I didn’t know what mindfulness was a few years ago.
The term was not just foreign to me, but it also didn’t belong to me. I was still in the mindset that I was a have-not, a common belief when you experience trauma.
It took some initial steps in my journey to happiness to open myself up to mindfulness, but it changed my life when I did.
Mindfulness is a mental exercise that focuses on the present moment. It’s about being aware of what you’re sensing, feeling, and thinking right now without trying to judge or interpret it.
Imagine you’re sitting in a park. Instead of worrying about what you must do later or replaying a conversation from yesterday, you would pay attention to what’s happening around you. You’d notice the feeling of the breeze on your skin, the smell of grass, birds chirping, or even the sensation of breathing.
And if you drift away into thoughts or worries, that’s okay. The idea is to gently bring your attention back to the present moment whenever you notice that happening.
Mindfulness is like a muscle – the more you practice, the stronger it gets.
It’s used in various ways, like reducing stress, dealing with difficult emotions, or improving concentration. Studies have shown it can be beneficial for your mental and physical health.
In simple terms, mindfulness is about being present and paying attention to the here and now without judgment.
What does the research say about trauma and mindfulness?
For this article, I took six studies on trauma and mindfulness. I went deeply into their methods and findings to learn how mindfulness affects trauma.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction for posttraumatic stress disorder among veterans by Kearney et al., 2013. Kearney’s team 2013 tested a program called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” on 116 veterans who had PTSD. They split these veterans into two groups: one group took the program for eight weeks, and the other waited. They found out that the veterans who took the program felt better. They were less troubled by their PTSD, felt less depressed, and enjoyed life more.
Mindfulness and prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD in urban firefighters by Smith et al., 2017. Smith and his team, in 2017, studied 89 firefighters with PTSD. They tried two types of therapy on them: “Mindfulness-Based Exposure Therapy” and “Prolonged Exposure Therapy.” Both medicines helped the firefighters, but the ones who did the Mindfulness Therapy were more likely to finish the therapy and felt better at handling their emotions.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children with PTSD by Semple et al., 2019. Semple’s team taught “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy” to 25 kids who had gone through trauma and had PTSD because of it. The kids who took part in this eight-week program felt less scared and less worried, and they became better at managing their feelings.
The Role of Mindfulness in Reducing PTSD Symptoms among Refugees by Polizzi et al., 2021. Polizzi and colleagues spent a year studying 114 refugees who escaped from countries at war. They found that more mindful refugees felt better and were stronger in facing life’s challenges. Also, the more mindful these refugees became over the year, the better they felt.
The Impact of Mindfulness on PTSD and alcohol use among military personnel by Vujanovic et al., 2021. Vujanovic’s team studied 119 soldiers who had both PTSD and a problem with drinking alcohol. They split the soldiers into two groups. One group took a “Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention” program for eight weeks, and the other carried on as usual. The soldiers who took the program drank less and had fewer PTSD symptoms.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder: A pilot study” by King et al., 2013. King and his team tried “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy” (MBCT) with 24 people with PTSD. This therapy combined meditation and thinking exercises. The researchers wanted to see if this therapy would help people with PTSD feel better. After eight weeks of this therapy, the people in the study felt much better. Their PTSD symptoms got less severe, and they felt less depressed and anxious. Almost half of the people in the study felt so much better that they no longer fit the PTSD diagnosis.
In some studies, mindfulness was practiced through a structured program like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).
These typically include mindfulness meditation, body awareness exercises, and mindful yoga. They also often have elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy, especially in MBCT, designed to help people understand and manage their thoughts and emotions better.
How does mindfulness help trauma?
Using mindfulness research findings on people that experience trauma, here are 11 ways mindfulness can help with trauma healing.
Reduces PTSD Symptoms: Practicing mindfulness consistently showed a reduction in PTSD symptoms. In one study, almost half of the participants no longer fit the PTSD diagnosis after an eight-week mindfulness program.
Enhances Mindfulness Skills: Mindfulness programs have improved participants’ mindfulness skills, allowing them to better focus on the present moment without judgment.
Improves Emotion Regulation: Mindfulness has been linked to better management and emotional response.
Decreases Depression: Mindfulness practice has been associated with a reduction in depressive symptoms.
Improves Quality of Life: In some cases, those who practiced mindfulness reported improved overall quality of life.
Boosts Treatment Completion Rate: Participants undergoing mindfulness-based treatments were likelier to complete their treatment.
Reduces Anxiety: Mindfulness practice was associated with decreased anxiety.
Enhances Resilience: Mindfulness practice has been linked to improved resilience, enabling individuals to better bounce back from difficult situations.
Reduces Alcohol Use and Cravings: In some instances, mindfulness practice was associated with reduced alcohol use and fewer cravings.
Improves Self-Compassion: Practicing mindfulness has been linked to enhanced self-compassion, helping individuals be more accepting and understanding towards themselves.
Promotes Posttraumatic Growth: Mindfulness can lead to positive psychological changes after experiencing trauma.
Is mindfulness worth a try to become happier post-trauma? Based on the research, it’s a big YES for me.
Let’s talk about how one can practically implement it.
7 Simple Ways to Begin Practicing Mindfulness
Before we dive into the ways to implement mindfulness, let’s discuss something vital for you to know.
It’s a powerful tool for trauma healing, so start small when you begin. And by this, if you do mindfulness meditation, do just a few minutes and be okay opening your eyes and re-orienting yourself; try doing body scans with your eyes open; and use very calming self-talk to practice being in the here and now.
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation: This involves sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, an image, or a simple word or phrase. If your mind starts to wander, gently guide your attention back to your focal point.
Mindful Body Scans: Lying down or sitting comfortably, focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, from your toes to your head and back. Notice any sensations, tensions, or discomfort.
Mindful Walking: Take a walk, but focus on the experience of walking. Feel your foot as it makes contact with the ground, the rhythm of your breath as you move, and the sensation of the wind against your skin.
Fostering Non-judgmental Awareness: If you find yourself replaying traumatic events or getting lost in negative thoughts, acknowledge these thoughts and feelings without judgment. Instead of trying to push them away, observe them as they come and go.
Practicing Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. Recognize that everyone has difficult experiences, and it’s okay to feel like you do.
Mindful Eating: Pay attention to your food’s taste, texture, and smell. Take the time to savor each bite, which can help you become more present.
Mindful Breathing: Focus on your breath. Notice the sensation of air entering your nostrils, filling your lungs, and then leaving your body.
Something that helped me a lot in healing my trauma is recognizing that I was someone that experienced trauma, but I am not my trauma.
Mindfulness changed my life and it was one of the ways that I became just a little happier.