Maintaining Mindfulness in Recovery

What is Mindfulness? 

Introduced by the Buddha as a path to spiritual enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago, mindfulness is essentially the art of being present in our own lives. It’s a gentle way of opening our mind to greater awareness; to a truer, deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. Maintaining a mindful recovery means owning each moment- good, bad, or ugly. Being grounded is a basic step in the state of being mindful. So why should we care about being mindful in today’s world? Mindfulness contributes to a richer, fuller life because you are noticing all the things around you. How do you maintain mindfulness in recovery? Today we explore this idea. 

Being mindful contributes to greater effectiveness in the here and now. If you get all of the worries and regrets out of your mind, it is easier to focus on the things you want to do in the present.

There are three primary components of mindfulness:

  • It is intentional. The person has to make a conscious effort to catalog what he or she is going through, from one moment to another.
  • It is accepting. The person cannot deny what he or she is sensing.
  • It is nonjudgmental. A person who criticizes himself for what he or she is feeling is not being truly mindful, in the same way that a person who thinks highly of his emotions has not achieved actual mindfulness.

mindfulness in recovery

More Than Just Being Present

Have you ever felt like you are somewhere but you’re really not “there.” In person you are, but in your mind, you’re somewhere else? It’s kind of like daydreaming. If you feel this way, you certainly are NOT present in the situation. You are not giving your best, and you certainly cannot possibly be retaining the value of the situation at hand. 

Being present relies on focusing on the present moment. Especially during mindfulness in recovery. Allowing your attention to be focused on the situation at hand and not thinking about anything else that could be going on in your life. 

A mindful recovery can help to increase awareness of your surroundings and open your eyes to what is going on NOW. For instance, we tend to avoid stressful situations by escaping them and not being present. We think about other things, we browse social media from our phones, we avoid the situation however we can. But, this doesn’t really help to cure the anxiety that comes from the situation. Instead, being mindful and present, we could learn how to cope with the situation in a way that allows us to accept the reality of it and learn. 

For instance, we may pay closer attention to the actions we take or the thoughts we have while being present in the moment. Likewise, we can practice presence by taking small steps to avoid getting distracted when we aren’t anxious and then later applying those steps to situations that do cause anxiety.

Mindfulness in Recovery – How to Find and Maintain 

Those in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, especially, might be able to benefit from mindfulness practices, grounding techniques, and other holistic practices – all of which tie into the concept of staying present. 

When you’re in recovery from substance abuse issues, it’s extremely common to have cravings for your drug of choice, overwhelming emotions, and sometimes reckless urges. Many mindfulness practices exist to manage these phenomena. Substance use disorders often begin as a means of avoiding painful emotions, intrusive thoughts, social anxiety, and physical pain. What begins as a palliative or a crutch soon turns into an addiction. When you practice a mindful recovery, you train yourself to accept whatever you’re experiencing rather than trying to escape it. By accepting what’s happening and investigating the experience, you learn that unpleasant experiences are temporary and tolerable.

Tips for a Mindful Recovery

Mindfulness is most effective when it is done frequently through a formal practice, but it can be practiced virtually anywhere as long as a person can devote time and attention to it. Depending on a person’s needs, some practices may be more beneficial than others. Some options include:

  • Traditional meditation: Finding a quiet place to focus on clearing one’s thoughts and focus on breathing can help a person de-stress.
  • Yoga: Yoga is a popular means of mindfulness in recovery practice as it helps connect the mind and body. Yoga is one type of mindfulness practice that can help health addiction.
  • Being in nature: For some, nature can provide a meditative experience. Walking through nature allows a person to forget about stressors and focus on the moment.

Starting Your Mindfulness Practice

Starting your mindful recovery practice may be intimidating for the simple reason that it can be difficult to know where to start. There are numerous resources or practices one can use when beginning the process.

Set aside time: Making time for meditation is crucial, especially in the early stages. It does not require a huge amount of time—20 minutes per day can be the perfect foundation. If this is too much time, splitting it into two 10-minute sessions can be more manageable.

Expect initial mental chatter: One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is the amount of chatter a person will notice at first. It can make focusing incredibly difficult. In most cases, we do not recognize the chatter in our heads because it is always happening. Once we take a moment to try to meditate, it suddenly becomes more noticeable.

Maintain Focus: Losing focus is one of the hallmarks of substance abuse.  So, if you are in recovery, it is a good idea to work on doing the opposite.  Focus can be difficult to achieve at first because there are so many distracting situations and thoughts that make it hard to fully engage in the moment.  When you’re learning mindfulness in recovery practice makes perfect.  Focus becomes easier as you work at it, but don’t worry if you are having trouble.

Pay attention to why you have cravings: Once you are an addict, you will always, especially during stressful situations, feel some longing to return to your drug or drink of choice.  Because of this it is possible that you will continue to have cravings and react to situations in a way that can bring back your addictive behavior. Stay in the moment and look at the reasons behind the craving or the negative reaction.  What is happening that is refocusing your memory on the mistakes of the past?  Why would you react to a situation in a way that would bring back the need to drink or pick up drugs again?  Look at what is happening right now and see that it is actually no reason to fall back on old patterns. 

Seek tools to improve practice: There are numerous materials available to help develop meditative practices. Book, videos, and audio recordings can guide many through meditation and best practices.

Seek a meditative guide: Sometimes, the best action is to seek the help of an expert. A meditative guide can help you through the process of becoming more mindful. Their experience can introduce you to new methods you may not have previously considered and help you progress faster.

Why Work on Mindfulness in Recovery?

Recovery from substance abuse issues and other mental health conditions tends to involve the implementation of new, healthy coping skills to manage uncomfortable emotions and cravings. Mindfulness techniques and daily intentions to remain grounded in the present moment may be one of the best natural coping skills someone can employ.

The part of your brain responsible for higher reasoning essentially gets cut out of the decision-making process and you react reflexively to stimuli associated with drugs and alcohol. Practicing mindfulness gradually undoes this conditioning. One imaging study of expert meditators found that mindfulness meditation actually changes the structure of the brain. 

The prefrontal cortex–the part responsible for attention, self-control, planning, and working memory, among other things–becomes thicker and more connected to other areas of the brain. And the amygdala–a part of the brain involved with emotional responses, especially identifying threats and initiating the “fight or flight” response–becomes smaller. In other words, when you practice mindfulness meditation, you feel less threatened by things in general and you are better able to think things through. 

Working Through Mindfulness in Recovery – Holistic Treatment at Little Creek

Prolonged substance use can cause changes in brain chemistry and affect mood, behavior, and physical health. It would be a mistake only to treat our clients’ physical or behavioral symptoms. For this reason, we developed a holistic approach that takes into account the patient’s entire well-being. Mindfulness in recovery starts at the ground level during early treatment and recovery. However, in most cases, treatment begins by helping the body get rid of toxins. There can be very little progress in behavioral therapy if patients are still struggling with the physical symptoms of withdrawal. At the Little Creek drug and alcohol rehab Pennsylvania, our goal is to achieve a complete recovery. We support our patients to lead fulfilling lives and reintegrate as productive members of society.

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