The University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System teamed up to study the effects of mindfulness training among veterans suffering from PTSD; the positive results of the study came as a surprise even to the researchers. Mindfulness training can be thought of as a form of meditation and yoga.
Veterans often describe their PTSD symptoms as “an endless video loop, horrible memories, and thoughts… they intrude at the quietest moments, and don’t seem to have an off switch.” Researchers hoped that mindfulness training could create that “off switch” these veterans are lacking.
The study was completed over 4 months of weekly sessions where veterans learned to focus on in-the-moment attention and awareness. The surprising effects were realized when researchers compared the pre- and post-study fMRI (functional MRI) brain scans.
Prior to the training, there was extra activity in brain regions involved in responding to threats or other outside problems. This extra activity is what causes that endless cycle of memories and bad thoughts. After the training, though, this activity diminished significantly.
Researchers say that veterans were able to literally change their brain by “developing stronger connections between two other brain networks: the one involved in our inner, sometimes meandering, thoughts, and one involved in shifting and directing attention.” Simply put, the participants could now get themselves out of being “stuck” in those memory loops. Participants also saw decreased scores on a standard scale of PTSD severity.