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“Wherever you are, be there totally.” Eckhart Tolle

These words of wisdom from the renowned best-selling author and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle are sometimes, oftentimes, easier said than done. When it comes to being in the moment, or practicing mindfulness, it is something that many seek but find elusive. 

The practice of mindfulness is valuable for all, however, it is particularly helpful for those with addictions and certain other mental health disorders. Learning to slow down, be present, and stop chasing all of the ‘nexts’, is key to peace of mind, serenity, and living your authentic life. 

If you are living with an addiction, to alcohol or another substance, this mindfulness can be a key ingredient in long-lasting sobriety. 

So what exactly is ‘mindfulness’? Today, we hear this word used a lot but many don’t understand what it really is and how it can transform your life. Mindfulness is defined as being fully present and aware of what we are doing and where we are. In other words, being in the present moment. 

Yes, this sounds simple, however, it can be far from simple for so many. This is particularly true if you suffer from certain types of mental health disorders such as addiction, anxiety, and depression. In both addiction and most types of anxiety, the mind tends to ‘race’, jumping from one thought to the next, one worry to the next, and so on. 

Mindfulness practice seeks to stop this racing of the mind and bring calmness, peace of mind, and clarity. And when practiced regularly, this is achieved by many who once found this ‘peace of mind’ to be elusive.

Understanding Mindfulness

While immensely popular today, mindfulness really began as a part of several Eastern religions. In Buddhism, mindfulness is closely tied to sati, as well as part of Zen, Tibetan, and Vipassana techniques for meditation. Vipassana is a Buddhist term that translates to ‘insight’. Sati is the first of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and means awareness or mindfulness. 

Mindfulness gained popularity in the Western parts of the world in the 1970s. During this time, Dr. Jon Kabot-Zin PhD. began a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center that quickly transformed into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).  

This has become the basis of many programs that treat mental health disorders such as those mentioned; addiction, anxiety, depression, and other stress-related issues. Mindfulness practice has been well-received and utilized in places such as schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans’ centers, and substance abuse treatment centers

Research has shown that practicing mindfulness brings many positive changes in both the body and the mind. Mindfulness helps to relieve worry as well as improve stress-related physical problems in the body. 

When it comes to mindfulness-based addiction treatment programming there is also strong evidence to validate its usefulness. From helping to slow and stop the racing minds to allowing the mind to calm in order to make thoughtful, clear decisions, those individuals who have used mindfulness as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program have found peace of mind. 

For many with addiction issues, they have become accustomed to operating in full flight or fight mode. Flight or fight mode is our body’s response to stressful situations. Years ago before our times of modern conveniences, our bodies’ endocrine systems would produce high amounts of adrenaline and cortisol—both hormones which produce a burst of energy. This was needed in the days long ago where real-life threats were part of daily life. 

Today, however, while these threats are gone, our bodies still respond in this same way to today’s stressors. From things like family and job responsibilities to difficult relationships and financial concerns, our bodies continue to respond by producing both of these hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol. 

The problem? 

These were intended only as short-term bursts of energy and hormones. In our world today, many times these hormones remain at high levels and can wreak havoc on many parts of the body. 

Health issues associated with this longer than intended elevation in the flight or fight hormones often results in:

  • Maladaptive coping techniques (drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, overeating)
  • High blood pressure
  • Unhealthy weight issues
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Upper gastrointestinal or digestive issues
  • Heart problems both with irregular rhythms and heart disease
  • Body aches such as chronic headaches and back pain
  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression

Not only do these issues cause daily problems with physical and mental health, when this is left to continue for years, but more serious long-term issues also arise. Today, many in our world look to medications or simple fixes for issues like these. However, the ‘quick fix’ many seek isn’t what we are used to using to solve these problems. 

Mindfulness practice offers a simple, free remedy for these issues caused by stress and the related coping techniques adopted. Thousands upon thousands of individuals once stressed, confused, and full of anxiety, have found that the regular practice of mindfulness has been part of what has transformed their lives. 

How It Works: Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment and Mental Health Programs

Mindfulness practice is something anyone can do at any time. There are no special tools or gadgets, phone apps, or courses that need to be taken to practice mindfulness. It is something you can start right here, right now—all you need is the desire to feel better and the willingness to try something new. 

Mindfulness is simply being in the present moment. For those who engage in mindfulness meditation, this practice is focused on allowing one’s thoughts to enter the mind free from judgment. Thoughts come and go in mindfulness meditation and there are no expectations tied to them. 

For some types of practices, you focus on something like your breathing or repeating a certain mantra. However, mindfulness isn’t only practiced through meditation. Mindfulness can be practiced—and should be—during your daily life and routines. 

From being present while washing dishes and walking to the mailbox to practicing mindfulness while out in nature or with friends and loved ones, mindfulness can become a part of your day, every day. 

And this is really how we were intended to live. Being present, without worry or fear, in each step of your life journey.

There are different models for mindfulness practice such as the two-component model, the five aggregate model, and more. The most important part of mindfulness practice is to engage in regular practice. 

When it comes to treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and substance use disorder (SUD), research suggests it is valuable when it is used as part of a comprehensive treatment program. 

Evidence suggests that mindfulness-based addiction treatment has positive benefits. One study published in the Journal of Substance Use and Misuse found that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs)reduced the intake of several substances. These substances are cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, and amphetamines, and opiates. 

In addition, the study states that MBIs also reduce cravings and lead to more mindfulness in daily life. 

So how exactly does mindfulness-based addiction treatment work?

Neuroscience suggests that addiction is a result of a triggered cycle of cognitive, affective, and psychophysiological mechanisms that compel the individual to seek out and use alcohol or drugs. This drug-seeking behavior is a result of certain environmental factors and drug-related cues in the brain. 

MBIs target this cycle and seek to disrupt it leading the individual to make other choices than to seek out and use alcohol or drugs. And it seems to work. 

Mindfulness when used in addiction treatment works by enhancing the mind’s ability to regulate certain cognitive functions. These include clarifying cognitive interpretations of situations, regulating negative emotions which leads to clearer thinking and emotional control, increasing mental control when it comes to drug or alcohol cravings, and restoration of the body and mind’s natural reward system. 

As mentioned, nothing is needed to start practicing mindfulness other than willingness and an open mind. Here are two ways to get started practicing mindfulness on your own:

  • Meditation

While many think of someone sitting cross-legged for hours chanting when it comes to mediation, this is only one type of meditation. Meditation is a great place to start practicing mindfulness and it need not be for hours. Meditation practices can be seated, walking, or lying down. There are guided meditations that may help you get started. Beginning with just a few minutes each day works wonders on the body, mind, and soul.

  • Mindfulness in activities

In addition to meditation to cultivate mindfulness, you can also bring mindfulness into your daily activities. You do this by focusing on each aspect of the present moment. Are you washing dishes? Feel the warmth of the water, the sound of the soap bubbles popping, the lines of the dish you are washing. Simply using our senses to observe what is going on around us without passing judgment or wanting to change any of it is being present and what mindfulness is all about. 

No matter which you start with you can do both and experiment with what environments and approaches work best for you. With regular mindfulness practice, the body releases stress and experiences a relaxation response. This relaxation response decreases the activity (and overactivity) of the sympathetic nervous system. This is what controls our flight or fight response. 

Mindfulness practice also can lead to:

  • Reduction in anxiety and depression
  • Decrease in drug and alcohol use
  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure
  • Improved sleep
  • Deeper and more regular sense of relaxation
  • Reduction in rapid breathing
  • Decrease in stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline)
  • Increased sense of well being and overall contentment

If you are looking to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, alcohol consumption, or drug use, mindfulness can be part of a comprehensive treatment program that will lead to the life you truly want to live. 

Futures Recovery Healthcare offers multiple pathways for recovery including the practice of mindfulness as part of our evidence-based treatment programs. If you or a loved one needs help for an alcohol or substance abuse issue—or is struggling with a mental health problem—Futures is here for you. Our caring and compassionate team are devoted to helping each person who walks through our doors build a foundation for recovery. Call us today at 866-804-2098 or visit us online.

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