Staying present is one of the biggest challenges for those trying to recover from trauma. Triggers and flashbacks from events in the past can drag you out of reality and back into a world that no longer exists. However, there are ways to train your brain to stay present instead of torturing you with the past. All it takes is practice.
Mindfulness Versus Meditation
Meditation is often suggested as a tool for trauma recovery. While it can be a brilliant method to slow incessant chatter in your brain and help ground yourself, sometimes – especially in early recovery, it can be very hard to sit still for an extended period of time without traumatic thoughts from the past drifting in and out. You could potentially be setting yourself up for an endless stream of flashbacks. Do not be disheartened by this. It does not mean that you will never be able to meditate. Or that meditation won’t help you. It is totally normal, reliving the past is what a traumatised brain does. Don’t beat yourself up about it, there are other ways to teach your brain to stay present if meditation isn’t working at the moment. Mindfulness is one of them.
Being mindful doesn’t require that you sit quietly in one place. It is a process of staying present by engaging your brain in what is happening around you. Taking in your surroundings and tuning into what is happening in the here and now. Mindfulness involves all of your senses. When you go for a walk, for example, tune in to all the sights, smells and sensations of what is happening around you.
Mindfulness Keeps you in the Moment
By being focussed on the present moment, you are keeping your brain busy which will stop it from drifting as often into the past and painful memories. Mindfulness was developed from the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who brought it to the Western world from the East where it was traditionally used in meditation practices.
To fully understand what mindfulness is, it’s best to practice it yourself. In order to be mindful you need to concentrate on what is happening externally to you and also how you are reacting and experiencing it internally. A nice way to think about mindfulness is that it is a state of surrendered awareness. Therefore you are aware, but have no attachment or judgement to what you are experiencing.
In a study conducted by Daniel J Siegel, he suggests that “mindful awareness has been demonstrated to alter brain function, mental activity, and interpersonal relationships toward well-being.” According to Siegel, with practice, mindfulness can build connections between different areas of the brain, slow how reactive you are to certain things and increase your sense of awareness around your body. When your brain makes changes like this, you will find yourself being able to better regulate your emotions, tolerate life ups and downs and cope with relationship difficulties which are all a part of normal life.
Mindfulness for Trauma Recovery
Mindfulness can be helpful to relieve stress or other symptoms relating to trauma. However, as mentioned previously – it’s important to use a practice that works for you. Meditation, while soothing for some, can be unsettling for others. There are many mindfulness practices that don’t require sitting still and meditating such as mindful walking, eating or simply just taking the time out of whatever activity you are doing to focus on your surroundings for a while. Yoga is another form of mindfulness that can be helpful in trauma recovery. Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk has developed a specific trauma sensitive yoga practice that can help people recovering from trauma.
As with any new method of treatment, it’s important to ease yourself into it. Allocate a short amount of time a day at first to your mindfulness practices. Maybe try it when you are eating your breakfast. Mindful eating is a good first exercise to practice mindfulness with because it is something you do every day and you can fit it in easily without having to go out of your way or break your routine. All that is required is that you focus fully on the experience of eating. Take your time smelling, examining, even listening to your food before you actually eat it. Then when you do eat it really focus on the experience, the taste, textures and how it makes you feel without placing any form of judgement on that. A good little list of other mindfulness activities for you to try can be found here. Remember to go slow and only do what feels comfortable and like it’s helping you.
Stop the cycle of merry-go-round treatment and find the solution you’re looking for in trauma treatment. Through effective residential treatment, Khiron House helps you find the path you need toward health and wellness in recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).