Mindfulness refers to the practice of living in the moment, without judgment or anticipation. It sounds simple, but people in recovery from substance use disorders often struggle to quiet their thoughts long enough to experience the benefits. This is why a growing number of addiction treatment centers, including Mountain Laurel Recovery Center’s Pennsylvania drug and alcohol treatment program, are incorporating mindfulness into the continuum of care offered to each client.
Mindfulness as the Opposite of Addiction
In many ways, mindfulness is the opposite of addiction. Consider the following:
- Engaging in addictive behavior is an automatic way of escaping from painful emotions. Mindfulness is a conscious effort to focus on feelings and limit their negative impact.
- Addiction is an external search for what you believe to be lacking. Mindfulness promotes a connection with your inner resources.
- Addiction leads to denial and dishonesty. Mindfulness is about honestly evaluating behaviors and being fully accountable for your actions.
- Addiction is characterized by shame and guilt. Mindfulness promotes compassion for yourself and the people around you.
- Addiction is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. Mindfulness is about holistic wellness.
How Mindfulness Helps Aid Recovery
There’s no such thing as a quick fix for addiction, but mindfulness helps prevent relapse by teaching people in recovery that they can acknowledge negative thoughts and behaviors without acting on them. In recovery circles, this is often referred to as urge surfing.
To practice urge surfing, someone with a craving sits in a comfortable spot with their eyes closed. They think about the parts of the body affected by the craving and describe each sensation—a racing heartbeat, tightness in the arms or legs, etc. Focusing on the sensations acknowledges the effect the craving is having without giving into the urge to use. Since most cravings only last three to five minutes, urge surfing refocuses the mind until the craving subsides.
Mindfulness also helps a person in recovery by:
- Increasing self-esteem
- Lowering stress levels
- Reducing anxiety
- Easing symptoms of depression
- Helping to cope with chronic pain
- Providing a healthy way to deal with anger
- Promoting greater self-awareness
- Helping to move forward after relapse
By enhancing mental health, mindfulness can also boost the body’s immune system. Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression lowers levels of cortisol and other hormones that can make the body more susceptible to illness.
Ways to Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is incorporated into several different types of therapy that can be used to treat men and women with substance use disorders:
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR)
Mindfulness is also an important part of yoga, which uses breathing techniques and poses to help quiet and refocus the mind. Yoga is often mischaracterized as an activity that’s only suitable for young, thin, and flexible people, but most poses can be modified to accommodate a wide range of body types and physical limitations. For example, blocks and straps can be used to make it easier to hold certain poses. Chair yoga is also quite popular with senior citizens.
Mindfulness meditation combines breathing practice with imagery, self-awareness, and muscle and body relaxation. Refer to the Mindful website for an easy-to-follow example.
Additional ways to practice mindfulness in your daily life include:
- Eat your meals slowly, without talking, watching television, or engaging in other distractions. Focus on how each bite of food tastes and your body’s sensations.
- Spend time in nature. Sit outside and observe the natural beauty of your surroundings. Focus on how nature affects each of the body’s senses.
- Give friends and family your full attention. When you are talking to your loved ones, put away electronic devices. Take the time to connect on a deeper level.
- Go someplace new. Being in an unfamiliar location automatically forces you to become more present and focused on your surroundings—even if you’re just dining at a new restaurant.
Practice Makes Perfect
Do not be discouraged if your first attempts to practice mindfulness are unsuccessful. It takes time and effort to learn to quiet the brain’s mental chatter and focus on the present moment. You are retraining the neural networks in your brain—which is no small task!
Practicing just 10 to 20 minutes per day can help you develop this important recovery skill.
Eventually, mindfulness will start to become a way of life.
Finding the Treatment Approach that Works for You
Access to personalized, evidence-based care helps men and women with substance use disorders learn to lead full and productive lives. If you are ready to take the first step towards recovery, Mountain Laurel Recovery Center can help. Our holistic approach to wellness incorporates mindfulness as well as a variety of therapeutic techniques designed to heal the mind, body, and spirit as you build the foundation for lasting sobriety.