Study shows mindfulness training eases PTSD symptoms

Posted on April 3, 2016 12:10 am

In findings published in Depression and Anxiety by a team from the University of Michigan Medical School and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, 23 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Post-traumatic stress disorder abbreviated as PTSD, can use mindfulness training to manage memories caused by war.Dr. Anthony King, a University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry researcher who led the new study in collaboration with VA psychologists, and his team, studied 23 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with PTSD, and discovered how the veterans’ brains changed in ways that may help them find their own “off switch” to those war memories. “We were particularly interested in how brain regions come on and offline as people perform different activities. More specifically, we wanted to see if mindfulness training was affecting the resting stage brain activity,” King told HCB News. “Once we explained the rationale behind mindfulness, which aims to ground and calm a person while also addressing mental phenomena, they were very interested and engaged – more than we expected,” says King. “The approach we took included standard elements of exposure therapy as well as mindfulness, to help lead veterans to be able to process the trauma itself.”Dr.King emphasizes that people with PTSD should not see mindfulness alone as a potential solution for their symptoms, and that they should seek out providers trained specifically in PTSD care.That’s because mindfulness sessions can sometimes actually trigger symptoms such as intrusive thoughts to flare up. So, it is very important for people with PTSD to have help from a trained counsellor to use mindfulness as part of their therapy for PTSD.”Mindfulness can help people cope with and manage their trauma memories, explore their patterns of avoidance when confronting reminders of their trauma, and better understand their reactions to their symptoms,” says King. “It helps them feel more grounded, and to notice that even very painful memories have a beginning, a middle and an end and that they can become manageable and feel safer. It’s hard work, but it can pay off.”

Mindfulness training, a mind-body technique that focuses on in-the-moment attention and awareness, was administered with four month of weekly sessions, to 14 of the veterans, while the remaining nine, the control group, received a VA-developed intervention that included problem solving and group support, but not mindfulness or exposure therapy. The veterans’ brains were scanned using fMRI, which visualizes brain activity as different parts of the brain communicate with each other through networks of brain cells. Before mindfulness training, when the veterans were resting quietly, their brains had extra activity in regions that responded to threats or other outside problems. Meanwhile, the “default mode” of the brain involved in focused thinking and when the mind is wandering was not active. This is a sign of hypervigilance often seen in PTSD individuals, according to the study. At the end of the four month study, fMRI showed that the default mode was more active and showed increased connections to areas of the brain that involve volitional attentional shifting, when a person can purposely think or act upon something, and the area that involved inner, sometimes meandering, thoughts. There was a decrease in scores on a standard scale of PTSD diversity in the mindfulness group, which suggest improvements in PTSD symptoms, whereas the control group did not exhibit this. Those with the greatest easing of symptoms had the largest increases in connections. At least 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD or depression, according to the RAND Corporation Center for Military Health Policy Research, and approximately half would not seek treatment. From other studies, I know mindfulness exercises has positive effects on factors linked to diabetes and cardiovascular disease especially fasting blood glucose and ratio of triglycerides to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.Mindfulness based eating and stress management practices to a diet and exercise program does improve weight loss and metabolic syndrome components.Mindfulness exercises do not seem to lead to substantial weight loss but mindful eating can go further than making healthy food choices and recognising when one is full and could improve glucose levels and heart health to a greater extent than behavioural weight loss programs that do not teach mindful eating.

Contador Harrison