Memorial Day started as holiday to honor soldiers who had died fighting in the Civil War. Today we honor all soldiers who have died, fought in combat, served our country, or continue to serve our country.
Sadly many soldiers who return from war experience difficulties with returning to civilian life including symptoms of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) and severe Depression. Suicide rates for military members are much higher than those of the civilian population.
This is not surprising in many ways. It must be difficult to come back from a place where your body and mind are on constant alert for threats to your life and those around you. It isn't easy to just stop being on alert. This transition has been difficult for our military members and their families.
Because of the many difficulties our veterans have been facing when they return home, there has been a great amount of research into therapies and programs that can help our veterans and military members better acculturate to civilian life. One of those treatments happens to be mindfulness based trainings for military members who are returning from war.
How is mindfulness effective with military veterans?
According to research studies, mindfulness increases levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, a hormone that repairs cellular damage caused by stress. Mindfulness appears to decreases levels of cortisol and neuropeptide Y. Neuropeptide Y and cortisol and stress related chemicals that can damage tissue in our bodies over time.
Mindfulness also appears to alter connections in our brain. Using MRI scans, Martin Paulus, a neuroscientist at University of California San Diego, found that meditation increases activity in the insula. The insula plays a major role in the perception of bodily sensation. This area of the brain interprets whether a signal is seen as innocuous, painful, or pleasurable. Paulus believes that an active insula may improve the ability to handle stress and trauma by making the body’s physical and emotional signals more noticeable. It basically allows us to be more aware of the signals in our body.
Mindfulness also appears to boost activity in the frontal cortex and the parietal cortex, two brain regions that play a role in controlling emotions.
Mindfulness can also help with building compassion so veterans don't have to see everything and everyone as a threat.
Leah Weiss, a meditation expert at Stanford University, leads veterans through compassion cultivation training. The aim is to shift their thinking from others being a potential threat to others being "just like me." The training consists of getting the person to see the other as someone who has had difficulties in life just like them, someone who might have the same or similar goals and dreams.
So mindfulness helps our military veterans see things and feel things more clearly. This makes sense! Mindfulness is non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment. It therefore allows people to be present with not only love and joy, but pain, and suffering as well.
It is inspiring to see mindfulness programs helping our veterans in so many ways. As these programs become more and more widespread, we are hopeful that the effects of trauma can be significantly minimized.
Happy Memorial Day and to all our military members, we thank you for your service.
Written by Monti Pal, LPC-Intern
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Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.