Mindfulness is a meditative practice, a moment-by-moment awareness of what’s happening in our environment and within us in the present moment. By focusing wholly on the present, we avoid obsessing on events in the past or stressing about what might happen in the future.
We all have the ability to be mindful. It doesn’t take great skill or a lot of schooling to master. You can do it anywhere, anytime; at work, at home, or while walking down the street. It does not ask us to change who we are.
Anybody can do it, and there are vast bodies of evidence that suggest that it can help us overcome a lot of issues.
Wherever you go, there you are
Addiction, anxiety, and mental health conditions are things that typically take us away from the present moment. When we are in the throes of one of these disorders, we are consumed with trying to escape the present because it represents discomfort, agitation, and pain.
Paradoxically, by focusing only on the present—on the things you feel within your body and what’s going on around you—it is possible to change how you respond to the discomfort of addiction and mental health issues. Learning how to deal with these feelings can encourage a different way of behaving, too. For example, it may prevent you from reacting impulsively to a stressful situation, helping you trade neutral, non-judgmental thoughts for those that trigger addictive behavior.
This principle is the core of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ancient meditation technique that goes back thousands of years. Though it is practiced in many cultures and religions, the type of mindfulness used in addiction and mental health treatment is most closely related to Buddhist practice. In this culture, it is described as “paying attention purposefully, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
In terms of addiction and mental health, the non-judgmental aspect is key as much of the angst we feel is a direct result of a judgment we have made. Thoughts and sensations themselves do not have judgment attached to them. It’s how you decide to respond to those thoughts that create the judgmental aspect.
If you do not respond to those thoughts, if you choose instead just to notice the sensations without any further acknowledgment, you do not pass judgment. Without judgment, there is no need for anxiety, self-deprecating, or harmful thoughts.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Meditation is used by people from cultures all over the world to bring a sense of peace and calm and to improve various aspects of their lives.
There are meditative aspects in many of the things we do every day, from doing the dishes to enjoying your favorite music. In fact, you may already be practicing mindfulness meditation on some level, even if you don’t realize it.
There are many different types of meditation, but mindfulness meditation places a particular focus on the awareness of oneself and the immediate surroundings.
All types of meditation have a few things in common. In any case, the way you approach it is much the same:
- Find a quiet, calm environment where you are unlikely to be disturbed
- Settle yourself in a comfortable position, usually seated
- Relax your body and mind and release stressful thoughts
- Use deep breaths to oxygenate your blood
In mindfulness meditation, you are also asked to be fully present and aware of yourself and your surroundings.
You will notice your thoughts, your breath, the temperature of the cool air as it enters your nostrils and the warmth of it as you exhale.
Open your mind to accept thoughts as they come to you.
As thoughts enter your mind, as you feel the sensations on your skin and within your body, you will observe them without judging them. You will accept these thoughts, choosing not to linger on them. Your thoughts are neither good nor bad, right or wrong. They simply are.
During this meditation, you will take inventory of each part of your body and notice how it feels, the sensations as the air passes over it, the pressure of the chair beneath you. You will notice the smells and sounds of what is going on around you and, in many cases, the anxiety and worry that you typically experience will ease.
This is the essence of mindfulness.
Our mind, when left to its own devices, will instantly judge a person or situation as good or bad, fair or unfair, important or unimportant. In many cases, this happens so quickly that our responses are reactive and can sometimes lead us down a dark path.
When we practice mindfulness, we do not allow judgment. We can gain perspective on our thoughts and find the freedom to choose how we proceed.
If the concept of mindfulness meditation is new to you, it might be helpful to start with a guided meditation, like this one:
Mindfulness meditation for mental health conditions and addiction
There is much evidence that mindful meditation can help a range of mental health conditions, including:
- Mood disorders
Though mindfulness may not replace frontline therapies for some of these conditions, it can significantly improve clinical outcomes, reduce symptoms, and help to establish coping behaviors that allow other treatments such as mental health treatment, etc… to work more effectively.
One of the other benefits of mindful meditation is that it doesn’t interfere with other treatments and can actually enhance long-term results. It can be practiced at home, at work, or with your therapist. Once you have learned the techniques, you will be able to apply it to any situation, anytime you need it.
Mindfulness for substance abuse and addiction
In recent years, mindfulness training has been studied extensively as an intervention for addictions and addictive behaviors that include smoking, drinking, and various forms of substance abuse.
The outcomes of these studies show that mindful-based interventions (MBIs) can reduce cravings and substance misuse. Better still, approaches like Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention can also work to prevent relapse in the future. Mindfulness staves off destructive thoughts that have the potential to derail your sobriety.
By focusing on the present moment rather than allowing your mind to obsess over a craving, you will effectively, and immediately deflect your response. Continue to practice, and this could be a sustainable method of achieving your recovery goals.
Getting started with mindful meditation
When learning mindful meditation, you may work with a therapist who can guide you through the process. Whether you pick it up quickly or if it takes some time to feel a level of comfort with the process, the results are immediately noticeable. With patience, perseverance, and commitment, the rewards will come. As you become more comfortable with mindfulness, you can incorporate them into everyday life to reduce stress and help you cope with “slippery” situations.
You can begin practicing mindfulness right away simply by taking notice of where you are, what you are doing, and what’s going on around you. The key is to accept these things without judgment and without becoming overwhelmed. If you need a guide, you can find great guided meditations like the YouTube video above, and there are also great apps and podcasts available.
There’s no need to buy anything, and you don’t need a doctor to show you how. Keep in mind that your mind will wander and attempt to hijack your serenity with judgmental thoughts. When these thoughts arise, just go back to your breath; breathe in, breathe out. Just breathe.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness for addiction and mental health, we would love to help. Reach out today to get started.