“Be where you are; otherwise, you will miss your life.” The Buddha
Anyone who has suffered from addiction knows one thing is true: wading through intense thoughts and emotions minute-by-minute is overwhelming and often results in returning to the substance of choice. As a result, addiction is often referred to as a chronic brain disease, and for good reasons.
If this sounds like you, definitely keep reading. First of all, you are not alone. Secondly, a key coping method called mindfulness can help both in the short and long term. Some may dismiss mindfulness as a new age cure with no real benefits, but there is an array of scientific data and research that show how mindfulness can truly help patients in recovery.
So, What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Mindfulness is learning how to become emotionally and physically present in your life, and it’s definitely not a new concept. Introduced as a Buddhist practice more than 2,500 years ago, mindfulness may have taken on different terms in various concepts, but the premise is to live in the moment without dwelling on the past or the future.
Mindfulness includes two main parts: attention and acceptance. Attention means intentionally being aware of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and surroundings. Acceptance involves observing these feelings and surroundings without judgment and then letting them go while continuing to pay attention moment-by-moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness in Recovery
Research shows that practising mindfulness comes with an array of physical, mental, and emotional benefits and is already incorporated into common treatment methods like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT).
Psychological scientists found that mindfulness influences two stress pathways in the brain while changing the structures associated with attention and emotion regulation. Many researchers have studied how mindfulness affects the brain, and while much is still unknown, the results are promising.
Specifically, mindfulness helps in recovery by:
- Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improving mental and emotional well-being
- Helping with responding rather than reacting
- Reducing distractions
- Encouraging compassion
- Reducing pain
- Boosting the immune system
- Building relationships with others and self
Mindfulness exercises empower us to intentionally reshape our thoughts which in turn, reshape our brain through gaining awareness, calmness, and acceptance.
How to Practice Mindfulness in Recovery
You may be wondering what mindfulness looks like in your own life. The good news is that you can practice it anywhere at any time and it’s free! Here are some ways to get started:
1. Be Present
How many times have you physically been somewhere, but your mind was somewhere else completely? While this happens to everyone at times, those in recovery are experts at not really being there.
The first step to mindfulness is learning how to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present wherever you are. Begin by looking around and paying attention to ordinary things like the people you are with, the food you are eating, the weather, the smells, and the sounds.
Being present and observant in each moment takes practice, but learning how to do it leads to increased awareness of the reality of right now.
2. Focus on your Breath
If you have never focused on your breathing, take a moment right now and try it. Find a comfortable sitting position, close your eyes, and then feel your breath going in and out of your nostrils. Allow your breath to flow at its natural speed and accept it as is.
While your mind may wander, simply observe each thought without judgement, and then let it go. Then, focus on your breath again. Focusing on your breathing instills calmness and lets you control the only thing you can control: the breath flowing in and out of your lungs.
3. Recognize Your Thoughts and Feelings
Thoughts and feelings are what we try to avoid in addiction. However, mindfulness essentially is the opposite of avoidance. Understand that thoughts and feelings are powerful but can cause turmoil for those in addiction recovery.
Whether you realize it or not, your feelings stem from your thoughts, and it’s easy to confuse thoughts with reality. Understand that you don’t have to believe everything you think and feel. However, it’s important to recognize thoughts and let them go if they are harmful.
Negative self-talk is common in recovery, and it’s destructive. Take time to check in with your thoughts throughout the day and if they become overwhelming, observe them without judgement and then let them go. Remind yourself that thoughts are just that—thoughts.
4. Embrace Compassion
As social creatures, we need connection with others to thrive, particularly those in recovery. Addiction is an isolating disease, and mindfulness is the opposite. Mindfulness helps us build connections with others by letting go of judgements, biases, and prejudices that keep others away.
Instead, mindfulness is about embracing compassion and practising kindness and empathy towards others. Practising mindfulness strengthens your well-being and connection with yourself so that you can build healthy relationships with others.
The Bottom Line
Anyone can benefit from mindfulness as it is a simple tool that can be used absolutely anywhere. However, those in recovery can significantly benefit from mindfulness since this practice involves retraining the brain to transform how they relate to thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
The more you practice, the easier it becomes, and you will reap benefits both short-term and long-term. Mindfulness has the ability to solidify your recovery and let you experience another level of freedom—one you may have never thought possible.