The Power of Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery
Practicing mindfulness in addiction recovery can help you gain a better understanding of yourself, which will aid you further in your journey of healing and self-discovery
Imagine a place where you can be your true, authentic self. Where you are never judged.
A place that is calm, peaceful, and still.
A place where emotions exist but are not overwhelming. Where fears can be observed but not control you.
Want to know something incredible?
That place exists inside all of us, and it has been there all along.
So how do we get there?
What Is Mindfulness?
There are so many ways to define what mindfulness is. It is being fully present and aware of the current moment. Its about slowing down enough to really be where you are. Engaging all of your senses and slowing down the racing thoughts in your mind. It is immersing yourself in the moment, into a freeing state of absolute non-judgement.
Mindfulness is a place of internal observation; a healing space where the mind quietens and the soul can breathe.
The practice of Mindfulness allows us to come alongside our thoughts and our emotions, rather than being consumed by them.
Mindfulness helps us relate to our experience instead of being inside of it.
Our normal state of being is filled with automatic behaviour. Mindfulness allows us to step outside of this and into a deeper level of consciousness, helping us to separate our thoughts from our feelings, so that we don’t let one impact the other.
Mindfulness allows us to become the observer of our own thoughts and feelings without self-judgement. It can help us notice the patterns of feelings and what triggers them.
Mindfulness can also help to identify what triggers cravings for substances and addictive behaviours, on both a surface and subconscious level.
Practising mindfulness can help us get back to who we truly are at our core. Learning to be mindful in recovery takes time, but it can assist on the journey towards self-awareness and healing.
The Origins of Mindfulness
The origins of mindfulness date back thousands of years to Eastern traditions and practices such as Buddhism and Hinduism.
Mindfulness began to gain traction in the west when Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Michigan in the late 1970s. His groundbreaking program taught many about how mindfulness works, and how beneficial and life-changing it’s effects can be.
This led to further research on its benefits and the implementation of mindfulness practices within western medicine
Mindfulness in addiction recovery v Mind-fullness
Understanding how mindfulness works can carve a pathway to inner alignment. When our mind is full, it can be hard to get in touch with our needs, our aches, and ultimately, ourselves. But when we are mindful, it puts us in line with all of these things.
Mindfulness helps us stop replaying the past over and over again in our minds like a broken record. It helps ease our worries and concerns.
Being mindful is about emptying the mind of chatter and noise, being fully immersed in the present moment, and understanding that the thoughts and feelings that we experience do not define us and do not have power over us.
Because of these reasons and many more, utilizing mindfulness can help assist in a healthy recovery from addiction. It can give us so much power and can create so much healing.
Tips on practising Mindfulness in addiction recovery
The great thing about practising mindfulness is that it can be practised anywhere, and by anyone. Mindfulness can be a fantastic asset in recovery from addiction.
There are many ways in which mindfulness can be practised.
Techniques that can assist in quieting the mind during addiction recovery:
Meditation is a staple way of practising mindfulness. There are many different ways you can meditate. Guided mindful meditations can be accessed via Youtube or smartphone apps. Even simply sitting in front of a lit candle and focusing our attention on the flame is practising mindful meditation. When practising mindful meditation, there are no rules but it is helpful to find a comfortable place where we can be quiet and still, simply focusing our mind on what we hear, and feel in our bodies. This helps to distract from unwanted thoughts. When unwanted thoughts enter your mind, simply observe them, and let them go. The more often that we practice mindful meditation, the easier it will become.
Focusing on your breathing.
Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we can pause for a few moments and pay attention to our breathing. This comes back to seated mindful meditation, but can be utilized anywhere when we need to come back to ourselves and to the present moment. If we begin to feel overwhelmed or outside of our body, focusing deeply on the breath brings us back to the present.
Use a mindfulness reminder
This is a little trick that can help to remind us to practice mindfulness. Setting an alarm for a daily “mindfulness reminder” can be really helpful in setting aside time. Taking a few moments to observe what thoughts we were experiencing before the alarm went off. Looking around and paying attention to what colours stand out. Really stopping and listening to the sounds that are buzzing around us. These are all ways that we can have a few moments of mindfulness in our day, with a helpful reminder from an alarm on a phone.
Sometimes, we can eat our food without paying attention to how fast we’re eating or to even what our food tastes like. We may eat in front of the television or whilst scrolling through Instagram, and not really think twice about it. Eating mindfully is about slowing down, and really paying attention to what it feels like to bite into food. To take time chewing, and to observe the texture and taste of food. This is a way to truly ground ourselves in the present moment. Practising mindful eating helps to still the mind and helps prevent overeating
Minimise daily distractions
We can be more mindful by simply minimising daily distractions and creating separate blocks of time for things. For example, mobile phones are so commonplace in this day and age that we rarely think twice about how often we consume content on them mindlessly, and how frequently our phones split our attention.
There are often times when we are doing something and we get a notification on our phone, we check the notification before we know it 20 minutes have passed by whilst we were checking different things on the phone. One way to combat this can be to turn off your notifications for apps like Instagram and Facebook so that we aren’t getting constantly pulled away and distracted. Allowing designated blocks of time during your day for checking those notifications and enjoying social media is helpful. This simple practice can assist in becoming more present and mindful throughout the day.
How to become more mindful in addiction recovery
When trying to become more mindful in addiction recovery, choosing a mindful activity that resonates with us, and making an effort to consciously practice it for 30 days helps to reinforce it as habit.
It is realistic to find a practice that can be practised regularly. This way we don’t feel overwhelmed and give up on the practice before it becomes really beneficial.
For example, rather than committing to meditating for 30 minutes every day, it is more realistic to aim for 5 minutes, 3x per week. As we begin to form this new habit, it becomes easier to build upon and more realistic to maintain over time.
Overcoming Addiction With A Mindful Mind
You may be wondering how the role of mindfulness can help addiction recovery, and how mindfulness works when it comes to gaining and maintaining sobriety. Interestingly enough, the two can go hand in hand.
When working towards recovery, the tangled roots of mental health and addiction become more apparent. When it comes to the scope of mental health and addiction, for many people, mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety precede addiction.
Before beginning to abuse substances, many of us struggled with emotions, even if we didn’t realise it at the time. Some of us felt a deep sadness, emptiness, or shame, constantly thinking about the past.
Maybe we felt fearful, anxious, and overwhelmed, constantly thinking about the future. Fear, anger and inexplicable mood swings would often take us from one place to another internally. How often were we truly in the present moment, and not in our thoughts?
Mindfully manage your emotions for a happier recovery
Commencing the journey of recovering from addiction, emotions can become problematic once more. This time around, however, it can be difficult to even identify what emotions are being felt. After abusing substances for a prolonged period of time, it is common to struggle with identifying emotions. Our mind is such a powerful thing, and it can create emotions within us that take us to a dark place. The magic, though, is that it can also do the opposite. Mindful meditation teaches us how to regulate and control our emotions.
A huge part of recovering from addiction is consciously paying attention to what we are feeling and thinking. This is the foundation for mindfulness in recovery. In this way, using mindfulness can truly help along the way towards a healthy recovery from addiction. Learning to be mindful in recovery is a process, and this awareness is like a muscle that has to be trained in order to grow.
Mindfulness and The Addicted Brain - Exploring Brain Change
In understanding how mindfulness works, it is important to know that many areas of the brain are engaged during practice. More and more studies have demonstrated neural changes in the brain that happen as a result of practising mindful meditation.
Some of these changes can contribute towards the overall journey of experiencing a healthy recovery from addiction and maintaining sobriety
Scientific research on the benefits of Mindfulness on the brain
Studies have indicated that mindful meditation can actually thicken areas of the brain. They have also shown that mindful meditation has an effect on the cerebral cortex, subcortical grey and white matter, brain stem, and cerebellum.
Other areas of the brain that are affected by mindful meditation are the mid-cingulate cortex and the orbital frontal cortex, which are involved with our self-regulation and our emotional regulation. This can help us to manage emotions and behaviours
Research has also proven that mindful meditation increases activity in the frontal cortex, which controls impulses. By practising mindfulness we can pause and reflect, rather than making impulsive decisions or needing instant gratification.
More long term mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce grey matter in the amygdala, which decreases anxiousness. A decrease in anxiousness provides a sense of ease and rational thought.
It can help to decrease anxious thought patterns that can be a contributing factor in turning to substances.
The insula is also affected by mindful meditation. This area of the brain is said to affect how we perceive our physical body sensations. This can help us become more aware of the body and how it feels, as well as what our true needs are
The hippocampus is affected by mindfulness practices as well. Ongoing mindful meditation contributes to new neurons being developed in this area of the brain. Overall cognitive functioning can become enhanced due to this
Mindfulness in addiction recovery can help overcome cravings
When learning to be mindful in recovery, it can become easier to separate thoughts from cravings. Building the mindfulness muscle can teach us how to become aware of the compulsion and the discomfort. Instead of automatically engaging in addictive behaviour, we have an opportunity to look at the discomfort and urge inside, and to separate it from becoming an action.
Practising mindfulness in recovery can also help us to realise that emotions are not facts, and thoughts are not facts.
This can result in greater emotional awareness and self-regulation, which can thereby help to deal with the daily stressors of life in a calm and nonjudgmental manner.
The Benefits of Mindfulness in Recovery
There are many benefits of practising mindfulness when seeking a healthy recovery from addiction. These benefits highlight the bridge between mindfulness and the addicted brain.
Psychological Benefits of mindfulness in recovery from addiction include:
- Less emotional distress
- Ability to increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions
- Decreased desire for opioids
- Decreased stress arousal
- Adaptive response to stressors
- Less rumination and dwelling in a negative space internally
- Greater empathy and understanding
- Observe your own experiences with detachment
- Increased focus and greater self-efficacy
- A greater understanding of oneself
Physical Benefits of mindfulness in recovery from addiction include:
- Decrease in levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol
- Better regulation of the autonomic nervous system and calming of the sympathetic nervous system
- Improved immune system
- Improved sleep quality
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved eating habits
- Decreased response to pain severity
Learning Mindful Techniques
Below are some resources to help get you started on the journey towards practising mindfulness and utilising mindfulness in recovery.
The resources here provide a deeper explanation of how mindfulness works, and techniques that can be used to practice mindfulness in daily living.
Learning to be mindful takes time, patience, and practice, so as always, be easy on yourself. Show yourself grace as you continue on your path towards healing.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- The Mindful Path Through Worry and Rumination: Letting Go of Anxious and Depressive Thoughts by Sameet M. Kumar
- The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe
- Thoughts Without A Thinker: Psychotherapy From A Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein
- The Rubin Mindfulness Meditation by The Rubin Museum of Art
- On being with Krista Tippett
- Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris
- Mindfulness Mode with Bruce Langford
- Mindfulness for Beginners with Shaun Donaghy
- Untangle with Patricia Karpas and Ariel Garten
Access unlimited Mindfulness techniques now
At Recoverlution we are focused not only on knowledge and connection but also on increasing well-being. By subscribing to our dedicated to addiction Wellness Hub you will have unlimited access to many different forms of mindfulness, including meditation, breath work, yoga and so much more.
Join us on our journey of recovery as we embrace and celebrate our recovery by improving our well-being and becoming the very best versions of ourselves.
- When science meets mindfulness: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients/
- The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Britta-Holzel/publication/273774412_The_neuroscience_of_mindfulness_meditation/links/550ca4970cf27526109679f3/The-neuroscience-of-mindfulness-meditation.pdf
- 5 Ways Mindfulness Practice Positively Changes Your Brain: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindfulness-insights/201905/5-ways-mindfulness-practice-positively-changes-your-brain
- Mindfulness research update 2008 : https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1533210108329862
- Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement for Chronic Pain and Prescription Opioid Misuse: Results from an Early Stage Randomized Controlled Trial: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4076008/
- What are the benefits of mindfulness: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner
- Mindfulness https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness