Mindfulness, Traumatic Stress & Best Practice Guidelines
9:20 am 22 March 2021 Jose-Fernandez0 Comments
the words of David Treleaven, an educator and psychotherapist whose
work focuses on the intersection of trauma and mindfulness “placed
beside one another, mindfulness and trauma can seem like natural, even
inevitable, allies. While trauma creates stress, mindfulness has been
shown to reduce it.”
Given this, the assumption that anyone experiencing traumatic stress
would automatically benefit from practising mindfulness is
understandable. The relationship between mindfulness and traumatic
stress, however, is not quite so straightforward.
On the one
hand, mindfulness can be an extremely valuable resource for people
experiencing traumatic stress. Mindfulness enhances awareness of the
present moment, strengthens the ability to self-regulate and increases
self-compassion, each of which are important skills for trauma recovery.
However, mindfulness can also exacerbate the symptoms of traumatic
stress as paying close, sustained attention to one’s inner world can
mean coming into contact with trauma related stimuli in the body (e.g.
flashbacks, heightened emotional arousal) potentially leading to
feelings overwhelm and dysregulation.
that mindfulness can be an invaluable aspect of trauma recovery, how
then can the potential pitfalls of mindfulness be minimised and the
benefits of mindfulness maximised? Having tools inside your mindfulness
practice that you can use if you start to feel overwhelmed or
dysregulated is one of the ways we can do this - tools to support you to
return to your ‘Window of Tolerance’.
The ‘Window of Tolerance’ is a
concept, coined by Dr. Daniel Siegel, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
at UCLA, which proposes that we all have an optimal level of
physiological arousal level. When we’re inside our ‘Window of Tolerance’
we’re somewhat stable and regulated and able to handle the waves of
stress that will inevitably happen in our day, it is our optimal zone of
When we’re outside of our ‘Window of Tolerance’ there is either too
much or too little physiological arousal in our system . We’re either
hyper (i.e. over) aroused (e.g. highly anxious, hypervigilant,
overwhelmed, stressed) or hypo (i.e. under) aroused (e.g. we’re feeling
numb, spacey, dissociated, deeply disorganised). People who have
experienced trauma often experience something known as ‘dysregulated
arousal’, which is uncontrollably cycling back and forth between hyper
and hypo-arousal and their ‘Window of Tolerance’ becomes narrower. These
are some of the most painful aspects of traumatic stress.