Mindfulness is an amazing practice that can bring awareness into our lives that leads to greater control over our emotions and how we react to the world around us. A huge part of addiction recovery is finding this self awareness and harnessing it to overcome cravings for drugs and/or alcohol, so it’s not a surprise that many people in addiction recovery find mindfulness to be an invaluable addition to their holistic treatment regimen. Mindfulness practice is completely accessible for anyone and everyone. It doesn’t cost money or require any fancy equipment, just you and your brain working together to find peace. We’ll talk more about how you can employ mindfulness techniques in your recovery journey below!

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is all about honing in on what you’re feeling in the moment. It’s about fighting the urge to overthink and overprocess stimuli from the outside world. It is encouraged for one to clear their mind of thoughts of the past or worries about the future, and instead channel energy into being present in the moment. Everyone has the ability to channel mindfulness, they just have to utilize techniques in order to get them there.

The brain is an amazing organ specifically designed to change, adapt, and be shaped through experience and practice. Unfortunately, one of the brain’s greatest strengths is also the cause for addiction. When we use harmful substances to trigger pleasurable effects via the brain’s reward center, we unintentionally train our brain to become dependent on that substance to function. But mindfulness works on undoing this by empowering us to intentionally rewire our brain to gain stronger control, awareness, and positivity in our lives.

Why is mindfulness important in addiction recovery?

Consider how much time you spend per day dwelling on things that happened in the past, perhaps wishing desperately that you could go back in time and change or fix things. Or even more likely, you’re angsting over future plans, far off worries, or tasks that need to get done. There are rarely moments where we are truly present in the moment, and this has become a big problem in our busy, nonstop lives. By achieving balance in one’s mind, it’s easier to regulate emotions and thoughts in a way that they do not become overwhelming and stressful, which can lead to unnecessary anxiety. 

Mindfulness is beneficial to all people, but it can make a particularly profound impact on the lives of those struggling with substance abuse. One of the big reasons for this is that there have been many studies that show there is strong evidence connecting chronic stress with the motivation to abuse drugs or alcohol. Why? Well, sometimes stress gets out of control, and we may turn to unhealthy methods of coping with the mounting pressures. Chronic, extreme stress often leads people to addiction, using drugs or alcohol as a way to forget about all of the negative or upsetting things in life that they cannot seem to escape. Stressful experiences during childhood such as physical and sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, family dysfunction, etc are strongly associated with an increased risk for addiction. In addition, unhappy marriages, dissatisfaction with employment, harassment, etc are often cited as major catalysts for addiction.

Learning mindfulness techniques can help addiction recovery patients to begin to change the way they think and react to the stressful situations and stimuli that pushed them to use drugs and alcohol to cope. Before entering treatment for addiction, it’s unlikely that these patients have ever even been aware of the factors that set off their negative thought spiral and unhealthy behavior. Mindfulness allows them to dig deep and examine those triggers and their emotional reactions to them, making them less scary and more manageable. 

How to Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness isn’t just a one-time cure-all, it is a lifestyle. You must be consistent in your practice in order to reap the full potential of its benefits. To start, go over these functions of mindfulness so that you know what you should be working on:

Observing with all senses.

Noticing without getting tangled up in thought.

Participating completely without worry.

Focusing on doing one thing at a time.

Not reacting negatively if your mind wanders, just work on pulling yourself back.

Not judging your experiences or thoughts in a positive or negative light. Simply acknowledge them and move on.

Describing your experience out loud or in a journal. 

Now, here’s how to put those into action:

  1. Sit down. Find a place to sit that is quiet, calm, and comfortable. You can sit on the floor, on a pillow, in a chair, or you may lie down if you find sitting to be uncomfortable. Choose a place where you will not be disturbed or distracted by outside stimuli.
  2. Set a timer. Start with short amounts of time is ideal for beginners, as sitting with an empty mind for thirty minutes can be difficult if you are not used to it. Begin with 5 minutes the first couple days, then increase to ten, and so on. This will help you get a handle on the practice of clearing your mind without overwhelming yourself.
  3. Be aware of your body. Bringing your awareness to the feeling in various parts of your body. This can be very grounding and help keep your mind off of your thoughts.
  4. Feel your breath. Feel the rise and fall of your chest as you inhale and exhale. Slow breathing is optimal during mindfulness practice. You can use a technique called box breathing, which is the practice of breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, and then exhaling for 4 seconds. 
  5. Refocus if necessary. If you feel your mind begin to wander, try to reel it back in as quickly as possible. Don’t feel discouraged if this happens frequently, as it is completely normal, especially for beginners. In fact, it is actually helpful because the more opportunities you get to practice re-focusing your mind on the present moment, the better you will get at doing this in your daily life.

Practice every day!

Life can get busy and often chaotic, but if you schedule out just 5–15 minutes of your day to practice mindfulness, it can change your life. Stress and anxiety can take a toll on those struggling with addiction and attempting to recover, but mindfulness can help abate some of this and provide relief for those who are suffering. 

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.