Meditation for PTSD: How It Helps & Exercises to Try
You can use the guided meditation below to help manage PTSD symptoms.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
July 10, 2023
Table of Contents
Guided meditation for PTSD: a step-by-step meditation
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by flashbacks and intrusive thoughts connected to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), here’s a simple trauma-focused mindfulness meditation for PTSD. You should practice this guided meditation in a comfortable position, either sitting up or lying down:
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Allow yourself to release any tension or stress with each exhale.
- Bring your attention to the physical sensations of your body. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. As you breathe in, imagine the breath flowing into those areas, bringing relaxation and relief. As you exhale, visualize releasing the tension and letting go.
- Shift your focus to your breath. Pay attention to the natural rhythm of your breath, without trying to change it. Notice the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body. Use your breath as an anchor to bring you into the present moment.
- As thoughts or memories related to your PTSD arise, acknowledge them without judgment. Instead of getting caught up in the content of those thoughts, observe them from a distance. Imagine them as passing clouds in the sky, gently drifting away.
- Practice self-compassion and kindness towards yourself. Offer yourself words of comfort and understanding. Remind yourself that you are safe in this present moment.
- If you feel comfortable, you can also incorporate affirmations or positive statements during the meditation. Repeat phrases like “I am safe,” “I am resilient,” or “I am healing” silently in your mind.
- Continue to focus on your breath and stay present in the moment. Allow yourself to fully experience the sensations, sounds, and feelings of relaxation.
- When you are ready to end the meditation, slowly bring your awareness back to your surroundings. Take a few more deep breaths, gently wiggle your fingers and toes, and open your eyes.
The importance of meditation in PTSD treatment
Practicing meditation, including the guided meditation above, can benefit people dealing with PTSD because it focuses on calming the mind, reducing stress, and promoting relaxation—helpful tactics for reducing PTSD symptom severity. Although meditation is a helpful tool for managing the frequency and intensity of PTSD symptoms, it is not a substitute for professional help from a mental health provider. After enduring any kind of traumatic event, therapy is essential for managing your mental health—and some therapists will incorporate mindfulness meditations into treatment. Here is why meditation can be helpful for people during PTSD treatment:
Regulating the nervous system
PTSD is often associated with an overactive stress response system. A regular meditation practice can help regulate the body’s stress response, reducing physiological arousal and promoting a sense of calm. This can help people with PTSD manage the intense emotions and physical sensations associated with the mental health condition.
Enhancing emotional resilience
Meditation cultivates mindfulness, which involves non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. By practicing mindfulness, people with PTSD can develop a greater capacity to observe their thoughts, emotions, and triggers without getting overwhelmed or reactive. This increased awareness and emotional resilience can help manage PTSD symptoms more effectively.
Easing intrusive thoughts and flashbacks
PTSD often involves intrusive thoughts, memories, or flashbacks that can be distressing. Through meditation, people can learn to recognize these thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them. Meditation helps by teaching people to step back and observe, often making intrusive thoughts and flashbacks less frequent and intense.
Promoting relaxation and improved sleep
Many people with PTSD experience sleep disturbances. Meditation can help induce a state of relaxation, reduce anxiety, and promote better sleep. By incorporating meditation into a bedtime routine, people can create a calming and peaceful environment that supports restful sleep.
Cultivating self-compassion and healing
PTSD can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, or self-blame. Meditation encourages self-compassion and self-acceptance, allowing individuals to cultivate a sense of kindness and understanding toward themselves. This practice of self-compassion can support the healing process and promote a greater sense of well-being.
Transcendental meditation in PTSD treatment
There are many different kinds of meditation practices, all of which may be helpful in PTSD treatment. Guided meditation involves following instructions that guide you through various meditation techniques and experiences (like the one above). Another meditation technique that can be used in PTSD treatment is transcendental meditation, which involves silently repeating a mantra to achieve a state of deep relaxation and restful awareness. Transcendental meditation hasn’t been clinically studied in depth, but some research shows that it is a helpful tool in reducing PTSD symptoms.
The choice between transcendental meditation and guided meditation depends on personal preference and goals. Whereas transcendental meditation focuses on achieving a state of deep relaxation and inner peace through the repetition of a mantra, guided meditation offers more guidance and direction. Ultimately, both meditation practices can benefit mental health and reduce stress. If you want to incorporate meditation into PTSD treatment, it may be helpful to explore both approaches and determine which one resonates with you.
How can meditation work for trauma?
A single traumatic experience or ongoing traumatic incidents can take a toll on people’s mental health, sometimes resulting in PTSD. Anyone who has experienced trauma may benefit from meditation, whether or not they have been diagnosed with PTSD. Through meditation, people can learn to observe their thoughts and sensations without judgment or reactivity, which can help reduce the distress associated with traumatic memories. Meditation also provides a safe space to explore and release stored tension, fear, and pain associated with trauma. By engaging in regular meditation practice, people can gradually gain a sense of control, reduce the intensity of trauma-related symptoms, and promote healing and personal growth. As mentioned, though, meditation can be a helpful tool for dealing with trauma, not a substitute for trauma-informed therapy.
How meditation can improve your mental health
In addition to trauma and PTSD, meditation can benefit people dealing with various mental health conditions. Some of the mental health conditions that may improve with meditation — in addition to therapy and medication as needed — include:
- Anxiety disorders: Meditation can help reduce anxiety symptoms by promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and enhancing mindfulness, allowing people to better manage anxious thoughts and emotions.
- Depression: Meditation can help alleviate symptoms of depression by promoting a more positive outlook, reducing rumination, and increasing self-awareness and self-compassion.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Meditation practices that improve focus, attention, and self-regulation can benefit people with ADHD by helping them manage impulsivity, enhance cognitive functioning, and reduce distractibility.
- Substance use disorders: Meditation can support recovery from substance use disorders by reducing cravings, promoting self-awareness of triggers and urges, and providing a healthy coping mechanism for stress and emotional difficulties.
- Sleep disorders: Meditation can improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia by promoting relaxation, reducing anxiety, and calming the mind before bedtime.
It’s important to note that while meditation can be helpful as a complementary approach to mental health treatment, it is not a substitute for professional care. Consulting with a mental health professional is recommended for a comprehensive assessment and appropriate treatment plan.
Other ways to treat PTSD
Meditation can be a valuable tool for reducing PTSD symptom severity, particularly when combined with other therapeutic approaches. Treatment for PTSD often includes trauma-informed therapy, medication, and self-help strategies. Therapy options may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and exposure therapy. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other antidepressants may be prescribed to help manage symptoms. Self-help strategies can involve relaxation techniques — like guided meditations — exercise, and support from friends and family. Working with a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan is essential.
Meditation and mindfulness therapy for PTSD at Charlie Health
Charlie Health is committed to creating an unparalleled, multi-pronged approach to care for teens and their families, incorporating yoga, mindfulness, and meditation techniques into treatment—including for patients with PTSD. Our compassionate mental health professionals will help you regain strength, learn sustainable coping strategies, and start healing. If you think that you might benefit from an individualized mental health treatment plan, reach out to learn more today.