We sometimes hear the term, “mindfulness.” But what is it exactly, and how can mindfulness meditation help with addiction recovery? Here we take a look at ways that mindfulness meditation has been proven to help those who are in recovery, and how you can incorporate some simple meditation techniques into your daily life.
Stress and triggers (those people, places, things, and situations that make you want to use again) are primary reasons why someone relapses into addiction. This is especially true during the early stages of the recovery process.
The fact that addicted people often relapse in response to what most people would consider mild stressors suggests that they may be more sensitive to stress than those who are not addicted to drugs. Having a daily mindfulness practice can help with this by making us more aware of our reactions to stressors and hence empower us with the mental fortitude to endure addiction related urges that could potentially lead to a relapse.
What is Mindfulness?
According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment. It teaches you to acknowledge and observe your thoughts, emotions, overall situation and, furthermore, awareness of yourself.
Being ‘mindful’ creates a moment of separation, a pause, between feeling something and reacting to it. It is within this moment that the meditation practitioner has the opportunity to change a behaviour and related tangible outcome. Through the regular practice of mindfulness meditation, you can train your mind to consciously accept stressors and triggers, without responding to them via negative thought patterns and knee-jerk reactions.
Over time, mindfulness meditation can actually rewire your brain by creating positive connections between different areas of the brain and decreasing activity in the “me-centre,” the part of the brain that constantly references back to you, your perspective and experiences, as well as wandering thinking that is associated with unhappiness. This helps ease addiction-related stress by decoupling the state of someone craving a drug from the act of engaging in substance abuse, so that one element does not have to lead to the other.
Proof That Mindfulness Meditation Helps with Addiction Recovery
Studies have proven that meditation is a powerful tool that can be used to battle addiction. Yale University School of Medicine researchers found that smokers who had received mindfulness training were more likely to quit smoking, both in the short and for the long-term. University of Washington researchers found that people who use a mindfulness approach for treatment were also at lower risk for resuming drug and alcohol use.
University of Washington researcher, Sarah Bowen, says “It’s a human tendency to want to have pleasure and want to avoid pain or discomfort.” This is exemplified in the way people eat in order to deal with (or avoid) stress, or how they reach for their cell phone to avoid boredom. Substance abuse is another consequence of this automatic human drive, a condition that mindfulness can help you overcome.
Simple Mindfulness Techniques That You Can Try Today
You do not have to go on a far-flung, weeks-long meditation retreat to begin your mindfulness practice. Start with a simple exercise that only takes a few minutes. Meditation becomes easier with time. The more you practice, the easier it is to transition into a mindful state of being and reap the rewards from changing your lifestyle. Here are a few techniques.
Sit or stand in a comfortable position. Take a moment to become aware of your surroundings. Try your best not to think about what happened earlier in your day and the things you have to do later. Be in the moment by focusing on your breathing and begin to slow it down. Take long, deep breaths – six counts in; six counts out. Focus on the sensation of your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Start by doing this for one minute. With each time you meditate, increase the amount of time as it becomes easier to stay focused.
Choose a natural object from your surroundings, such as an insect, a plant, or a tree. All you need to do for this exercise is simply notice and observe the object. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time; completely observe it. Contemplate its role in the ecosystem and the world overall. This enhances your connection to your natural environment.
Instead of going through your day on autopilot, take a moment to purposefully observe what you are doing and the blessings it brings to your life. Choose an everyday activity, such as opening a door, eating a meal or washing the dishes. This time, instead of just doing the task mindlessly, become fully aware of what you are doing in that moment.
For example, take a minute to appreciate your physical ability to open a door and the emotions you have in anticipation of what is on the other side of it. Acknowledge all of the work done by others in order for food to be made readily available to you and observe your meal with all of your senses. Whilst eating, notice how your jaws are moving, the flavours and texture of the food, and what it feels like when you are swallowing. As you wash the dishes, notice the fragrance of the detergent, the feeling of the suds on your skin, and the shape of each plate and utensil.
This alone will bring you into a state of presence and reduce your anxieties about the past and the future, which do not really exist anyway. All we have is the present moment.
Resources to Help You Cultivate a Daily Mindfulness Practice
While practicing mindfulness is very much a personal, internal, process, here are some external resources that will support your journey to mindfulness and long-term addiction recovery.
Sydney Meditation Centre runs regular meditation and mindfulness courses in East Sydney and Chatswood. Sessions focus on teaching meditation and mindfulness as simple and practical skills.
Mahasiddha Kadampa Meditation Centre is a Buddhist meditation centre and temple offering weekly drop-in classes and at multiple locations. Introductory classes, guided meditation and study programmes are available.
Rigpa Sydney is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation centre offering free weekly drop-in guided meditations, one-day workshops and courses, such as its “What Meditation Really Is” beginner’s course.
The Miracle of Mindfulness is an accessible guide to classic meditation techniques created by world-renowned Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World teaches a set of simple and effective practices that can be incorporated into daily life to help promote joy by breaking the cycle of stress, anxiety and mental exhaustion.
The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People – Adult colouring books are becoming a popular way to relieve stress. This illustrated book is filled with templates for intricate scenes and patterns that prompt you to meditate on your artwork as you mindfully and creatively fill the pages with colour.
Stop, Breathe & Think – This free app includes a physical, mental and emotional check-in function that recommends selected meditations for you based on your input, and then the app rewards you for your progress. Most meditations are 3-5 minutes long, which means you can easily take a moment to recharge at work or wind down before bed.
Calm – This user-friendly app, which originated from Calm.com, includes the introduction to a meditation program called “7 Steps of Calm,” guided meditation sessions from 2 to 30 minutes in-length, and 10 nature scenes with background sounds that you can choose from to help you relax and rejuvenate.
Headspace was designed by meditation teacher, Andy Puddicombe. It provides 10-minute meditation sessions in an easily relatable and enjoyable instruction format. The first 10 days are free of charge.
Mindfulness as a Part of Your Overall Addiction Recovery Treatment Plan
Mindfulness (which is only one aspect of the addiction recovery process) can be a highly complementary part of your overall treatment plan. It works well in conjunction with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is a modern, evidence-based psychological therapy designed to teach addicts strategies and techniques to help them think positively and rationally.
At The Cabin Sydney, we incorporate CBT and other effective addiction treatment methods into our unique Recovery Zones treatment programme, which is an all-addictions model. Our programme boasts a completion rate of 96% and makes us one of the most effective drug rehabs in New South Wales. Our professional and experienced staff are highly skilled, and many have first-hand experience with addiction. This allows our counsellors to better understand our clients as they go through the recovery process.
If you desire to mindfully gain control over your addiction, contact us today to find out how we can help.