Medical Monday: Staying ‘Cool and Calm’ for Awareness

Medical MondayBy Dr. Monique Moore
Clinical Research Psychologist
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE)

According to Department of Defense data, psychological health concerns caused more hospitalizations among U.S. troops in 2009 than any other reason. DCoE is working to help minimize the psychological stress endured by troops by discovering the best methods for them to become more resilient. We’ve recently begun investigating the practice of mindfulness as a technique to help our nation’s warriors combat the effects of war.

During fiscal year 2008, DCoE directed $5 million in funding for research on complementary and alternative medicine, or integrated health practices. This research shows potential value and promise in certain techniques and methods for helping warriors.

Mindfulness, an example of an integrated practice, is a mental state in which one gives full attention to present-moment experience without judgment, elaboration, or attachment. Mindfulness promotes a state of “cool and calm” that can be used to achieve greater situational awareness as well as greater self awareness.

A U.S. soldier with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment walks to a joint district community center after securing combat outpost Rajankala in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan Nov. 26, 2009. (DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II, U.S. Air Force/Released)

The Department of Defense helped fund a recent mindfulness training (MT) study on U.S. Marines prior to their deployment.

In the study, the Marines were provided with Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT) prior to deployment. The training integrated mindfulness exercises, at the root of which are attention-control and concentration, into their usual pre-deployment training.

This study found that the more time Marines spent engaging in daily mindfulness exercises, the better their mood and working memory. Additionally the study suggested that practicing mindfulness may facilitate functioning in high-stress environments that require enormous amounts of self-awareness, cognitive control, situational awareness and emotional regulation.

Just as being physically fit and flexible helps protect against future physical injuries, so to does being mentally fit help protect against war’s invisible wounds. Research suggests than one can change their brain and the way he or she handles stress by doing specific repetitive exercises.

Examples of mindfulness exercises the Marines in the study practiced included:

  • Focusing on only one object of attention (such a breath, or contact between the body and chair)
  • Mindful movement, practicing focusing attention between inner sensations and outer experiences

To read more about MMFT, click here.

For more posts on psychological health and traumatic brain injury, check out the DCoE Blog.

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