What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ability to consciously be in a particular moment of your life, without judgment or regrets. Imagine that you are aware of what’s going on both with you and around you; you observe reality without “good” or “bad” labels; you live and participate in every moment of your life without being regretful about your past or anxious about the future. Mindfulness techniques teach us how to self-soothe ourselves in a healthier way and can be a great tool in a fight against addiction.
Using mindfulness practice in addiction therapy
The idea of using mindfulness concept and techniques in holistic treatment for drug addiction treatment belongs to psychologist Alan Marlatt in the early 80s. Later, mindfulness became a part of addiction rehabilitation as an element of cognitive-behavioral and other psychological therapies.
According to studies, the benefits of mindfulness include lower heart rate and blood pressure. Practicing mindfulness helps to activate a soothing process and to settle fight and flight response. If practiced long-term, mindfulness fundamentally changes the way a person interacts with oneself and the world in general and increases positive emotions as well as self-awareness.
Mindfulness practices are an integral part of holistic rehabilitation. Practiced in a calm and safe state, mindfulness techniques will come in handy in critical situations.
Why being mindful helps to stay sober?
Generally, addictive behavior begins when we are looking for comfort in something while trying to cope with negative emotions, fear, stress, or pain. And to soothe ourselves, we resort to available, but at the same time unhealthy solutions, such as binge eating, drugs or alcohol abuse. As a result, addictive behavior becomes a way of running from painful emotions. This brings relief for some period, but at the same time takes us farther away from ourselves and our lives.
Mindfulness, as a recommended part of holistic treatment for drug addiction, helps to improve the ability to pay attention to emotions and urges. Improved attention helps to gain a better understanding of addiction triggers, including automatic behaviors that give life to addictive tendencies.
So how does it work? By shifting thinking from “automatic pilot” to mindful observer mode, mindfulness increases your awareness. It is essential because awareness helps us admit that there is a problem, and that is the first step in addiction therapy. It gives a better understanding of yourself, teaches to recognize discomfort, understand feelings in your body and emotions and thus understand how to help oneself instead of automatically trying to use well known addictive ways of coping with it. Mindfulness shows you that you have a choice, and you can decide what to do with your life.
As a method of holistic recovery programs, mindfulness helps people cope and increase tolerance for emotional discomfort in general. It changes the way body and mind react to stress to a more natural and healthy one compared to an addictive pattern. By practicing mindfulness techniques, you learn how to cope with triggers, cravings, and urges on your way to a better life.
Top 5 mindfulness techniques to get you started
One of the best things about mindfulness is that you can practice it wherever you are and at any time. Mindfulness skills could be practiced throughout the day and even during your daily routines. Five minutes of concentrating on breathing while standing in a queue or walking meditation on your way home – all that these techniques require is your attention.
Breathing techniques are always on the top of the list for calming practices. By concentrating on something you usually do automatically, you achieve a better concentration and learn to be “here and now.”
Focus your attention on the way you breathe. Take a soft breath with nose and breathe out with lips. Notice how your lungs become full of air and then how air slowly leaves you. Become aware of breathing by concentrating on this process only and not letting your mind wander.
The main goal is to concentrate on your sensations and process itself. When you notice your attention goes to something different. Note what thoughts you were distracted by, and then gently return your focus on breathing.
2. Concentrate on your body
Our body gives various signals, but we are so used to them, that usually we don’t even pay attention to them. Another mindfulness practice is focusing on physical sensations alone. It helps to get a better understanding of urges and returns you to the present moment.
Find a comfortable pose, take a seat, or lie down and concentrate on your body. Feel how your head touches the back of your seat or pillow, and how shoulders and legs contact with the fabric of your clothes. Notice the heaviness in your feet, temperature in the room. Pay attention to each sensation your body is sending but don’t evaluate them, just observe.
3. Be right here, right now
We know how easy it is to “fly” away in thoughts and fears on a regular basis. Most of us live a significant part of our lives in an auto-pilot mode. And especially those of us, who are in addiction recovery, know pretty well, how hard being present is. Being mindful means being present.
Imagine that you are a toddler, and everything in this world is new to you. Let your attention focus on every sensation; the way the ground feels under your feet, air brushing your cheeks, how cold water tingles your face when you wash it in the morning. Notice how sun rays reflect from shiny surfaces or how unfamiliar some of the objects in your house can seem when you look at them for a longer time.
By turning on this “beginner’s mind” mode you boost your awareness and become more engaged in the present moment.
4. Stay still
Discomfort makes us do something and for those of us who are on rehab, this “something” unfortunately often means harm. Try to stop your thoughts, your actions and just be there where you are. It can be a meditation in any form, observing plants or any other activity you may find useful and grounding. The purpose of this technique is to spend some time with yourself and not being interrupted by anything. Even by yourself.
5. Think about your thoughts
Sounds weird, right? However, though we deem ourselves intelligent creatures and believe, that everything we have in our minds is unbiased and represents external surroundings accurately, this is not exactly true.
Our mind gets overwhelmed and disoriented and we start believing something that is nothing more but a misconception. It takes a form in negative self-talk or destructive thoughts and makes us feel worse. Detaching yourself from your thoughts and observing them without emotions or any evaluation is a constructive way of getting away from harmful ideas in our heads.
At least 5 minutes of mindfulness practice per day will make your holistic rehab a more significant and rewarding experience. As you implement these techniques, you will feel subtle at first, but valuable changes. By expanding your self-image, improving awareness and changing the way you perceive your life and everything around and within you, mindfulness may become a new way of being.
Mindfulness is also about getting closer to oneself. Addiction rehabilitation is a long journey, and it is easier to have someone on your way. Be your best companion on the way to a better life.