Meditation and personal crises. Does mindfulness help people affected by war?

Mindfulness is one of the popular techniques that, by combining psychotherapy and meditation, contribute to a fuller experience of the present moment – without unnecessary expectations and assessments. The concept can also help people who have been affected by a serious personal or social problem, including war conflicts and the search for a new home. Why is it worth paying attention to this trend?

“Mindfulness is not the answer to questions or problems. It’s more about a different view of the world, which has the potential to affect the entire scale of our being,” says psychotherapist Benedikt Říčný, who teaches mindfulness in Prague through his counseling center Here and Now. He studied the technique, which is growing in popularity across Europe, at  University College Dublin in Ireland. According to him, mindfulness not only brings people closer to their emotions and thoughts, but also contributes to getting to know themselves and their surroundings. “The fact that we experience certain emotions or have specific thoughts is neither right nor wrong,” notes Říčný and continues: “It’s up to us how we work with them. Practicing mindfulness helps us realize what we can influence and then decide how we want to deal with it.”

The beginning of a new life

Scientific research confirms the many benefits that mindfulness can bring. For example, higher resistance to stress, better sleep quality or a reduction of anxiety and depression. Different forms of meditation can help, especially during stressful life stages that we do not expect. “Unintentionally leaving home and starting a new life in another place can result in an unprecedented number of obstacles. Current studies show that people in such situations carry a high level of self-criticism and a low level of self-compassion,” explains Benedikt Říčný. Both of these concepts are addressed by mindfulness and can be measured using different methods.

Observe body signals and behavior patterns

One of Říčný’s former clients was a former soldier who participated in United Nations peacekeeping missions. Through psychotherapy, they addressed patterns of behavior that led the man back to the traumas he had experienced. “They were connected to more aggressive reactions towards his environment. We worked on realizing when similar situations were occurring based on his feelings and different body signals. The more he noticed them, the more space he had to interrupt these reactions, thus solving them more healthily. With PTSD, you often can’t control the situations that trigger the reaction, but with practice you can control how you deal with them.”

Military conflicts bring numerous personal and societal traumas. These include unintentional abandonment of residence, but also the loss of a loved one. “War can expose us to a wide range of pain. One of the most common consequences is post-traumatic stress disorder. Minduflness and various types of psychotherapy have a lot of experience with that, supported by a lot of scientific research,” adds the Czech psychotherapist, who also studied in the Netherlands. Mindfulness can be an important step in regaining control over your own world.

Searching for inner peace

Mindfulness practices can be learned during several-week courses based on experiential learning. Self-reflection, group discussions and meditation are an integral part of them. The first step to mindfulness can be one of the free mobile apps that help you slow down and focus on the moment. Some European countries introduced psychotherapy projects to support refugees from Ukraine – free mindfulness courses, meditation meetings and other voluntary events.

Mindfulness for Ukrainians

There are many psychotherapists and mindfulness teachers directly from Ukraine “Some of them run courses for people on the front lines of the conflict. Since mindfulness supports, compassion, openness, kindness and prosocial thinking, something beneficial will almost always come out of it,” adds Benedikt Říčný. Check out the Mindfulness SOS for Ukrainians initiative which helps refugees in their search for inner peace and offers organized online sessions in Ukrainian.

Opening up to unpleasant feelings and traumas can be very difficult. However, Benedikt Říčný does not recommend ways that only temporarily suppress the problem and do not solve it. “Mindfulness helps to better understand a particular issue. We can perceive how it manifests itself in our body, thinking and behavior. When we focus only on the physical manifestations of inhalation and exhalation in meditation, there is no past, no future. We are only here and now with our breath,” concludes the psychotherapist.


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