5 Ways Mindfulness Can Help You Overcome Addiction
In the past twenty years or so, mindfulness meditation has gone from a fringe spiritual practice to a common therapeutic technique with an ever-broadening array of applications. There is now quite a bit of scientific evidence backing up the effectiveness of mindfulness practices. Much of this evidence comes from clinical applications and brain imaging studies. Perhaps the most surprising result from these studies is that mindfulness practice can physically change your brain in as little as 20 minutes a day for eight weeks. A Harvard study found that eight weeks of a method called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction was found to increase volume in areas of the brain responsible for memory, body sensations, social cognition, attention, and emotional regulation. These structural changes correlate with changes in emotion and they tend to persist even when you’re not actively practicing mindfulness. In other words, there is a lot of research showing that mindfulness is one way you can physically change your brain for the better. Here are some of the ways mindfulness meditation can help you overcome addiction.
Rumination is the tendency to dwell on repetitive negative thoughts. These are often thoughts about mistakes you’ve made in the past or worries about something that may happen in the future. When we ruminate, we feel like we’re thinking about how to solve a problem, but in fact we are more often just digging ourselves deeper into feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. Even worse, we’re often not even aware we’re doing it. Rumination is a common feature of depression and anxiety, which often accompany substance use disorders.
Mindfulness is one of the best methods of stopping rumination because it is a way to deliberately practice living in the present moment. Many people are so used to the habit of dwelling on worry or regret that they don’t even notice they aren’t living in the present. When you focus on things that happened in the past or the future, your mind and body essentially respond as if those things are actually happening. As a result, on a perfectly fine day, you might find yourself reliving the most painful moment of your life over and over. When you live in the present, none of that exists. You’re dealing with whatever is actually happening, which is usually manageable, even if it’s sometimes unpleasant. Mindfulness helps you let go of rumination by learning to focus on what’s happening now.
Helps you tolerate cravings
A major component of mindfulness is paying attention to sensations in the body without judging them. This has the surprising benefit of making unpleasant sensations more tolerable. You might think that being more aware of sensations would make painful sensations even worse, but that turns out not to be true in the case of mindfulness. What happens instead when you learn to let go of judgments and just feel the sensations themselves is that your brain learns to recategorize pain as something else.
Typically, it’s not the sensation itself, but the belief that something is damaging our bodies that makes us want to avoid it. Normally, that’s a healthy response, but when your response is to use a dangerous substance to avoid pain, that’s not healthy. So, for example, if you experience a craving, you might feel like you must use again. Cravings are one of the biggest challenges people face in recovery. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to accept the craving and investigate it. Where exactly do you feel it? What exactly does it feel like? This kind of mindful inquiry turns a craving into a collection of sensations that are much easier to tolerate.
Helps you regain cognitive control
One of the more frustrating aspects of addiction is that people feel like they have very little control over addictive behavior. The big rewards drugs cause in the pleasure centers of the brain cause you to learn addictive behaviors very quickly. These behaviors become habitual to the point where they feel like they happen automatically. Indeed, brain scans show that people with a long history of addiction often lose connection between the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for judgment and self-control, and the parts of the brain responsible for addictive behavior. As a result, many people feel like they want to quit but just can’t.
Mindfulness helps re-establish the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain. Mindfulness meditation is essentially a daily practice in attention and awareness. It helps develop metacognitive awareness, or awareness of what’s going on inside your own mind. You start to notice what kinds of thoughts are linked to negative emotions and cravings. Also, you become more aware of what you’re doing in daily life. You gradually learn to have more control over automatic behaviors because you gain more insight into how they work.
Increases emotional awareness
As noted above, mindfulness can help you notice how thoughts and emotions are connected. Many people are surprised to discover that emotions are often just as much physical as mental. Mindfulness helps you notice how you experience emotions in your body. The more sensitive you are to these subtle changes, the more tools you have at your disposal to manage your mental state. This is especially important since many people with substance use disorders also have co-occurring conditions characterized by emotional volatility. Strong emotions may also cause cravings so learning to recognize and regulate those emotions is a valuable skill.
Gratitude is one of the biggest factors shown to increase happiness. Gratitude makes you feel more positive and less vulnerable. It makes you focus on what’s going right instead of what’s going wrong. However, if you’re always worried about the future or regretting the past, you’re not aware of the good things that are happening right now. Mindfulness helps you appreciate the positive things in your life, especially the little things, like the nice weather or a satisfying meal.
Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.