Military mindfulness

Military MindfullnessStrategies from working with vets facing PTSD

When introducing mindfulness to veterans living with PTSD, new PacMed physician Charles Falzon, MD, MBA, advises easing into it, rather than “jumping right into the deep end of that kind of work, because it can be emotionally provocative.”

“Meditation can be really intimidating,” observes Dr. Falzon, a former lieutenant in the US Navy Medical Corps and Integrative Medicine practitioner at Northwestern University. “The feelings people experience can be very uncomfortable because they’re not used to living in silence or stillness…. It can be very unsettling.”

Rather, Dr. Falzon recommends starting with small steps. “Focus for 30 seconds on what it feels like to take deep breaths,” he suggests. Or ease in with “yoga classes, going to a religious service or even simply putting your phone away during dinner and focusing on the people around you.”

This sort of “intentional action” also has tangible medical benefits. For example, taking time to chew intentionally, says Dr. Falzon, “gives your body a chance to process the food the way it’s meant to”—allowing salivary glands to perform the important first step of digestion. Mindfulness can recalibrate all four basics of health—defined by Dr. Falzon as diet, sleep, stress management and exercise—changing “how we feel and experience health.”

For processing new feelings, Dr. Falzon believes the most important building blocks are your social support system and engaging your medical team. That kind of outside help is necessary because we can lose our bearings, especially when overwhelmed by endless task lists.

Those of us who are task-oriented can learn from veterans in their approach to mindfulness. “The military people I’ve worked with are always extremely dedicated and excited to tackle challenges,” says Dr. Falzon. “Unfortunately, when it comes to mindfulness, trying too hard or looking for specific results can be counterproductive. It’s not going to get you there faster. How can we be ok with the path that we’re on and not necessarily try to build a new road?”

Luckily, mindfulness doesn’t require a goal—the journey can be a reward in itself. As Dr. Falzon describes, “Those new sensations can be a really fascinating experience. Hopefully, it’s something that patients find helpful— then we can keep building on it.”