Practicing Mindfulness on the Road to Addiction Recovery
At their very core, diseases are insidious; hostile invaders wreaking havoc on an otherwise healthy environment.
And while they attack the biological compositions of our bodies, they can decimate our minds, as well.
When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the cancer was present under my arm, chest and back. But the fear I felt consumed my mind. I was forced to face my own mortality, and with that came a dark hole of despair. My anxiety reached new heights, and for the first time ever, I knew what depression felt like.
On my journey toward remission, however, I learned to be healthy not only in body but in mind, making a conscious effort to be positive and to live in the moment.
It is a train of thought that isn’t much different for those in addiction recovery.
For we’ve seen how addiction manifests physically, but what is more difficult to quantify, is how it affects the person mentally. Since oftentimes the root of addiction is mental, it is necessary to address those issues in order to achieve an overall healthier state.
One way to do this is through the Buddhist practice known as mindfulness. In fact, there have been many people who have found this philosophy a motivating factor in their road to recovery.
But What Is Mindfulness?
Introduced by Buddha more than 2,500 years ago, mindfulness refers to the concept of focusing solely on the present. It’s a contemplative practice concerning the cultivation of awareness.
While we can tell ourselves to concentrate on the here and now, it is extremely challenging to stop our thoughts from wandering. But if you’re able to let go of the mistakes of the past and the anxieties of the future, you can ascend to a state of mindfulness.
Studies have shown that by incorporating mindful activities into treatment, you’ll be able to develop a healthy relationship between your mind and body, while breaking out of the cycle of addiction.
The Connection between Mindfulness and Recovery
Unwanted emotions may propel some people to use drugs or consume alcohol as a means of escape. As a result, they are unwittingly wiring their brain to deal with their problems in a toxic way. Eventually, they’ll begin to crave the substance despite the negative consequences.
But mindful activities, which can be practiced at any time, can reshape the brain in positive ways. Like a muscle that continues to get stronger with exercise, these activities can help mitigate anxiety, provide a greater sense of self-control, and help acknowledge and deal with emotions that are not rooted in reality. Mindfulness allows for a person to relieve the pressures of life in a healthier way.
Like a weapon, it’ll arm you with the ability to detect both the triggers and the emotions that lead to cravings. Mindfulness can equip you with the mental fortitude to process thoughts of relapsing, and it can teach you how to embrace healthy habits.
Mindfulness achieves two things:
- Helping people gain a better appreciation for their present state and surroundings; and
- Becoming more introspective.
This combination allows people to recognize what causes them to seek out unhealthy coping mechanisms. And it helps them address the issues head on, while providing them with better outlets.
Tips on Being Mindful
A therapist once told me, depression lives in the past, whereas anxiety lives in the future.
Letting go of everything but the present seems easy enough, but it is a practice rooted in discipline. And like anything else, it takes time to master.
But according to the article, How Practicing Mindfulness Can Strengthen Addiction Recovery, you can begin to embrace mindfulness by implementing these certain techniques:
1. Become More Aware of Your Surroundings
Sometimes when you’re having a conversation, watching TV or doing any type of activity, it’s very easy to mentally check out. We may physically be present, but we’re on auto pilot, projecting either the future or the past. And when that happens we can subject ourselves to unnecessary levels of stress or anxiety.
Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present. And you can do this by focusing on very specific sensory details all around you.
For instance, what is the texture of the floor you’re walking on? How does it feel beneath the soles of your feet? What does the air around you smell like? How about the consistency and taste of the food you’re eating? It’s the little things that will anchor you back to reality.
People struggling with addiction generally have avoidance issues, so focusing on being present helps cope with sometimes the unpleasant realities of life.
Of course, during this process, you might still find yourself wandering off, but when this happens, gently direct your thoughts back to your surroundings. It will become easier as time goes on.
2. Practice Your Breathing
Life is full of stressful situations, and we’re the human targets on the receiving end of its arsenal. From all angles, we have the constant pressure of having to succeed, overcome, provide and balance it all. It’s a lot, and it can get overwhelming very quickly.
When we’re experiencing fear or anxiety, we begin to hyperventilate, which decreases the carbon dioxide in the blood. The body’s natural state involves a balance between the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen. So altering it can cause negative health consequences, including lightheadedness, blurry vision, headaches, and problems concentrating.
But focusing on your breath is a way to help manage the so-called daily grind. In fact, it’s an essential part of any form of meditation or relaxation technique, as it can have a significant impact on your physical and mental state.
Breathing more deeply helps lower the heart rate, stabilize blood pressure, and puts you in a more relaxed state. So, rather than focusing on external things that are out of your control, try focusing on the internal things you can control, like your breathing.
Whether you’re about to walk into a meeting, waiting in a line, or at a stop light, try taking small breathing breaks throughout the day. Inhale through your nostrils and exhale through your mouth, making your exhalation a little longer than your inhalation. And notice the sensation of air entering and exiting your body again and again.
Focusing on the breath can restore a sense of calm and control that keeps your recovery on track, while also staying in the present.
3. Separate Your Thoughts from Your Reality
A large part of what prevents us from staying in the present are our thoughts, they come and go as unpredictable as the tides. And oftentimes, these idle thoughts can visualize worst-case scenarios. This can make things appear scarier than they really are.
It’s easy to confuse our thoughts with reality, but if you want to embrace mindfulness, you need to categorize your thoughts as just that: thoughts. They are not a true reflection of what you’re experiencing. Mindfulness teaches you how to become aware of your thoughts and let go of the ideas that are working against you.
Negative self-talk is common and destructive among those struggling with addiction, so checking in with your thoughts throughout the day can help identify and keep those harmful ideas at bay. Ask yourself what thoughts triggered your feelings and work on letting them go.
The goal is to rid yourself of unnecessary negativity and any unrealistic fears. In doing so, you are showing compassion and kindness to yourself, which is critical to recovery. Addiction breeds shame, and it thrives from judgment and pain. Letting it go will make you stronger and help you realize that you are worthy of love and self-care.