We all have the ability to be fully present and aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment at any given moment. Instead of worrying over the past or imagining the future, we can tune our thoughts into what we are sensing/thinking in the present moment. This is called mindfulness. The three main components of mindfulness include acceptance, intention, and non-judgement. It is important to make a conscious effort to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings from one moment to another without judging them. We must also avoid self-criticism and keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to think or feel.
Anyone can practice mindfulness. Whenever you bring awareness to yourself and what you are experiencing in a given moment, you are being mindful. There is research showing that when you practice mindfulness you are actually rewiring the brain. The practice of being mindful activates parts of the brain that are not normally activated, inducing happiness and even promoting a sense of well-being and creativity. Other research findings indicate that mindfulness also helps regulate stress and anxiety.
With all these health benefits in mind, it should be no surprise that mindfulness can play a monumental role in addiction recovery. In the last 20 years, the practice of mindfulness has been incorporated into a variety of therapies such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. As more is understood about addictive behaviors, this newer method of treatment can be applied to help heal the body and mind.
For example, addiction is usually an automatic behavior used to escape distressing feelings or situations whereas mindfulness calls for a conscious and intentional focus on these distressing emotions as a way to diffuse them. Addiction can also involve denial and lying to others and even the self, often without realizing it. By practicing mindfulness, recovering addicts can evaluate their addictive behaviors, take responsibility for their actions, and feel empowered to make the necessary changes in their lives. Mindfulness is one way for recovering addicts to connect to their inner selves, realize that their reliance on drugs or alcohol is no longer a useful coping mechanism, and develop compassion for themselves and others.
Mindfulness is more readily available to us when we practice it on a daily basis. Throughout the day, the mind is constantly pulled from one thing to another, scattering our thoughts and emotions. This can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and upset. It is essential to our well-being to take just a few minutes a day to bring awareness to the present moment and find a positive mind-body balance.
A few possible exercises include mindful breathing, mindful observation, and mindful appreciation.
Mindful breathing can be done sitting down or standing up. All you have to do is focus on your breath and momentarily let go of things you need to do later alongside any other distracting thoughts, and simply focus on your senses as air enters your body and fills you with life.
Mindful observation is the practice of connecting with the natural environment. For example, while rushing to work you might try to notice the surrounding environment. By focusing on one thing, whether it’s a flower or the clouds, you are allowing yourself to connect with the beauty of nature and its role and purpose in the world.
For mindful appreciation, you could practice noticing five things in your life that usually go unappreciated. The intention of mindful appreciation is to give thanks and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things that are actually vital to your existence.
With the regular practice of mindfulness, we harness our ability to stay fully present and meet life’s challenges with a calm, clear mind. Mindfulness frees us from self-limiting thoughts and behaviors and enables us to instead embrace positive emotions that help us better understand ourselves and others. Additionally, mindfulness has been proven effective in stopping substance abuse by showing the recovering addict how to deal with urges to drink or use drugs. When an addict or recovering addict practices mindfulness, they start to recognize their thought patterns. When they stop to observe their present experience, they realize they have a choice to use or not to use. Mindfulness is a tool that can be applied to all aspects of our lives and offers countless benefits.