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Practicing Mindfulness Meditation to Cope with Stress

service member meditation on aircraft carrier

Source: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brittney Vito

Mindfulness meditation is a popular form of meditation that can help you cope with psychological concerns. It can be combined with clinical care and aid in keeping a healthy lifestyle and staying mentally fit. Meditation can help you learn to better control your emotions and even memories of traumatic events. It can also help you become more aware and accepting of negative thoughts. You learn not to be judgmental about your thoughts and instead think of those thoughts and feelings as momentary impulses that will pass.  

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation comes from a Buddhist tradition. It increases awareness of the present by focusing on your breathing, body and thoughts. With continual practice, this technique trains the brain to stay in the present moment and can help you accept things for what they are, without judgment. By focusing on the present and not on stressful or anxiety-driven thoughts about the past, present, or the future, mindfulness meditation can help decrease tension and improve coping with psychological health concerns. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, this practice has been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.  In addition, according to a research study, it also has been shown to create self-compassion.

Three Ways to Make this Practice a Routine

  1. Download the Mindfulness Coach app to learn different types of mindfulness practices. The app shows nine forms, each with voice-guided sessions and instructions to try on your own. There is also a session log to track your practice.
  2. Set a reminder using the calendar on your smart phone each day to make sure you carve out time in your schedule. Choose a time when you are most alert and awake. For more ways to plan ahead, read the campaign article “Prioritizing Your Health.”
  3. Create a safe space that is quiet and free of distractions. It is important to pick a place where you feel calm and content for practicing.

Try Meditating on Your Own

If you are not sure where to begin, try these simple steps at home for 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Sit upright on the floor or a chair, keeping your spine straight. Relax your body, with your eyes open or closed.
  • Focus on your breathing. Pay attention to each inhale and exhale.
  • Notice the different sensations that occur in your body with each breath.
  • If a distracting thought enters your mind, simply notice it and then focus back on your breathing.

As you become more comfortable, consider adding more time to your routine.

In addition to practicing this technique on your own, behavioral health providers often use mindfulness techniques in clinical care. This may be done in individual counseling sessions or sometimes in a larger group where several people are learning the skills together.

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction teaches you to focus on the present moment, including unpleasant experiences such as chronic pain. You learn to refocus your attention on your breathing and let go of lagging negative thoughts.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy teaches you to become more aware of negative emotions and thoughts, and to view them as mental events rather than accurate reflections of self or reality.

For information on choosing a practitioner or program, visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. You can also work with your health care provider to find classes at nearby military treatment facilities and community centers.

Additional Resources

Sources

  • 8 things to know about meditation for health. (n.d.). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
  • Mathew, K., & Whitford, H., Kenny, M., & Denson, L. (2010). The long-term effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as a relapse prevention treatment for major depressive disorder. Behavioral Cogn Psychother., 38(5), 561-576.
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