Focus in the midst of chaos- US Special Ops


The US special forces are using mindfulness to ensure that soldiers are better able to focus in chaotic situations – for instance, to avoid civilian harm.

Yet making better decisions when under pressure… and being able to calmly concentrate on the task in hand when there is a lot going on … are skills that would enhance the performance on all of us.

I have previously seen research showing how the US military has demonstrated that  mindfulness helps soldiers to “decompress” after difficult patrols and studies  showing how mindfulness helps soldiers overcome PTSD –  even when the training is given “post exposure to the traumatic experiences” it can reduce the brain activity expended on ruminating about such previous situations and emotions. So I was intrigued then I saw this article in the New York Times here.

The piece explains that Professor Amishi Jha from the University of Miami published a paper last December on the effectiveness of mindfulness among members of the US Special Operation units.  The research shows that the soldiers are “better able to discern key information under chaotic circumstances and demonstrate  increased working memory function”; plus the soldiers report making fewer cognitive errors than those who are not trained in mindfulness.  Prof Jha points  out that members of the special forces are chosen for their ability to focus and so the fact that they experience an improvement speaks to the power of the mindfulness training.

Professor Jha added: “They ‘re the best and what they are trying to do is the hardest. When the US Special Forces do something not only does the rest of the US military pay attention, the rest of the world’s militaries pay attention”.

I guess while we can see that in a chaotic situation a soldier has to focus upon the relevant information and the decisions to be made. So I am sure Prof Jha is right and other militaries will be implementing their own programmes.  Yet there are many other types of role where such an ability to focus is key…  The ability to set aside emotions and reactions, to take on board the relevant information,  to make operational decisions and to “focus on what need to be done” is a very transferable skill indeed.

Making better decisions when under pressure… and being able to focus on the task in hand… are skills that would enhance the performance of all of us.

One in six UK adults take antidepressants – yet mindfulness can help avoid the need to take them… and can help patients give them up

Each year one is six adults in the UK are being prescribed antidepressants… yet mindfulness is just as effective and research shows it can help people to give up the antidepressants without increasing their chance of a relapse.

A piece from The Guardian (here) sets out the  “one is six” figure.  Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that more than 7.3 million people were prescribed antidepressants in 2017-18, 4.4 million of whom also received a prescription for such drugs in both of the two previous years.

Yet mindfulness, and especial Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), is shown to be as effective as antidepressants – with the added advantages of helping people to become more able to focus and more empathetic yet without the downsides of the antidepressants or the longer-term problem of how to come of them.

A  piece from Forbes Magazine, explains a study published in The Lancet, to back this up. (Here).  The Forbes article says:

The results from the current study were impressive: MBCT was just as effective as staying on antidepressants over the next two years following treatment: 44% of people in the MBCT group relapsed, while 47% of those in the antidepressant group did.

So MBCT was slightly more effective as medication, which is good news for those who in principle would like to go off antidepressants.

The study brings some interesting and hopeful news for those who don’t want to take medication over the long term, or who can’t tolerate the side effects. And, the authors point out, some people just prefer psychosocial treatments over drug treatments for personal reasons.

In fact our own NHS says Mindfulness (MBCT) is  “as good as drugs for preventing depression relapse”. (Here).


While apiece from Psychology Today suggests that Mindfulness (MBCT) training can assist patients who wish to avoid antidepressants and even better, it can help those who wish to give up the antidepressants.  (Here).

So The reasearch is clear:  before starting to take antidepressants patients should consider MBCT; and for those already taking antidepressants (the “one in six”) then may be MBCT can support them in giving up the pills.