Using Meditation to Heal from Trauma

Meditation is a powerful tool for reducing stress and healing from physical and emotional trauma.

Meditation and PTSD

After suffering a traumatic event, normal functioning is often disrupted. Symptoms like those categorized by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) arise, including lowered resilience to stress, abrupt shifts in mood states, feeling unsafe and heightened to one’s surroundings and having vivid intrusive memories or  “flashbacks” of the traumatic event.  Take a closer look at PTSD at the NIMH page.

By practicing meditation, the mind deals with the emotional complexities of trauma while the body learns to relax to a state of rest. With continued meditation practice, the symptoms of PTSD are often reduced.

Body scan to accept and relax

Meditating post-trauma permits the mind to work through deep emotions that might otherwise be suppressed.  During meditation, hurtful feelings like guilt, anger, fear, self-pity, or shame surface toward consciousness. When negative thoughts about trauma arise during meditation, embrace the opportunity to accept the existence of the associated feelings.

Continue to meditate, but try not to rehash the background behind the emotion, like playing out the details of an abusive argument.  Doing so creates anxiety in the mind and body, signaling blood pressure to rise and stress hormones to flow.

Instead, when met with complex feelings during meditation, allow your mind to process them but draw focus on your body’s reaction.  Breathe and give yourself a thorough body scan.  Does the stress cause your heart to beat faster? Do you feel a rise in body temperature?  Are your palms suddenly sweaty? Is your back tight?  Do you grind your teeth?  Are your hands clenched? Do you feel shaky?  How does the emotion affect your breath?

Once you complete a body scan from head to toe, restore deep breathing and guide your body to stillness, aiming to calm tense muscles and free tight joints. Accept the feelings trauma has left behind. Understand your physical reactions to stress and learn to relax your body.

Physical pain post-trauma and meditation

Trauma often damages the body, leaving physical pain in addition to the emotional pain that needs to heal.  Painful physical wounds and injuries are quick to be treated with strong medications that can cause troublesome side effects and are potentially addictive.  You can increase your pain tolerance naturally by practicing a number of types of meditation.  Proven to aid in pain tolerance, Zen meditation, involves training the body to be still and the mind free of thought.

Another meditation technique to consider in approaching physical pain is pain-relief visualization.  Start by learning the details of the physical impairment from your doctors and how the body will work to reach rehabilitation.  After gaining an understanding about the physical trauma, pain-relief visualization should be practiced regularly throughout the healing process. Find a comfortable position, breathe deeply, focusing on the impacted part of the body, and visualize restoring its physical health.  For example, if you suffered a broken bone, breathe and think about how the bone internally mends itself.  Trust that your body has the ability to heal. Breathe intentionally, consciously appreciating each part of your body, and envision a state of total health. For additional trauma treatment options, view Yellowbrick’s page.

Meditation, journaling, and self-awareness

Take a few minutes to journal your thoughts and experience after meditating.  With a refreshed mind, journaling post-meditation enables emotional evolution when healing from trauma.  Writing down and reflecting on feelings heightens the self-awareness associated with meditation. Become aware of what you control- your own thoughts, judgments, and reactions. Choices exist when dealing with the aftermath of trauma; a choice to continually be bogged down by emotional pains of trauma, or a choice to move forward by means of meditation, journaling, and becoming self-aware.

About the author: Jesse Viner, MD, Executive Medical Director of Yellowbrick, is a recognized expert in the treatment of eating disorders, difficulties resulting from trauma and abuse, and bipolar disorder, Dr. Viner has three decades of experience applying the knowledge of psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the challenge of creating meaningful and pragmatically effective treatment programs. Dr. Viner has served as Director of Adult Psychiatry Inpatient Services for Northwestern University Medical School; Medical Director of Four Winds Chicago and Director of University Behavioral Health. He is on the faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Viner is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.