Addiction recovery continues to evolve as new information becomes available. Studies and new approaches to recovery allow us to explore how our experiences shape the development of addiction and what makes treatment successful.While everyone’s experiences are unique, many will follow a similar path in recovery—from the struggling through early sobriety to discovering what works most effectively for them over the long term. Addiction treatment often evolves over time to address the changing needs of clients, but some consistent components of recovery are critical to success. Mindfulness is a key component of recovery from addiction.
Challenges in Early Recovery from Addiction
In early recovery, the mind’s initial withdrawal from substances can be difficult. Aside from the physical withdrawal symptoms experienced, many also have varying degrees of mental distress. It may be difficult to concentrate, emotions can be irregular, and without their usual means of coping with stressful situations, anxiety may increase. The challenges faced in early recovery can be difficult to manage, and without the proper attention, they can often cause relapse. Fortunately, many addiction treatment facilities recognize the challenges those in recovery face and have implemented various forms of mindfulness meditation to help improve mental clarity and increase control over emotions. This helps clients navigate one of the most turbulent phases of recovery while simultaneously equipping them with life skills they can after treatment. This, in conjunction with other forms of therapy, provides clients with a solid foundation in early recovery and beyond, to help them to manage triggers and stressors in life after treatment.
What does it mean to be Mindful?
Mindfulness is the process of being actively aware of one’s own feelings in the present time, remaining neutral, and considering them without judgment. The idea of “living in the moment” is derived from being mindful and often requires several things: an intentional, conscious effort to consider what one is going through, accepting those feelings as they are, and allowing themselves to emote without being hypercritical or judgmental towards their thoughts or feelings. For those in recovery, this means developing a better way to regulate emotions and thoughts. Mindfulness asks patients to be aware of stressful situations and triggers, and how those may snowball into relapse or harmful actions.
The most important component of mindfulness is developing the awareness necessary to avoid being carried away by negative thoughts or feelings. Although this is usually practiced by those on a spiritual path, its obvious benefits have made mindful meditation increasingly popular among the population at large. Mindful meditation offers numerous health benefits that include:
- Better stress management: By focusing on the present without worrying about the future, a person is better able to reduce their stress levels. Rather than spending time anticipating potential future problems, stress is more easily managed. Stress is known to be a major factor in numerous mental and physical conditions, so the ability to better regulate how it is handled can improve overall health as well.
- Better self-awareness: A person who is more mindful is more in tune with what is happening in their bodies. They are better able to recognize when something has changed or is not quite right. This increased awareness helps people address many potential health concerns before they become larger problems.
- Improved immune system functioning: High levels of stress can negatively affect the immune system. Those who practice mindful meditation tend to have lower levels of stress, and as a result, a stronger immune system. They also tend to have an improved ability to deal with pain.
- Better understanding of thoughts and feelings: The biggest benefit associated with mindfulness is the ability to better manage thoughts and feelings. Rather than letting them consume a person’s actions, improved awareness allows a person to make better decisions without letting negative thoughts steer them in a bad direction. It also helps people let go of negative feelings more easily. Understanding that thoughts and feelings will come and go on their own makes it easier not to succumb to them.
Tips for Practicing Mindfulness
Ways to be Mindful
Mindfulness is most effective when it is done frequently through a formal practice, but it can be practiced virtually anywhere as long as a person can devote time and attention to it. Depending on a person’s needs, some practices may be more beneficial than others. Some options include:
- Traditional meditation: Finding a quiet place to focus on clearing one’s thoughts and focus on breathing can help a person de-stress.
- Yoga: Yoga is a popular means of mindfulness practice as it helps connect the mind and body. Yoga is one type of mindfulness practice that can help health addiction.
- Changing eating habits: For those who are trying to change their weight, mindfulness about what a person eats can help improve mood. Eating well can increase happiness and decrease stress.
- Being in nature: For some, nature can provide a meditative experience. Walking through nature allows a person to forget about stressors and focus on the moment.
Starting Your Mindfulness Practice
Starting the practice of mindful meditation may be intimidating for the simple reason that it can be difficult to know where to start. There are numerous resources or practices one can use when beginning the process.
- Set aside time: Making time for meditation is crucial, especially in the early stages. It does not require a huge amount of time—20 minutes per day can be the perfect foundation. If this is too much time, splitting it into two 10-minute sessions can be more manageable.
- Expect initial mental chatter: One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is the amount of chatter a person will notice at first. It can make focusing incredibly difficult. In most cases, we do not recognize the chatter in our heads because it is always happening. Once we take a moment to try to meditate, it suddenly becomes more noticeable.
- Seek tools to improve practice: There are numerous materials available to help develop meditative practices. Book, videos, and audio recordings can guide many through meditation and best practices.
- Seek a meditative guide: Sometimes, the best action is to seek the help of an expert. A meditative guide can help you through the process of becoming more mindful. Their experience can introduce you to new methods you may not have previously considered and help you progress faster.
Mindfulness in Recovery
Mindful meditation is a great tool for anyone, but it can be especially helpful for those in recovery. Mindful meditation can help clients recognize the negative thoughts and feelings that can lead to relapse, and consider them without acting or self-judgment. This practice can also help people manage their cravings and work through difficult times. Techniques used in meditation, such as controlled breathing exercises and paying attention to one’s physical and mental state, can help a person throughout recovery, but especially in the early stages.
Mindfulness can be used in conjunction with traditional treatment approaches to enhance the recovery experience. Through mindfulness, people develop the ability to check in with themselves, determine whether something feels “off,” and take action to prevent relapse or other negative experiences from occurring. It is a self-empowering tool that can be used throughout life in a variety of situations. It promotes self-acceptance while decreasing stress levels, which can make the recovery process easier to manage.
Mindfulness can also be used to improve the mental health conditions which often accompany addiction. Many find that depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and other illnesses improve through meditation. While it is not a stand-alone treatment for any of these conditions, mindfulness meditation can be used to enhance treatment outcomes. Even long after treatment is completed, mindfulness practices can be used to improve quality of life.
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