Studies show Mindfulness reduces stress for Gulf War veterans

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What is mindfulness?

There is a lot of confusion surrounding what mindfulness actually is. Some believe it is simply about taking deep calm breaths, others say it is linked to concentrating on what your body is doing and focusing on the sensations experienced by your body. In fact, mindfulness encompasses both of these elements, in addition to a host of others.

Put simply, mindfulness is practised when we focus on the present moment alone, with no distractions. It means leaving any thoughts and regrets from the past alone and putting any worries about the future out of our minds completely. Mindfulness is simply concentrating all our thoughts on the here and now. It can be beneficial for anyone and is extremely flexible, as it is possible to practise it anywhere at any time. It is also useful when practised for any given length of time, whether it be a few minutes grabbed just before work in a morning, or several hours at the weekend when we may have additional time to spare.

How can mindfulness help me?

Mindfulness allows us to focus on the way we feel about the different things which happen to us, both positive and negative. It changes the way we react to situations which are stressful or upsetting and allows us to maintain a more balanced state of mental health. It has been proven to be useful to people from all walks of life, allowing those who practise it to develop a greater enjoyment of life and become more productive. Those suffering from depression and anxiety, eating disorders, stress and even chronic pain have also found mindfulness to be of use in reducing the symptoms of their conditions.

What is PSTD and Gulf War illness?

PTSD stands for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and relates to those people who have experienced extreme, life-threatening situations. It is a psychiatric disorder which is common in those who have lived through or survived extreme trauma, such as military combat, natural disasters, serious accidents or abuse in childhood. It is entirely possible for survivors of such distressing events to recover completely after a period of recovery time, however some do not, and instead experience more and more serious symptoms.

PTSD sufferers can experience three different types of symptoms. The first includes visions or nightmares, where they are unable to prevent themselves from going through the distressing events over and over in their mind. The trauma seems inescapable and can prevent people from completing normal day to day tasks in their lives, making them become detached from reality. Another symptom involves being unable to cope with reminders of the trauma, such as revisiting places where the traumatic incident occurred or seeing people who the sufferer associates with the events. A final reaction is a more emotional one linked to mood: PTSD sufferers often feel extremely irritable, can react to others in irrational ways, are fearful and can be startled easily.

There are also physical symptoms which accompany the psychological effects of PTSD. Those suffering from the condition often begin to suffer from other disorders such as depression, drug or alcohol abuse and memory problems as a result of the original illness. The condition is characterised by a lack of ability to function like others in social situations, and sufferers often find it difficult to maintain an effective marriage, stay in a job or cope with parenting their children.

Two new studies show benefits of mindfulness

Two recent studies have shown how mindfulness can be effective in alleviating the symptoms of PTSD in Gulf War veterans. These patients typically display symptoms of pain, extreme tiredness, and cognitive failures like loss of memory and poor judgement or perception. A pilot study aimed to look at how Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) could help Gulf War PTSD sufferers when used alongside the treatments usually offered.

A number of sufferers were assigned the MBSR treatment in addition to traditional treatments, whereas the control group in the study had the usual treatment alone. The research considered whether those patients on the MBSR treatment had reduced levels of pain and fatigue, and if there had been some improvement in the amount of cognitive failures they were experiencing. These levels were measured in sufferers before treatment, after eight separate two and a half hour sessions and a day long weekend session, and six months later.

It was found that those patients who were having the MBSR treatment as well as the usual treatments offered did experience lower levels of pain, less fatigue and fewer incidences of cognitive failure than those on the traditional treatment alone. There were also reductions in levels of depression, and these changes were considered significant enough to warrant further research.

A second study looked at the use of mindfulness in patients for who the usual group-based therapy was proving unsuccessful. The research looked at 116 veterans in Minneapolis from March 2012 to December 2013, with outcomes being studied at the start of the trial, during the trial, immediately after, and at a two month follow up session. Patients on the MBSR programme received eight two and a half hour sessions and a day long retreat and focused their attention on appreciating the here and now, whereas those in the control group had nine group therapy sessions which looked at their day to day problems.

The second study concluded that those veterans on the MBSR treatment showed a decrease in the severity of PTSD symptoms over time. Results from both studies suggest that MBSR might be moderately more effective than traditional group therapy when used alone, but that a combination of both might help reduce PTSD symptoms in sufferers even more effectively.

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