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Mindfulness, Meditation, & Overwhelm

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Mindfulness is all the rage right now, and for good reason. Building a mindfulness practice can help us to self-regulate, be more present for things we love, increase pleasure, and improve our sex lives.

For individuals who have experienced trauma, sometimes diving in to a mindfulness or meditation process can overwhelm the nervous system and feel extremely unsafe.

If you have spent a lifetime trying to avoid bodily sensations to protect yourself and survive, jumping head-first into being fully aware of your body can feel out of control and in some cases be retraumatizing.

You might have seen this happen, or felt it yourself. Here are some common examples of possible overwhelm:

-Crying in yoga (or other intense waves of emotion)

-Having to leave the room during a meditation group

-Feeling more “on edge" following use of a mindfulness app than when you started

Mindfulness, meditation and related practices such as yoga have been proven to increase positive outcomes for individuals with PTSD and C-PTSD. However, it is important to note that they should be guided by trauma-informed principles and be lead by a professional who understands how mindfulness can impact the traumatized nervous system. Too much too soon can cause unintentional harm.

Trauma lives in the body. Our bodies hold onto trauma in the form of tension, sensations such as pain or unease, emotions, and intrusive thoughts.

In trauma therapy, our work is guided by the concepts of titration and pendulation. Basically, it is the therapy equivalent of dipping your toe in a chilly pool and slowly allowing your body to adjust rather than cannonballing into the deep end. We work slowly so that your ability to tolerate distress and bring your body back to safety increases gradually.

Mindfulness programs, “coaches,” and apps can be wonderful tools, but they are not a substitute for specialized psychotherapy. If you are interested in using these tools, please feel empowered to ask about the practitioner's training in trauma-informed practices & don't ever feel pressured to stay engaged in an activity that is making you feel unsafe.


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