Mindfulness may seem like a difficult concept for some people to grasp at first, but the heart of the concept is simple: mindfulness means being present in the moment. The stress of daily life can make it difficult for anyone to focus on the present moment, but this is especially difficult for those struggling with the constant aggravations and cravings that typically accompany addiction. The average person with no substance abuse problems may have difficulties learning how to practice mindfulness, and those challenges are often more significant for those in recovery. However, mindfulness is a valuable skill and incredibly beneficial in substance abuse treatment.
What Is Mindfulness?
Being mindful means being aware of the present moment. Typically, this refers to one’s current situation, such as meditation or relaxing. Learning mindfulness means learning how to listen to your own body; your breath, your muscle movements,
and your sensory perceptions. Mindfulness does not mean looking exclusively inward; it also teaches you to appreciate your surroundings more fully by focusing on the present, not the past or possible eventualities in the future.
This is an incredibly valuable skill for anyone struggling with addiction to learn. Throughout the recovery process, guilt about past mistakes and worries about the future are common impediments to effective treatment. The stress of these issues can eventually lead to relapse, and those in recovery must learn effective coping techniques to handle the stress that will surely accompany a return to “normal” life after rehab. Mindfulness is one of the most valuable of those techniques.
One of the anchors or focal points of any mindfulness exercise is the breath. Our breathing influences the body in many possible ways, driving up heart rate and increasing in response to stress and alleviating stress by regulating the breath and heart rate. In recovery, many people overcoming addiction learn to control the breath and focus on solely the breath. This helps settle discomforting thoughts and can help these individuals avoid entertaining anxiety-driven thoughts and worries so they can more easily focus on the present moment.
Mindfulness of the breath means focusing on each breath as it enters your body, holding it for a few seconds, and then feeling the effects of the exhale as you breathe out. This naturally encourages relaxation, allowing the muscles to decompress, promoting better blood flow, and regulating blood pressure. Try to keep your breathing consistent throughout this practice, listening carefully to your body as you inhale and exhale.
Controlling Emotions So They Do Not Control You
Another benefit of mindfulness exercises is learning how to reign in emotional impulses, one of the most common driving forces behind most addictions. Those who develop substance abuse disorders often come to rely on their drugs of choice for relief from stressful situations, many of which revolve around complex emotions they cannot appropriately process due to their addictions.
One of the most difficult aspects of meditation for many people is learning to avoid intrusive thoughts. This is inherently more difficult for some people than others, and those struggling with addictions have myriad concerns and traumatic experiences that can easily interfere with effective meditation.
The lessons learned in mindfulness exercises essentially create a path to overcoming these thoughts, preventing them from causing emotional reactions, and approaching them rationally after centering oneself on a reliable anchor, such as consistent breathing. A sudden mental image or worry can easily cause the heart rate to increase, breath to shorten, and muscles to tighten. With regular practice of breathing exercises it becomes easier to manage these sensations more effectively and consistently for deeper relaxation and more effective meditation.
Grow Compassion For Others And Yourself
One of the most commonly associated emotions with addiction is shame or guilt. Many people in the grips of addiction will act irrationally, manipulate others, lie, and steal to maintain their addictions. Even those who lived perfectly exemplary lives prior to addiction can engage in unpredictable and even dangerous behaviors due to addiction. Learning how to practice mindfulness not only helps one manage his or her own intrusive thoughts and experience deeper relaxation, but also helps the individual forgive him or herself for past mistakes, an essential part of the recovery process.
Addiction can easily diminish self-esteem, destroy personal relationships, and damage the body for years to come. Mindfulness allows individuals in recovery to approach these subjects more calmly and rationally, enabling them to work through their issues more effectively.
Mindfulness also helps teach compassion toward others. During an addiction it becomes very easy to focus solely on maintaining the addiction with no thought given to those affected by those choices. Mindfulness exercises empower the individual to look more closely at past interactions and relationships and learn to empathize with others more fully. In time, the people undergoing addiction treatment learn how to address their own personal failings and work toward repairing the damage they’ve done to others. However, they also cultivate compassion for others in similar situations.
Learning The Value Of Stillness
Modern life is incredibly fast-paced and demanding for most people. Communication is faster and easier than ever before, and most professions demand ongoing attention to detail, competitiveness, and consistent ambition to put forth the best work possible. These stressors have an undeniable effect on everyone, but those who struggle with addiction tend to feel them more acutely.
Remember, there is no “right” way to meditate, but meditation should offer relaxation and clarity to deal with life’s challenges. Mindfulness may be a difficult concept for some individuals to fully grasp, but with time, patience, and practice, these exercises have an undeniably beneficial effect on anyone in substance abuse recovery.