It is so easy to let our minds wander.
And when they wander, they often take us on journeys we would rather avoid. Our mind might dwell on past mistakes or disappointments; our thoughts might get tangled up in worry about the future; or our mind might simply drift away from the present moment while we think about nothing much at all.
These journeys of the mind—to the past, to the future, or to nowhere in particular—can cause us to miss the present moment and the experiences we are having right now. Everyone experiences this kind of distraction, but for those confronting a substance abuse disorder, these wanderings of the mind can be particularly problematic.
Feelings of regret about the past or worry about the future or even just a kind of blankness of thought can lead to a person to turn to drugs or alcohol to find relief. As a result, it is essential to find a way to make the mind work for us rather than against us.
That’s where the practice of mindfulness can truly make a difference.
What It Means to be Mindful
The idea of mindfulness is pretty simple. You are being mindful when you purposely pay attention to what is happening in the present moment. That includes being aware of your current emotions and experiencing them nonjudgmentally. Sounds easy, but our everyday experience demonstrates that it is an ongoing challenge.
Origins in the East and Applications in the West
Mindfulness has its roots in the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, but the practice found a foothold in the West at the end of the 1970s when Jon Kabat-Zinn launched the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Oasis Institute for Mindfulness-Based Professional Education and Training. Kabat-Zinn introduced an eight week program he called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
More recently, mindfulness has entered the mainstream thanks to online apps and programs that teach the techniques and support regular practice. Some of these apps are free while others are subscription-based, but their goals are similar: to help individuals stay focused on the present moment no matter what thoughts or emotions arise.
Making Mindfulness a Part of Addiction Recovery
So what are the benefits of practicing mindfulness as a way to support ongoing sobriety during recovery?
- First and foremost, mindfulness can reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, thereby breaking what might be called the cycle of negativity.
- Mindfulness can also help those with substance abuse disorders overcome cravings.
- The practice of mindfulness supports clarity of thought, which can improve the decision-making process and make it less likely a person in recovery will pursue destructive behavior.
- Similarly, understanding and recognizing emotions and thoughts in the moment may provide a sort of early warning system for potential relapse.
- Mindfulness may also sharpen a person’s memory, reduce the incidence of insomnia, and promote an overall sense of wellbeing in both the body and the mind.
Knowing Your Mind Can Help You Know Others Better, Too
An additional benefit of mindfulness might be an improvement in your relationships—and, of course, strong relationships are an essential part of the recovery journey.
In The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness, popular mindfulness expert and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe writes:
“It should come as no surprise that the impact this simple skill can have on your relationships with others is quite profound. In becoming more aware of everything and everyone, you inevitably become more aware of others. You start to notice how sometimes you might unintentionally (or even intentionally) push their buttons, or notice what causes them to push yours. You start to listen to what they’re actually saying, rather than thinking about what you’d like them to say or what you’re going to say next. And when these things begin to happen you’ll notice that your relationships with others really start to change. But so long as we’re immersed in our own thoughts the whole time, it’s very difficult to truly find time for others.”
Mindfulness Can Be A Part of Your Recovery from the Beginning
At Bel Aire Recovery Center in Kansas, we understand the potential power of mindfulness as part of a recovery plan. The continuum of care we offer includes mindfulness options and resources that can enhance residential treatment and support ongoing recovery efforts. We are committed to offering a range of treatment options and wellness strategies that will provide a firm foundation for lasting sobriety. When you or a loved one needs a recovery center, we hope you will keep Bel Aire in mind.