Mindfulness is a state of mental consciousness or awareness which is achieved by acknowledging one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations at the present moment. As mindfulness is about your internal state, it also should encompass being conscious of your external surroundings. There is a vast amount of information on mindfulness, and each may have small to great variances based on which philosophy or part of the world they are extracting to look at the topic of mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness can greatly assist you in addiction recovery and treatment.
Of all the varying views on mindfulness there are some concrete similarities. Some of these similarities are in the basic principles of mindfulness. The seven basic principles are non-judgment, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, patience, acceptance, and letting go. It is important to note here that the principles are not in any set order. Non-Judgment is directly as it is named, the principle here it to be non-judgmental of others. An important part of the concept of non-judgment is that you should apply being non-judgmental to yourself as well as to others. An example of how this would apply to you, is in not judging yourself for the thoughts that enter your mind or judging yourself for having such thoughts, it is natural to have undesirable thoughts, just important to not act on them.
The principle of the beginner’s mind is a basic concept, not an easy concept, for being mindful in which it is important to not allow your past experiences and ideas to cloud your current views. The idea here is that with your past experiences every situation is different and therefore should not completely influence any current situation. This concept can be hard to fully practice but is greatly useful to not allow our past to have too large of an impact on our current situations. In the realm of mindfulness, the principle of trust is for you to trust your instincts more. How this is different is to trust your internal instincts over that of the noise of what other people or society state is the moral or correct path. This does not mean leaving all societal norms unnoticed, as those are important in how we navigate the world, but to rather not trust all principles without internal thought on them.
Non-striving is a principle that will assist you with being more mindful of the current progress in your life. The idea is that most people are always striving for something greater. This is fine to have as a drive in life, but that striving often causes individuals to not be happy with where they are currently and find peace in the progress they have made in life. By practicing non-striving a person will be more content with where they are in life while still being able to pursue their goals. The principle of patience is about living in the present moment and being mindful of the current point in time. Many people are preoccupied with trying to control the future or worrying about the past. The past cannot be changed and wishing the future would happen and change would be present is also not of any assistance in the current point of time. By this practice you are more at peace in the current time and more mindful of your current situation.
One of the principles of mindfulness that can be a little harder to understand is that of acceptance. By the mainstream definition of acceptance, a person would believe that it means to be in approval of something, which is not the case in mindfulness. Acceptance in this principle means that you understand what is happening in the current moment is true and seeing the moment for what it truly is, which is different than approving of the situation. You can see a moment in its truthfulness without having to approve of that situation. It is this clarity to see how a situation is at that moment which assists with mindfulness. The last principle of mindfulness is letting go. This simply is being able to not ruminate or fixate on a situation. This goes with acceptance, in that you need to not ruminate on a situation but accept it for what it is and let go of that stress around the situation.
The Benefits of Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery
A main benefit of mindfulness in addiction recovery and treatment is the truer understanding of your current situation the better you can continue in your recovery. As mentioned in the principles section a large concept of mindfulness is seeing situations for what they really are. The other parts of the principles of mindfulness are to not dwell on the past or focus too much on the future and desiring that future to be now. In addiction treatment and recovery it is important to realistically know where you are at in the process of recovery. It is equally important to celebrate where you are at in recovery, whether it is early in recovery or sustained recovery, such as with the principle of non-striving. No matter where you are at in recovery this is something to celebrate.
Mindfulness will assist you in increased self-awareness which is crucial to addiction recovery and treatment. With a higher sense of self-awareness, you are more truly connected with everything going on in your life and around you. This is important as it will assist you in understanding what started and has assisted in continuing the addiction in your life. When you are self-aware you can truly see where areas in your life, thoughts, feelings, surroundings, and situations which need to be changed to further support your addiction recovery efforts and to have recovery a consistent part of your life.
Another use of mindfulness in addiction recovery and treatment is that of assisting in reducing cravings and impulsive behaviors. Both cravings and impulsive thoughts (which lead to behaviors) will always be there, but with mindfulness you are more consciously aware of these. For mindfulness to help here you would use the guiding principles of beginner’s mind and acceptance. As these the thoughts which cause cravings come in, you can see them for what they are without the past ideas and experiences associated with them using beginner’s mind. Then you can start to train yourself to handle situations, people, places, and things that caused cravings differently all without substance usage. For impulsive behaviors you need to accept that they are there, but do not have to agree with or act upon them. The ideas will come but knowing them as what they truly are will allow you to diffuse them and not give into the destructive behaviors.
Mindfulness will assist in improving your emotional regulation, which will also assist in the prior area of cravings and impulsive behaviors. Also having more emotional regulation is useful overall in life and in decreasing everyday stress, which often stress is a common trigger for those in addiction recovery and treatment. Mindfulness takes much practice to assist in emotional regulation, but it will work over time. As you start to be more accepting of how things are, letting go of the past, and slowing down your concerns over future changes, you will find a decrease in stress as your emotions are more stable. Often emotional distress (the stress which is harmful and not motivating) is a common trigger for substance usage in those who have struggles with addiction.
Coping skills will enhance as your sense of mindfulness increases. Mindfulness includes many coping skills outside of bringing a person’s attention to the present moment, without judgment, and how they truly are. Some of these coping skills, which will be explained in more detail in future blogs and in Milestones Wellness Centers Psychoeducational Platform, are related to stress reduction. The strategies of guided imagery, mindful observation, breathing exercises, meditation, among others are related to mindfulness and coping skills for stress reduction.
Mindfulness will assist you with becoming more resilient in your everyday life. This is achieved through all the concepts previously discussed. As your mindfulness increases your stress level decreases, you have enhanced coping skills, your emotional regulations is more advanced, and overall level of self-awareness has increased. When you add all of these together you are greatly more resilient in multiple areas of life which ultimately will assist you in your addiction recovery and treatment.