Mindfulness Strengthens Mental and Emotional Resilience That Can Hold Up in War

Practicing mindfulness techniques can change the brain in ways that hold up in the most stressful situations.

Common mindfulness techniques are now taught to Marines to develop enhanced cognitive control and emotional resilience. After a group of Marines took an eight- week course in mindfulness, it was discovered that they were able to recover from the stress of battlefield conditions quicker. This research is believed to help military personnel strengthen their mental and emotional resilience prior to the onset of PTSD or any other emotionally triggered trauma. 

In the study, some platoons underwent the standard training regimen to prepare for combat. Others platoons also also were asked to complete 30 minutes of daily mindfulness exercises.

The Marines who had undergone mindfulness training and others who had not underwent a series of medical tests. The tests revealed that the heart and breathing rates of the mindful Marines returned to normal faster than those of the control group members. Brain scans on a subset of 40 Marines also found differences between the two groups in areas of the brain involved in cognitive control and emotion regulation.

The beneficial brain changes that triggered by practicing mindfulness are well documented and available to everybody. This study shows how strong those changes are in adverse situations.

STUDY:
Modifying Resilience Mechanisms in At-Risk Individuals: A Controlled Study of Mindfulness Training in Marines Preparing for Deployment

Abstract:
Marines who had first received Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, which can affect brain structures integral to the body’s response to stress, experienced quicker heart rate and breathing rate recovery, improved sleep quality, and lower levels of neuropeptide Y after stressful combat training than a comparison group without the intervention.

Objective

Military deployment can have profound effects on physical and mental health. Few studies have examined whether interventions prior to deployment can improve mechanisms underlying resilience. Mindfulness-based techniques have been shown to aid recovery from stress and may affect brain-behavior relationships prior to deployment. The authors examined the effect of mindfulness training on resilience mechanisms in active-dutyMarines preparing for deployment.

Method

Eight Marine infantry platoons (N=281) were randomly selected. Four platoons were assigned to receive mindfulness training (N=147) and four were assigned to a training-as-usual control condition (N=134). Platoons were assessed at baseline, 8 weeks after baseline, and during and after a stressful combat training session approximately 9 weeks after baseline. The mindfulness training condition was delivered in the form of 8 weeks ofMindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), a program comprising 20 hours of classroom instruction plus daily homework exercises. MMFT emphasizes interoceptive awareness, attentional control, and tolerance of present-moment experiences. The main outcome measures were heart rate, breathing rate, plasma neuropeptide Y concentration, score on the Response to Stressful Experiences Scale, and brain activation as measured by functional MRI.