PTSD and Mindfulness: Stop the Time Travel

English: signs and symptoms ptsd
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of articles recently talking about how Mindfulness is helping people with PTSD.  Apparently it is looking very promising.  I am not surprised.

SIDE BAR:  Small rant–can someone tell the media that military people are not the only ones with PTSD?  Survivors of sexual abuse often have it too, and since that is 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men, I think we are worthy of mention.  OK..rant complete. Back to the post.

Applied Awareness, a blog I recently started reading asked readers What is Mindfulness?

That post was very timely for me because I had been asking myself the same question, how can I explain what mindfulness is for me?  Is my answer “correct”.  I don’t know.

Here is my disclaimer, I only started learning about Mindfulness mediation a few months ago.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, or even qualified for novice level.  But it has had such an impact on my life that I want to share my experiences, such as they are.

When I started reading about Mindfulness in Geneen Roth’s book Women, Food and God, and in a couple other places…I thought, “Yes! This is very similar to some really helpful things I have learned in therapy.  I want to learn more about this.”

For me, Mindfulness is grounding.  It stops time-travel.  You probably think I’m joking about the time-travel, but I’m not.  With PTSD, triggers can catapult you into the past.  The emotions, feelings and terror is there as if you had literally gone back in time.

Through therapy I have learned to be more aware of the signs of being triggered.  When I start to feel my breath quickening, and my muscles tensing,  I know I have to act quickly.  I have to be Mindful in order to stay in the present moment and not time travel.

I believe it was Jon Kabat Zinn (a master on Mindfulness) that taught me, through his writing, that we are often thinking about the past or the future, and rarely about the present moment.  (We could call this another form of time-travel, couldn’t we?)  It is important to make time in our busy lives to stop and be in the moment we are in.

When I recognize that I am feeling triggered, I focus all my concentration on the present moment: the sounds I hear, for example right now, I hear the clicking of keys on a keyboard…it is a rhythmic comforting sound, otherwise the room is blissfully quiet.   I feel the room around me.  I check in with how I am feeling in my body.  And for me, most helpful is to find something beautiful to focus on.  Right now that would be a picture on my wall of boats sitting idly in the water, waiting.  I love the colors and I love the serenity that the artist captured.  Later, when I am calmer, I try to discern what triggered me and talk about it with my therapist.

But you don’t have to have PTSD to benefit from Mindfulness.  It can bring more joy to everyday life for anyone who tries it.  For example, one day I was feeling tired, stressed and a bit anxious.  This was everyday stuff that anyone might feel.  Then I remembered Mindfulness.  “Be in the moment you are in, Leslie.”

Andreas Kontokanis
Photo credit: Andreas Kontokanis

At that moment I was in a chess class I teach at my kid’s home school co-op.  The room was buzzing with laughter and talking (and you thought chess was a quiet game!).  I looked around at my eighteen students having fun playing chess. I love chess (though I am a self-proclaimed chess klutz).   And I love sharing chess with kids.  I thought, “Wow, I did this.  I brought these kids together and look what a great time they are having.”

Suddenly, I didn’t feel stressed, tired or anxious.  I felt great!  Even now writing about that moment brings back the joy of it.

However you define it, Mindfulness is powerful.  If you want more joy in your life, give it a try.

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10 thoughts on “PTSD and Mindfulness: Stop the Time Travel

  1. Thank you for your article. I too am a survivor of sexual abuse. i suffer from depression because of that and the other forms of abuse I got when I was young. I agree that many of the problems I have is when I am not in the present. I have done and still do what some refer to as holotropic breathwork.
    I wont comment on my methodology in how it varies from the traditional practitioners of breathwork, but it has saved my life. Period.
    Many in AA suffer from depression and dont know it because of our systemic denial, like our culture in general.
    Thanks again

      1. Leslie,
        Sorry, I didnt get the reply you sent me. I have not written about it on my blog because I believe that people do better when they find their own path. I share it with people privately in email. It is controversial in how it is practiced by many practitioners. I just do the breath to achieve the hypnogogic state. Everyone has to find their own way of doing breathwork I have learned in my experience. I do breathwork with others in AA and it is best to find your own path in the process. The Hendrix Institute is also a commercial practitioner of breathwork.
        Mindfulness meditation is holotropic breathwork to me. If you want to contact me at shoe1000@yahoo.com I will share my experiences with you. Thanks for the article. Tibetans have been doing this for 1000s of years!!!

  2. I had ptsd while going through the trial. I could even remember the underwear I had been wearing that day as I relived over and over again my rape. It had been 20 years and yet I remembered/relived small details that my mind had blocked.

    I have many military friends who agree that they are not the only ones to suffer ptsd but they are the “face” of the disease, at least according to the mass media.

    I have not tried anything to do with mindfulness, in many ways the trial “freed” me from the trauma I suffered. Even before I found out that the jury had convicted my abuser (mostly on my testimony I was told) I felt more peace then I had in a very long time. I still have occasional flashbacks but they are pretty rare.

    1. Margaret, so sorry for your experience, but I am grateful that the trial helped you.

      I’m curious how it helped (I’m just curious like that)…I would guess that is helped because it forced you to face what happened (of course we avoid remembering trauma, but avoidance is not healing). Pain needs a witness…and the trial gave you many witnesses who believed you and validated your pain. Being believed and validated are so crucial to healing I think.

      What do you think?

      1. I think that you are right in that it forced me to remember and therefore deal with the emotions. I did have some counselling around the time of the trial which helped. I think the healing really started when I spoke with the police here (I had moved across the country and so had 2 police departments and 2 victim services that I dealt with).

        I had to testify twice, first at the preliminary hearing (which I was the only one to testify at) and I was the final witness during the trial. Having the jury convict on all the charges with respect to me helped but I think the process was what really was the key factor in my healing.

        Testifying at the trial was so very hard, I shock with fear but when it was all over it felt so good. Apparently the judge was very impressed by my victim impact statement and read parts of it into the sentencing hearing. I wish I could have been there for that, sometimes I think that I want a copy of the trial proceedings and other times I just want to forget it all.

        1. Margaret You were so brave. I don’t know if I could have done that, but I am so glad you did. Because you were willing to speak up, he can’t hurt any other women. Good work–for yourself and others!

  3. Excellent article, with a few of my favorite topics. If I didn’t know better I’d think you read my BIO before writing this article. You see, PTSD is sort of what led me to where I am now, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Under the right circumstances, dealing with PTSD can transform you from constantly dealing with a debilitating condition, to experiencing life with a whole new level of understanding and appreciation. You may have already started down that path yourself. I look forward to following your future posts as you go beyond PTSD and learn things about yourself that you wouldn’t have known otherwise.

    P.S. BIO info is listed at the bottom of:
    http://www.appliedawareness.org/content/introduction

    1. Todd, thanks so much for this Hope-inspiring comment. I loved it. It always helps me to hear of (or from) people who have been through this and made it to “the other side”. I hope to be where you are some day. I look forward to reading your bio for more inspiration. 🙂

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