Although everyone’s recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is unique, several recovery tools work well for most people: a healthy diet and exercise routine, consistently good sleep, and regular connection with the recovery community. Another wonderful tool for anyone to try is mindfulness meditation. Some might argue that mindfulness meditation is more than an effective recovery tool: it is essential to a healthy long-term sobriety.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being completely aware of the present moment. Often we go through a day on auto-play, performing tasks with one part of our brain while daydreaming or ruminating on the past or the future in another part of our brain. Mindfulness helps us narrow in and focus fully on the present–whatever we are doing gets our full attention. In the realm of emotions and thoughts, we notice whatever is going in our brain without judging or reacting to it.
Many people with substance use disorders began their drug or alcohol use to avoid physical or emotional pain, social anxiety, or intrusive thoughts. As the person continues to self-medicate, they develop tolerance to the substance. Dependence and addiction quickly follow. By practicing mindfulness, you teach yourself to acknowledge what you are feeling and accept it instead of trying to escape or avoid it. By accepting what you are experiencing, you learn that unpleasant experiences are usually tolerable and temporary.
According to Science Daily, practicing mindfulness changes the brain. The study found that the part of the brain associated with stress, empathy, memory, and sense of self changed after eight weeks of daily mindfulness meditation. Research suggests that mindfulness could make positive and permanent changes in a sober brain, lessening the chances of relapse.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
While the term mindfulness refers to a general practice of staying attuned to the present moment, mindfulness meditation is a specific tool that can be used to foster mindfulness. In mindfulness meditation, the person takes a set period of time each day (or several times a day) to sit quietly and observe the thoughts and feelings that arise.
There are three essential components of practicing mindfulness meditation:
- Be intentional. Consciously focus on every aspect of the present experience. What is going on in the body? What are your senses picking up? What thoughts come up? What feelings attach to those thoughts? Mindfulness does not just happen on its own; it requires concentration.
- Accept your thoughts. You may feel that no one has thoughts like yours and that your thoughts are so awful it’s better to just ignore them. But “nothing is new under the sun,” as the proverb says. You are not your thoughts. Observe them, accept that they exist, and realize that they do not define you.
- Be non-judgmental. If you actively criticize or judge each thought or feeling, mindfulness will not work. Being non-judgmental of your own thoughts and feelings helps you be less judgmental of others.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation in Addiction Recovery
Mindfulness meditation offers a variety of benefits. We hope the list below of what mindfulness will help you do will inspire you to take up the practice.
Regulate Your Thoughts
Specific to addiction recovery, mindfulness meditation allows you to be aware of your desire to drink or use a drug without acting on the feeling. Mindfulness safeguards you from acting impulsively when compulsions or cravings happen by providing a pause between your emotions and your actions.
Practicing mindfulness reduces stress, which is crucial to addiction recovery. When stress is reduced, anxiety, cravings, and pain lessen. Stress can build gradually without your awareness until suddenly you find yourself irritable, angry, and tense. Practicing mindfulness provides a break, a time to slow down and prevent stress from building up.
Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
Many people struggling with a substance use disorder also suffer from anxiety or depression disorders. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness relieves the symptoms of anxiety and depression and improves the symptoms of pain.
Being more aware of your thoughts and feelings helps you think clearly. This improves your ability to make decisions that have a positive effect on your health and overall well-being.
Understand Your Reactions
Mindfulness helps you understand your reactions to things and people. Once this occurs, you have more control over how you will choose to act in response to a situation. You may learn more about what triggers you to use drugs or drink, which can help you avoid those situations or remain calm when they arise.
Slow Things Down
Practicing mindfulness slows things down. You feel better because you are not rushing from one place or activity to another. Even your thoughts are not racing from one to another, as you have quieted the mental chatter. You have achieved a sense of calmness and tranquility.
Create Positive Sensory Experiences
Mindfulness meditation allows you to notice the many wonderful things in everyday life that often go unnoticed. As you learn to enjoy the beautiful sensory experiences around you, your world will seem like a better place.
Mindfulness helps you become more self-aware and in tune with the body. You notice bodily changes and can address any potential health concerns early.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Help is available. At Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, our caring professionals will help you gain the skills needed to live a sober life. Now is the time to take the first step. Call us today and begin your journey on the path to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.