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Shift Your Body, Change Your Mind

At the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, we have been working for the last year to find ways to help our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Through the army, these men and women have undergone intense physical practices designed to create warriors. They are athletically skilled, experts in handling weapons, and have learned to endure harsh climates, toxic environments, and harrowing situations. Some have been wounded. Some have lost colleagues or friends. Not surprisingly, many have difficulty with returning home. Post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and rage are signs of nervous systems trained to be hyper-alert to the point of preventing them from engaging normally in mundane situations.The difficulties facing these men and women are enormous. Many try to talk themselves out of hyper-vigilance by reciting practical mantras, such as “I am just walking into a shopping mall; there is no danger there; I don’t have to brace myself and be afraid,” or “I’m just driving along the highway; there won’t be any IEDs; no need to sweat b …

Emma Seppälä, PhD, is author of The Happiness Track, founder of, and Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

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