These days, there seem to be mindfulness enthusiasts everywhere. And for good reason. Practicing mindfulness can literally change the wiring and makeup of our brains in a good way, which is pretty cool if you think about it. But what does it actually mean, and how can it benefit recovery?
Mindfulness originated from ancient eastern and Buddhist philosophy and dates back around 2500 years. It’s a mental state that’s achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. In essence, it’s the quality of being present and fully engaged in whatever we’re doing without judgment.
Can mindfulness help with addiction?
Mindfulness can support addiction recovery by helping us feel calm, cope with our triggers, and even avoid a relapse. It helps reduce cognitive, affective, and behavioral reactivity and it decreases our “need” to fix or control situations, including our own internal experiences. It also fosters improved communication by providing more opportunities for us to respond to stimuli intentionally, as opposed to automatically reacting. Finally, practicing mindfulness is an excellent way to relieve stress
For more than a decade, mindfulness-based interventions have been studied as a treatment for all types of addictive behaviors including drinking, opioid use, and illicit drug use. Its practices evoke a state of awareness characterized by non-judgemental monitoring of our cognitive state, sensations, and perceptions without a focus on past or present. Frequent, regular practice is thought to induce a more permanent mindful state in everyday life even when not engaged in meditation. If we can harness this feeling, then the need for a quick fix in the form of drugs, alcohol, and other compulsive behavior should, in theory, be removed.
Being in a state of mindfulness means having the capacity to remain nonreactive to and accepting of distressing thoughts and emotions. It empowers you to reshape your brain intentionally in a manner that brings greater control, awareness, and happiness into your life.
So, yes, it may serve as an antidote to addictive behavior and it has already been incorporated into a number of treatment methods.
If you’d like to give mindfulness a try, here are some simple practices to help you get started:
Practice being present.
As addicts, we tend to avoid our emotions and when we’re in active addiction, we’re constantly looking for a means of escape. Being present helps us learn to deal with reality as it is.
We can start by paying attention to everyday things like tastes and textures of the food we’re eating, our feet hitting the ground as we walk, and the feeling of clothing fabric touching our skin. It takes some practice to get used to doing it regularly, but it’s one of the simplest mindfulness techniques we can get into. It really grounds us in the present moment.
Focus on your breath.
Life can be overwhelming. Whether we’re dealing with challenging family dynamics, stress at work, financial worries, or difficult relationships, we can get caught up with everyday stressors from time to time. As addicts, drugs, alcohol, and other compulsive behaviors have historically been our coping mechanisms—our means of escape.
Focusing on our breath can help with this. If we catch ourselves in a reactive state, we can pause for a moment and focus on our breathing, which is something that we can control.
Start by taking short, mindful breathing breaks as you’re going about your daily routine. You can do this on the way to the mailbox, or while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. It doesn’t matter where you are, really—just take periodic pauses where you inhale through your nostrils and exhale out of your mouth, making your exhalations just a little bit longer than your inhalations. Notice the sensation of air going into and out of your body repeatedly as it calms you and brings you into the present moment.
Observe your thoughts and recognize that they’re just thoughts (not facts).
Regardless of whether we’re paying attention to them or not, our thoughts are what drive our feelings and our actions. It’s easy to confuse them with reality. Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of our thoughts so that we can release the sometimes toxic and harmful ideas that work against us.
Rather than let your thoughts gain traction and control you, try stepping back and observing them in a non-judgmental way. Recognizing and challenging your thoughts, particularly any negative self-talk that begins to surface, is a great way to stop your thoughts from becoming feelings. Let them come—then practice letting them go.
It’s easy to associate being busy with being good, but when we start multi-tasking and overdoing things, we miss out on learning who we are. We trade in peace, simplicity, and clarity for a busy life that’s full of demands.
In stillness, we get to discover our own personal truths. We give ourselves an opportunity to find the wisdom to connect to ourselves. This way, we’re able to listen to what life is trying to tell us. Most of all, we get to enjoy the present moment rather than seeking something outside of ourselves (aka, drugs or alcohol) to fill a void.
If you’re new to mindfulness, be patient with yourself. If your mind likes to wander, it may take some time to adjust to stillness. Begin where you are, and with practice and consistency, you’ll get the hang of it. By practicing mindfulness regularly, your recovery journey can become deeper and more meaningful than ever. Give yourself the time and the space to grow and you’ll get the hang of it.
Kembali Recovery Center can help you find a new freedom
If you or someone you love is battling addiction, Kembali Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to learn about our recovery programs. You never have to do this alone.