If you’ve glimpsed at a newsstand, browsed a bookstore, or read a wellness publication online in the past few years, you’ve no doubt heard of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a mental practice where you train your mind to focus on the “now.” It can be practiced anywhere in just a few minutes, whether you are in line at a grocery store, in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment, or even sitting in traffic.
Those in recovery can use mindfulness practices to slow down and live in the present moment, taking the mantra of “one day at a time” quite literally and bringing it down to one moment in time. Some studies show mindfulness meditation can play a role in helping people stay clean and sober.
Mindfulness Training May Help in Recovery
Some studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help prevent relapse of drug and alcohol use. In one University of Washington study of 286 people, only 8% of people who used mindfulness meditation in recovery relapsed after one year, compared to 20% who used traditional approaches for relapse prevention.
For best results, experts recommend that patients in recovery work with a mindfulness professional for treatment. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) may help enhance cognitive regulation of key processes. Essentially, mindfulness breaks the link between stress and addiction, and helps addicts make better choices in the face of temptation. Mindfulness can also help to “uncouple drug-use triggers from conditioned appetitive responses,” according to one study published in the National Library of Medicine.
How Does Mindfulness Work to Prevent Relapse?
In essence, mindfulness can spark recovering addicts to pause and consider their decisions when they are faced with situations where they might be tempted to return to their old habits. Mindfulness can also help reduce stress, which, by itself, can reduce the urge to return to substance abuse.
A comprehensive study from 2018 based on more than a decade of research, also spotlighted specific ways that mindfulness practices, including mindfulness meditation, helped those in recovery.
Mindfulness Training May Restructure the Reward Centers of the Brain
Addicts often indulge in harmful practices because drugs and alcohol activate the reward centers of the brain. Mindfulness training that focuses on “savoring” healthy and pleasant daily life activities — to cultivate focused attention on the natural rewards these activities bring — can offer alternatives to substance abuse.
One eight-week study found that mindfulness intervention helped increase patient’s natural reward responsiveness for everyday activities.
Mindfulness Can Reduce Stress Responses
Many addicts turn to alcohol and harmful substances as a response to stress. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress and help people self-regulate their stress responses. Mindfulness can help slow your heart rate and reduce blood pressure in stressful situations.
By helping you focus on the “now,” rather than focusing on worst-case scenarios of what could happen, you’ll feel calmer and less likely to turn to current or prior addictions as a means of escape during stress.
Mindfulness Can Work with Cognitive Therapy to Help Those in Recovery Make Better Choices
Practicing mindfulness can help people make better decisions. Mindfulness puts us in touch with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When faced with a decision that could put a recovering addict in danger of relapsing, taking a few seconds to be in the moment and practice mindfulness can help disrupt cravings, reduce stress, and influence better decision-making.
Mindfulness is the exact opposite of automatic behaviors, which can often trigger substance abuse or relapses. Instead of automatically turning to negative behaviors, the individual pauses, practices awareness of their mind and body, and can then make a better choice.
Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
In addition to helping those in recovery make better choices, mindfulness meditation has been shown to have many other health benefits. Mindfulness meditation can:
- Reduce blood pressure
- Boost immunity
- Reduce pain
- Lower heart rate for improved health
- Improve sleep
All of these positive benefits can, additionally, help those in recovery think more clearly and practice more willpower when faced with challenging situations. If you feel your best, you can think your best and make better decisions for your life.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation practices can run the gamut from hour-long sessions or more, down to taking a few moments to focus on your breath in a public place. You can practice mindfulness while eating, brushing your teeth, walking, washing dishes, exercising, and doing virtually any activity.
To practice mindfulness, pay attention to the sensations you’re feeling, the movement of your body, and your own breath. To take the leap to mindfulness meditation, find a quiet place where you can sit straight with your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and focus only on your breath. When you find a thought rushing into your mind, acknowledge it. Don’t try to fight your thoughts, simply acknowledge them and then return your focus to your own breathing. The more you practice it, the easier it gets to hold your focus with a clear mind for longer periods of time.
Once you’ve honed the practice of mindfulness meditation, you can draw on it in times of stress to slow down your thought process and embrace new actions instead of falling into old habits.
Mindfulness is just one aspect of recovery. If you need a more help rediscovering a sober life, reach out to Beachside Rehab in West Palm Beach, Florida, a respected facility that offers inpatient and outpatient detox, rehab, and holistic recovery. Call 866-349-1770 to speak with a trained admissions counselor.
Photo by S Migaj on Unsplash