Does mindfulness meditation help people with post traumatic stress disorder cope better?

Using mindfulness can help you be more aware and kind in response to your traumatic reactions. This is an important step in recovery. Cognitive processing therapy and long-term exposure have been shown to be the most effective treatments for PTSD. For people who have experienced trauma, mindfulness meditation can end up exacerbating the symptoms of traumatic stress.

When asked to pay focused, sustained attention to their inner experience, trauma survivors may be overwhelmed by flashbacks and increased emotional excitement. I have met survivors who, despite their best intentions, have ended up feeling disoriented, distressed and humiliated because they made things worse in some way. The power of meditation pushes survivors straight to the heart of wounds that often require more than just conscious awareness to heal. When dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the most difficult ones can be dealing with the everyday things that trigger your responses.

Mindfulness for PTSD works by helping you develop coping strategies for those everyday scenarios. Using mindfulness and meditation techniques allows you to regain control of the situation, which, over time, will reduce the intensity of post-traumatic stress. This implies that mindfulness training can allow those suffering from post-traumatic stress to better inhibit or reduce the pernicious cycle of negative thoughts, feelings and memories that accompany traumatic stress. Human and animal studies have found that traumatic stress is associated with a decrease in volume in the hippocampus, the anterior cingulate cortex and the left amygdala, regions of the brain that are highly sensitive to environmental threats.

A meta-analysis of 18 studies compared the effects of mindfulness-based interventions with those of a randomized control group to reduce the psychological symptoms of traumatic stress and PTSD. They also found that the longer the mindfulness intervention lasted, the greater the reduction in traumatic stress symptoms.


is a type of stress and trauma disorder that can occur after a traumatic event, whether you experienced it yourself, witnessed the event, or happened to someone you know. Some of these people may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition characterized by intense and disturbing thoughts and feelings related to a traumatic experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended.

While this finding may have been the result of methodological problems in research, it seems that becoming more aware does not necessarily translate into experiencing less traumatic stress. An exploration of how traumatic stress affects the brain and research that suggests that mindfulness practices may help people be better prepared to handle the emotional and physical distress of PTSD. In some cases, or when the stress is chronic, the system is not restored and the physical and psychological effects of acute or prolonged stress manifest as symptoms of traumatic stress. What this means is that in any environment where mindfulness is practiced, there is a high chance that someone is struggling with traumatic stress.

Carole Gitlin
Carole Gitlin

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