types of meditation may help with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mindfulness refers to a state of mind where you can acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment. Some people describe this as being an observer in your own head.
Mindfulness meditation makes use of this state to help narrow your focus to the here and now. By boosting your present-moment awareness, you might find it easier to stay grounded in the safer present when intrusive memories return.
Taking your mind off the future may help you with your anxiety.
In mantra meditation, you’ll repeat a sound or phrase aloud to focus your attention. You can choose any affirming phrase or sound that holds meaning for you.
“You don’t have to follow any religion or spiritual practice to use the meditation, but you will likely come across some spiritual language as you learn the basics.”
Metta, or loving-kindness, meditation can help boost feelings of love and kindness, both toward yourSelf.and others. During this meditative practice, you might imagine receiving well-wishes from your loved ones and mentally wishing them happiness in return.
You may not find it all that surprising that surrounding yourSelf.with good vibes on a regular basis can boost your mood and help you feel better overall.
A 2013 pilot study of 42 veterans with PTSD suggests loving-kindness meditation may boost positive emotions, ease depression symptoms, and promote self-compassion. These outcomes may help counterbalance the feelings of irritability, sadness, and self-criticism you might experience with PTSD.
According to the
- Lower stress.
- Improve mood.
- reduce intrusive thoughts
The authors didn’t find much difference between the different types of meditation. They also noted that meditation doesn’t seem to have as large of an effect as the first-line therapy approaches discussed above. Yet it does seem to have comparable effects to medication management, the second-line treatment for PTSD.
“While meditation can’t treat all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, it may work as an add-on to traditional treatments.”
Interested in meditating but not sure where to start?
Try this basic breathing meditation.
- You can get into a relaxed position at a place that you feel safe in. You can sit or lie down.
- You can set a timer for how long you want to meditate. If you have never meditated before, 5 minutes may be a good start.
- Focus on your breathing. Listen to the sound of air entering and leaving. Feel how your lungs contract.
- “You don’t have to keep your breaths quick. You don’t need to do anything else to observe your breathing.”
- No need to worry about other thoughts. Keep your attention on your breathing when you notice them and let them pass.
- When the timer goes off, check in with yourself. Does your mind feel calmer than it did before?
- If you feel worse, you may want to talk to a therapist. It is not right for everyone to meditate because it can bring up uncomfortable thoughts.
It is important to listen to your own needs when meditating with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
If you find sitting cross-legged painful, you can lie down. If you feel vulnerable, you can keep your eyes open.
Your comfort is more important than any set of guidelines.
These resources can help you get started with more complex types of meditation.
- There are 5 things to know about Om.
- Liberate Meditation
- Loving-kindness meditation
- How to meditate.
There are other approaches used to help address the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Adding to your treatment toolbox is one of the approaches that you should consider.
Yoga relies on a combination of mindfulness, breathing, and stretches to create a sense of calm.
Evidence shows yoga can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
For example, a
- tolerance for physical sensations associated with fear
- recognition of their emotional state.
- Positive emotions can be accepted.
The control group reported some of the improvements. The yoga group experienced lasting improvement after treatment, but their symptoms returned.
In biofeedback, monitors track your biological functions, like heart rate and body temperature, while you perform relaxation exercises.
A therapist will show you how well each relaxation exercise works by using a device that shows how well each one works. You may find it easier to learn these techniques with immediate feedback and positive reinforcement.
Studies on biofeedback remain limited, but the results seem promising. In one 2015 study, eight participants received either trauma-focused CBT or CBT plus biofeedback. While both groups reported improvement, the group that did biofeedback experienced a significantly quicker reduction in PTSD symptoms.
Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine, involves the use of needles to stimulate specific points on the body. Proponents of acupuncture say this can reduce stress by altering your autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious body functions like heart rate and breathing.
Evidence supporting acupuncture’s benefits for PTSD remains limited. Many studies lack an appropriate control group. A 2018 systematic review considered seven acupuncture studies that did have control groups, but the review authors found that most of these studies still had a “very low” quality of evidence.
This doesn’t necessarily mean acupuncture doesn’t work, of course. Many people find it helpful, so it may be worth trying — particularly since it’s a fairly low-risk approach.
If you start to experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is a good idea to connect with a mental health professional.
You can find a therapist or counselor.
- Ask your healthcare team for a referral.
- You can check your insurance website for trauma therapists.
- Ask about the support options for mental health issues.
- consider online therapy platforms
More support resources
You can find a therapist by searching online.
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America
- The association of dermolysis
- The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies is a non profit organization.
- The VA Health.
You can search for therapists by specialty in many directories.
If you want to try both therapy and meditation, you should look for a trauma-informed therapist who specializes in meditation andMindfulness practices.
It could go a long way toward helping relieve the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by meditating.
Adding a meditation practice to your treatment plan might help you deal with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Therapy can be a first-line treatment, but meditation can not. The best path to lasting improvement is working with a therapist who specializes in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.