Tag Archives: Mindfulness Meditation

Childhood Trauma Can Create Brain Wired For Fear

We have seen from other articles I have published on this site that psychological experiences, especially when young, can actually alter the physical structure of the brain, as well as its neural connection (i.e. how the brain cells are interlinked) – this is because of a quality of the brain that psychologists call neuroplasticity (click here to read one of my articles about this phenomenon).

These physical changes in the brain, caused by psychological experience, can profoundly alter how the brain functions and also, therefore, how we think, feel and behave.

If, as a child, we suffered trauma and abuse as we were growing up, particularly in our earliest years, and, because of this, lived in a state of perpetual fear, the brain will have become shaped into constantly being on ‘red-alert’, trapping us into continually feeling fearful and hyper-sensitive in relation to threat, whether this threat be real or imagined. Indeed, if we have been conditioned in this manner by our childhood experiences, we are likely to be prone to imagining threats as well as being likely to severely over-react to mild ones ( e.g. we may be easily angered and more likely than the average person to become violent, rather like, to use a most unoriginal, but, I think, not inappropriate simile, a provoked and cornered animal).

Living in constant fear is psychologically extremely painful and distressing, as I know from my own experiences. Indeed, this pain can become so intolerable that, in the absence of therapy, the individual may be driven to attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or street drugs – this is known as dissociation, and there are many other forms of it, such as compulsive gambling and sex addiction (click here to read my article on this). Whilst not recommended, such behaviour is understandable when the alternative is to live in an agony of agitation, even terror, as if one were, imminently, going to become intimately acquainted with the world’s worst horrors.

Trauma and abuse, resulting in the child feeling unsafe in early life, can, potentially, have such a profound effect because, it this stage of incipient development the brain is highly malleable (i.e. easily shaped by environmental experience). As well as the possible adverse effects already described, when such a traumatised child becomes an adult s/he may also find:

– difficulties with connecting with others on an emotional level / problems forming and maintaining close relationships – an inability to feel pleasure (also known as anhedonia – click here to read my article on this).


Above: Often, the things we fear only ever exist within our own minds. We can waste an inordinate amount of mental energy in this manner, and cause ourselves enormous, needless, mental anguish.


This is because, in effect, the parts of the brain responsible for forming healthy relationships and for feeling pleasure have not been, as it were, sufficiently exercised during childhood; on the other hand, the parts of the brain (especially the amygdala) that give rise to feelings of fear have been over-exercised and are, therefore, overactive.

Children’s brains are much more vulnerable to the effects of stress and trauma than are the brains of adults (assuming the adults in question did not experience significant trauma growing up) because, by the time one’s an adult (to repeat, who has not had a traumatic childhood), the brain has had time to build up some resilience; however, in the case of the child, opportunities to develop such resilience have not, sadly, presented themselves.

RECOVERY

Yoga :

Excitingly, too, recent research has suggested (and this may surprise some) that yoga can actually help sufferers of the kind of difficulties described above more effectively than medication.

Mindfulness Meditation :

There is also strong evidence showing that the practice of ‘mindfulness’ can be very effective.

Neurofeedback :

According to Mobbs, the brain consists of two areas involved in how we experience fear as shown below :

It is becoming increasingly recognized that overactivity in the brain’s fear circuitry may be of fundamental relevance to not only complex-PTSD and PTSD, but to many other psychiatric disorders as well and it clearly follows, therefore, that damping down the over-intensity of neuronal firing in this part of the brain may be key to effective therapy for the treatment of a whole array mental health issues. In relation to this, there is mounting excitement about how NEUROFEEDBACK can benefit many individuals who suffer from acute psychological distress.

  • the reactive-fear circuit
  • the cognitive-fear circuit

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

THE REACTIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :

This circuit deals with threats that are IMMEDIATE and require an instant reaction (namely, activation of the ‘fight or flight’ response) ; it involves the interconnection between two areas of the brain as shown below :

  • the periaqueductal gray
  • midcingulate cortex

THE COGNITIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :

This circuit deals with threats that DO NOT require an immediate response, allowing us time to consciously consider the risk they pose to us and how we should respond to them ; this circuit involves connections between the following brain areas :

THE SEE-SAW METAPHOR :

Mobbs asserts that the relationship between these two brain regions can be compared to the two ends of a see-saw ; in other words, as one goes up, the other comes down, which means :

  • The more activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes.

And the reverse is also true, so :

  • The more activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes.

Relevance To Those Who Have Suffered Childhood Trauma :

As we have seen from many other articles that I have already published on this site, if we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma we are at increased risk of developing various disorders as adults (such as comples PTSD and borderline personality disorder) which are underpinned by having oversensitive and overactive fear-response circuitry and, correspondingly, underactive cognitive-response circuitry.

What Is Neurofeedback ?

Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain and neuro-counsellors can provide their patients with such feedback simply by using special, computer software.

The neurofeedback the patients receive allow them to become aware of their brain function frequencies and how these relate to different emotional states.

How Does Neurofeedback Help Adults Suffering From The Effects Of Childhood Trauma?

Armed with this information, and by continuing to learn from the neurofeedback their brains provide them with (via the software mentioned above), the patients can then, gradually, be trained to exercise control over their brain wave activity (for example, by soothing it with visualization techniques, breathing exercises or calming thoughts etc.). With enough training, the patients’ dysregulated brains can be helped to heal and to become less fear-driven.

This results in the reactive-fear circuit become less sensitive and active which, in turn, provides the cognitive-fear circuit, as it were, ‘more room to manoeuvre.’ In this way, irrational feelings of fear that were originally being driven by the (unthinking and automatic) reactive-fear circuit can now be more soberly and rationally considered by the (reflective and thinking) cognitive-fear circuit and, therefore, more easily be dismissed as unwarranted, made impotent and deprived of their power to cause us anguish.

ZEN MEDITATION, ALPHA WAVES AND NEUROFEEDBACK :

Above : Individual undergoing a neurofeedback / EEG biofeedback session using a computer program and brain sensors.

According to Buzsaki, Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers University, Zen meditation needs to be undertaken for years until the person practising it is able to slow the frequency of the brain’s alpha waves and to spread the alpha oscillations more forward to the front of the brain ; slowing these brain waves have many beneficial effects including :

  • reducing fear
  • reducing ‘mind chatter’
  • increasing feelings of calm
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce feelings of panic

However, Buzaki states that (as alluded to above) whilst it takes years of Zen meditation to optimally alter alpha wave brain activity, the same results can be obtained after a mere week’s training with neurofeedback.

N.B. Neurofeedback should only be carried out under the supervision of an appropriately qualified and experienced person.

Beat Fear and Anxiety Pack | Self Hypnosis Downloads

eBooks :

Above eBooks now available for immediate download from Amazon. Click here for further information.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

 

Study Suggesting Meditation More Effective Than Anti-depressants

mindfulness based cognitive therapy

mindfulness based cognitive therapy

A recent research study, carried out jointly by researchers from the University of Exeter and King’s College, University of London, demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can be more effective at treating depression than anti-depressant medication.

mindfulness - the art of living in the present

mindfulness

In the study, which comprised 123 volunteers suffering from depression, the participants were split into two groups :

GROUP 1 : the participants in this group were given a therapy called mindfulness based cognitive therapy (this therapy combines meditation with traditional cognitive therapy and focuses upon addressing negative thinking patterns and helping the person to concentrate more on the present, rather than obsessing about the past and the future)

GROUP 2 : the participants in this group were treated with anti-depressant medication.

This trial lasted for 8 weeks. By the end of this period, those in Group 1 had been taught meditation techniques they could practice on their own without the assistance of a therapist.

mindfulness meditation - the art of living in the present

mindfulness meditation – the art of living in the present

RESULTS :

At the end of the 8 week period, those in Group 1 reported greater control over their negative thinking and over their negative emotions. Furthermore, when the two groups were followed up 15 months later, 60% of those in Group 2 had suffered a relapse compared to just 47% in Group 1. Also, those in Group 1 reported an overall higher quality of life and a greater ability to derive pleasure from life than those in Group 2.

CONCLUSION :

Professor William Kuyken, who led the study, summarized the implications of the findings by explaining that whilst those who take medication for their depression are highly vulnerable to relapse when they cease to take it, mindfulness based cognitive therapy teaches people skills to manage their illness for life. He went on to say that this form of meditation therapy could be a most viable alternative treatment for many of the three-and-a-half million people currently suffering from clinical depression in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, studies are now being carried out that suggest anti-depressant treatment may not be as effective as once thought – for example, a recent study suggested that anti-depressants work little better than placebos (click here to read my article on this).

sssdddchildhood trauma therapies and treatmentschildhood_trauma_aggression_ebook  childhood_ trauma _workbook

Above eBooks by David Hosier MSc available on Amazon for immediate download at $4.99 (except Workbook priced at $9.99) CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Mindfulness Meditation: An Escape Route Away from Obsessive, Negative Ruminations.

 

mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness :

MINDFULNESS is a very effective and evidence-based therapy for the treatment of anxiety, depression and other conditions related to childhood trauma. Mindfulness helps individuals to develop the skill to DELIBERATELY FOCUS ATTENTION AND AWARNESS on THE PRESENT MOMENT. WHILST BEING INTENSELY AWARE OF THE PRESENT MOMENT, MINDFULNESS TEACHES US TO ACCEPT THINGS AS THEY ARE IN A NON-JUDGMENTAL WAY.

Mindfulness helps us to become aware of our CURRENT experience, of things we would normally take for granted. These may include becoming aware of our breathing, of the feeling of our clothes against our skin, the furniture on which we sit, the feel of the temperature in the room etc; anything, in fact, which we are presently experiencing through one of our five senses. It teaches us, as I have said, to accept things as they are rather than to fret about want them to be. We may, too, become aware of our thoughts; again, we are encouraged to accept them non-judgmentally – to simply observe them floating through our minds in a detached manner and not get caught up in them.

Negative Ruminations :

This state of mind of existing intensely in the present, accepting it as it is in non-judgmentally, is, at its best (it takes time to master the skill), the polar opposite of obsessive, negative ruminative thinking which can be so painful and destructive.

mindfulness meditation

Below, I summarize the principles which underpin MINDFULNESS :

1) IT IS INTENTIONAL – it helps us to become aware of current reality and the choices which are open to us. This is in direct contrast to rumination (in which we are caught up and trapped in the destructive downwaed spiral of our automatic negative thoughts).

2) IT IS EXPERIENTIAL – mindfulness trains us to experience the present moment (unlike rumination, which fills us with concerns about the past and the future and causes us to be preoccupied with abstract thoughts detached from present experience).

3) IT IS NON-JUDGMENTAL – mindfulness helps us to accept things as they are right now rather than to get caught up in judgments and frustrations about how we think things should be.

By cultivating MINDFULNESS, it stops us from becoming stuck in a futile cycle of depressive and anxiety creating negative ruminations; instead, it helps us to develop new and wiser ways to relate to our actual experience IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.

However, MINDFULNESS is about more than noticing things around us that we had previously taken for granted and ignored; it also helps us to develop awareness of THE HABIT OF A PARTICULAR STATE OF MIND WE USED TO FIND OURSELVES IN, WHICH GOT US STUCK AND CAUGHT UP IN RUMINATIONS DESTRUCTIVE TO US AND TO OUR EMOTIONAL LIVES. The skill of mindfulness allows us to DISENGAGE from such destructive, ruminative thinking and shift to an enormously healthier frame of mind which frees us from our self-defeating emotional struggles. Mindfulness allows us to accept the different emotions which drift through our minds non-judgmentally and with self-compassion.

download (5)

Above eBook now available for immediate download on Amazon. CLICK HERE (Other titles available).

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Mindfulness : A Very Effective Technique for Treating Conditions Related to Childhood Trauma

childhood_trauma_effects

What Is Mindfulness?

 

MINDFULNESS is an exciting technique, its effectiveness supported by much research evidence, which is now becoming very popular as a tool for the treatment of conditions related to childhood trauma, including depression, anxiety, difficulties regulating emotions and borderline personality disorder (BPD). It derives from Buddhist philosophy.

The technique teaches people to improve their coping ability and resilience by concentrating on :

– how they breathe

– observing

– accepting

– adopting a non-judgmental attitude

Individuals are encouraged to just accept and observe their thoughts, their physical sensations (perhaps caused by anxiety) and their emotions as they come and go in the mind.

mindfulness for childhood trauma

The technique emphasizes the importance of just observing these phenomenon in a detached way, stepping back from them, avoiding engaging with them or getting caught up in them. A metaphor for this would be watching leaves on a stream float by.

Mindfulness is also all about being intensely involved in the MOMENT (rather than thinking about the past or future). It is about accepting the moment as it is and being fully involved in it – for example, becoming aware of our breath going in and out, the feel of the temperature on our skin, the feel of the seat we are sitting in, the feel of the clothes against our skin, the colour of the walls – everything, in fact, which is currently impinging upon the senses. By existing in the moment, unconcerned by the past or present, we can just dispassionately, non-judgmentally ‘watch’ our concerns and worries as they pass through our mind.

In this way we can detach ourselves from stressors, and, with practice, we can prevent our previously unhelpful, ‘automatic responses’ to stress. The technique also encourages us, as we simply observe, in a detached manner, thoughts and feelings passing through our minds, to label them. For example, ‘worry’, ‘fear’ etc; the reason for this is explained below:

NEUROLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS ABOUT WHY MINDFULNESS WORKS:

As I have already said, there is a lot of evidence showing MINDFULNESS to be a very effective coping technique. In terms of how the brain works, this has been explained in the following way: – labelling our emotions rather than engaging with them activates the PREFRONTAL CORTEX (an area of the brain) which reduces anxiety – a high level of MINDFULNESS correlates positively with the level of neural activity in the PREFRONTAL CORTEX; this has the effect of dampening down acivity in the AMYGDALA (high activity in the brain area known as the AMYGDALA is associated with intense emotions); in this way, we become much calmer. – the effects of practicing MINDFULNESS, and the subsequent effects on the brain given above, result in us being able to achieve much greater emotional regulation (emotional control).

As well as reducing anxiety, depression and helping us to master our emotions, MINDFULNESS, research has shown, also benefits the immune system, helps people control obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and is also used to help control chronic pain. Furthermore, people who continue to practice mindfulness have been found to have stronger coping skills and greater resilience than others.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).