Mindfulness and Addictions
You might have heard the word 'mindfulness' in relation to mental health and addictions recovery...but what exactly is mindfulness, and why is it so important?
So, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a very simple idea - it's being fully aware of your experience in the present moment. The literal meaning of mindfulness is being "full of mind", which is the opposite of being on auto-pilot. We spend a lot of our time in auto-pilot without realising it. Have you ever jumped in your car to drive somewhere, then before you know it, you're there...almost not sure how you made it, because you weren't really paying attention? That's the opposite of mindful driving! Mindfulness is simply being "tuned in" to your current state. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor and researcher who has studied mindfulness extensively, describes it as "the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment".
How does mindfulness help with recovery from an addiction?
There is a significant amount of research which shows that mindfulness can support us with many things, including reducing stress, increase our ability to regulate difficult emotions, sharpens our memory and attention, helps us feel more compassionate towards ourselves and others, feel more secure and have increased self-worth and self-esteem...the list truly goes on and on. Not only are these all good skills for living a happy life, they're all essential skills that serve and support our recovery from addiction.
It's important to note that when we're actively in the addiction cycle, this is the opposite of mindfulness - which is usually a big part of the appeal. Recovery from an addiction can be a forceful return to being aware of painful thoughts and feelings for some people, and mindfulness can heighten this. For those of us who have experienced trauma, mindfulness can be very difficult to do, and may cause uncomfortable feelings to increase. If this is the case for you, I recommend using mindfulness techniques carefully and talking to a counsellor who can show you other ways of supporting yourself, such as self-soothing and self-care techniques.
Don't be alarmed - mindfulness isn't about meditating for hours on end!
Meditation is one way of practising mindfulness, but it's not the only way. In fact, meditation is only a very small part of mindfulness. You don't have to spend hours on mindfulness, and you don't have to spend any money. In fact, there are hundreds of simple ways to practice mindfulness in day to day life. You can practice on the bus or train, in the shower, walking somewhere, sitting at your desk. Every day will present you with many opportunities to practice mindfulness once you begin. Use as many of your senses as you can - what can you see, hear, smell, taste and touch?
5 simple, easy ways to start using mindfulness for addictions recovery
1. Making tea or coffee
Rather than rushing through or thinking about something else, practice mindfully making your drink. There are lots of opportunities for noticing as you go...notice the steam coming from the kettle as it boils, and the condensation building inside the lid. Notice the smell of the tea or coffee as you open the jar, the sound the hot water makes as you pour it over and the sound the spoon makes against the mug as you stir. Then notice the taste of the drink - if it's not too hot, hold it in your mouth for a moment. What do you taste and smell? Do you notice anything you don't usually taste? Does "tuning in" to your drink help you enjoy it more? How do you feel after these few minutes of mindful noticing?
2. Taking a stroll outside
Take a walk, and use your five senses as you do. What do you see, hear, smell, taste or touch/feel? Remember - you're simply observing what's around you without judgement. You might find you get distracted by thoughts as you notice things...perhaps something like "I see a tree and I can smell its flowers. Geez, that tree really needs a trim, I should call a gardener and get it cut. I'm sure I had a phone number for a gardener somewhere, I wonder where it went?" If this happens, that's fine - just redirect yourself by saying something like "Oops, I got distracted. Back to mindfulness...I see a tree, I hear cars in the distance, I feel the sun on my back as I walk". You might have to do this many times, but that's okay!
3. Feel for your pulse
Place the tip of your thumb and forefinger together, as if you are pinching something very gently. What sensation do you notice? Can you feel your pulse? What sensations do you feel - tingling, pulsing, clamminess? Gently move your fingers - does it feel the same or different? What other thoughts, feelings or sensations do you notice as you do this?
4. Look around you
Did you ever play "Spotto" in the car as a kid - the game where you look for yellow cars and yell "Spotto!" when you find one? Do something similar as a quick mindfulness activity...how many yellow things can you see around you right now? (No need to yell "Spotto" when you see them, though!)
5. Body scan
Wherever you're sitting, standing or lying, bring your awareness to the top of your head. What do you notice? Slowly do a "scan" down your body, noticing any sensations as you go. As you scan, you might notice neck pain, or a back ache, or tension. Your job is to simply observe what is happening within you without judging it. You can also soften your muscles as you scan, if you want to.
You can see that mindfulness is a simple, yet hugely beneficial way of supporting yourself and your recovery. If you want to learn more about mindfulness and addiction recovery, click here to contact me.
Until next time,
For research citations about the many benefits of mindfulness, click here: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition#why-practice
The content of this blog is based on our counsellors' academic and clinical experience, but does not constitute therapeutic advice. This blog is intended as general information about counselling, psychotherapy, addictions and mental health issues only. For specific treatment related to you or someone you know, please contact us via www.sydneyaddictionsrecovery.com to discuss your needs.