Many people have discovered the benefits of mindfulness meditation. It is a tool that is used by people who want to relax or get clarity, and it is a tool used by people with mental health issues, and everyone in between. For those of us who are recovering from addiction, mindfulness meditation has the added benefits of strengthening our minds to help us avoid the automatic thinking and emotional responses that cause us to use substances. Mindfulness meditation is like a workout for our brains.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
The mindfulness portion refers to our ability to be present, without distraction, and accepting of the sights, sensations, thoughts, and everything within us and all around us. Acceptance includes a lack of reaction. So, for example, if we were meditating outdoors and it began to rain, we would simply notice the rain and the sensations it caused instead of screaming and running for cover.
Meditation is a state in which we arrive by focusing on something, usually our breathing. It is calm and centered, a state that allows us to use mindfulness or other tools to access the parts of our brain we are usually too busy to notice. Together, mindfulness and meditation create a workout for our brain, a way for us to exercise cognitively accessing that ability to just be present and accepting instead of reactive or stressed and distracted.
Attention and Observation
Two of the most powerful techniques for the brain that is recovering from substance use include focused attention and open monitoring. By focusing our attention, we use our own powers to shut out distractions and focus on the one thing, usually breathing. This is a skill that is the polar opposite of how our brain functions in addiction. So, being able to purposefully access focus on demand is like a workout each time we meditate.
Open monitoring is the act of observation. We observe how we feel, our thoughts, emotions, as well as external stimuli, while not focusing on any one thought or stimulus in particular. We also do not exhibit an emotional response to anything. Just observing. Again, this skill is particularly difficult for a brain that has been exposed to substance use, so as we begin to master it, it is like building muscles.
Acceptance and Emotional Regulation
The ability to simply accept something without judgment does not come naturally. We are raised thinking about how something is hot, cold, long, short, etc. Judgment can be used to categorize, label, or to place emotional values upon. Acceptance is the opposite. When we observe or notice things and sensations as we practice mindfulness, we simply accept them. For example, we might notice there is sunlight. It creates a sensation on our bodies.
There are birds making sounds. There is a breeze, which creates another sensation on our skin. Instead of judging those things, we simply notice and accept. Accepting whatever is around us or in our minds helps us to avoid emotional reactions. For example, noticing the sun might trigger a reaction that we forgot to wear sunscreen, that our mother used to yell at us for not wearing sunscreen, and that makes us feel guilty and shameful at this moment.
That is not emotional regulation. We do not allow our brain to take us to that place of past memories and the emotions tied to them, rather we simply notice that there is sunlight. This is powerful when we have past memories and emotions that could become triggers while we are in recovery.
Control Over Automatic Thoughts
By utilizing mindfulness meditation, we gain control over those automatic thoughts. Often, automatic thoughts will have led to substance use for us. For example, if a partner gets angry at us and leaves, the automatic thought might be to drink, because everything else is too painful in that moment.
As we practice mindfulness meditation, we gain more control over what our mind does and where it goes. In times of emotional stress, we can breathe, focus our attention, and draw our minds to simply observe and accept everything without judgment. We notice our partner is gone, and we may notice emotions around that, but we do not react. This means we do not go to that automatic thought process of using our substances.
Practicing mindfulness meditation also helps lower our stress levels. As we learn to control our emotional responses, we also learn that we can control how much something stresses us out or not. This is particularly important in recovery, as substance use often raises our stress level, so to be able to choose to actively lower our stress helps us to heal better.
Because relapse is too common in recovery, we want to do as much as we can to prevent it. Not only is mindfulness meditation helpful in partially restructuring the reward pathway to the brain, but it is also a powerful tool to help us to ease our way through cravings. Because it is a tool that can be used virtually anywhere, mindfulness meditation is very helpful with relapse prevention.
When we use mindfulness meditation as a workout for our brain, we learn to control things like automatic thoughts or to be able to withstand cravings. Find out how mindfulness meditation can help you at AToN Center. Call (888) 535-1516 today to begin workouts for your mind.