There is a surprising connection between mindfulness and addiction, but it’s not what you think. Addiction often takes hold of your life and replacing everything that used to be important until there’s nothing left but thoughts fueled by the addiction.
There is a certain lack of mindfulness, or ability to practice mindfulness, when in the grips of addiction. This is why people living with an addiction often experience a cycle, become distant from friends, lose their job, and spiral downward.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at mindfulness and addiction, in light of how mindfulness becomes a powerful tool during the addiction recovery journey.
Mindfulness and Addiction
Mindfulness is an important part of breaking the cycle of addiction. When you are fully present and aware of your thoughts, you have the time to notice and take control of thoughts that have led to poor choices in the past. Mindfulness is not all-or-nothing: You can start improving in small ways that lead up to a big impact over time.
As you go through your recovery process, here are five ways that you can harness the power of mindfulness to slow down and get in touch with how you are feeling. This awareness can help you overcome cravings and get to the point that being more mindful feels more automatic. While you’re learning, though, be patient with yourself: Becoming more mindful is a process, and it takes time. There will be times that you forget and slip up, and that’s not a problem. The important thing is that you keep trying.
Over time, you’ll notice that you have less anxiety and more control over your addiction. For now, though, just pick one of these strategies and incorporate it into your daily life. When it feels right, move along to another one, then another, and so on. Talk to your counselor about more ways to become more mindful and in touch with your feelings and emotions.
You breathe approximately 12-15 times per minute, or every four or five seconds. When you are anxious, you breathe more quickly, and when you are very relaxed or sleeping you will generally breathe more slowly. Respiration is interesting in the sense that it is both involuntary and voluntary; when you are voluntarily controlling your breathing, you determine the speed and depth, but when you stop focusing on it, your brain and hormones determine the speed and depth.
Consciously slowing your breathing to five or six times per minute (or once every 10 to 12 seconds) gives you the chance to slow down your heartbeat and become more in tune with what your body is doing. Try inhaling slowly for five seconds, followed by exhaling slowly for five seconds. Do this for several minutes at a time, increasing the time slowly as time goes by. While you breathe, focus on how you feel and what you are thinking.
There are so many small details that we miss as we go about our daily lives. When everything becomes overwhelming, it can be easy to get into a negative thought pattern and to focus on unhelpful thoughts. If you notice that you are in this pattern, try using a grounding exercise to bring your attention to the present and stop worrying about the future or ruminating about the past.
Try looking around and finding five things that you can see. Really see them, looking at them from various angles if possible and thinking about the objects. Notice the colors and imagine what their textures would feel like. Next, find four things that you can hear. You might have to really concentrate to pick out four distinct sounds. Think about their volume and other qualities. Next will be three things you can feel, two things that you can smell, and one thing that you can taste. Concentrate on all of these the way you did with the ones you could see.
Let Your Thoughts Go
Many times, we classify thoughts as “good” or “bad.” The truth is, thoughts aren’t good or bad; they just are what they are. They can’t physically hurt you or make you do anything. They’re just thoughts. When you notice that you are having thoughts that are making you anxious or causing you to crave the substances or behavior you’re addicted to, try to stop and notice those thoughts. Tell yourself, “these are just thoughts,” and notice them without judging yourself for having them. Go ahead and tell them to go away if you need to. Recognize that your thoughts are not necessarily helpful and they aren’t always true.
Making mental or written lists of things that you are grateful for helps you to put your focus on something other than yourself while still honoring your thoughts. You might be grateful for small things, like a warm pair of socks on a chilly day, or large things, like a roof over your head. Gratitude can take many forms. Sometimes you will simply make a mental note and other times, you might be inclined to thank someone or to perform an action to express your thankfulness. Thinking about things you are grateful for is a great way to gently remove your focus from unhelpful thoughts and actions.
Be With Yourself
Sometimes it can be hard to be alone without distractions. In fact, this can take practice! You might have the habit of calling a friend, texting someone, scrolling through social media, watching a video or a television show, or engaging in unhealthy behaviors when you’re feeling uncomfortable. Part of mindfulness is learning how to comfortably be with yourself. Yes, you might have uncomfortable thoughts. Learning how to simply think your thoughts or feel your feelings is part of the recovery process. There is not always a quick fix. Sometimes, you just need to let the negative thoughts or feelings pass. Being alone with yourself is the way to get comfortable doing this.
Learning to be mindful takes time, and you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to your counselor or therapist about ways that you can become more mindful. If you are having trouble dealing with negative feelings or thoughts during your times of mindfulness, let your counselor or mental health professional know. That is what they are there for; they are a great resource as you learn to cope with these normal and common thoughts and feelings while avoiding a relapse. You can do this! Seek out the help you need so you can become a healthier person, both mentally and physically.