Our minds are always thinking.
They are remembering, worrying, planning, judging, and so much more. Our minds are often so busy that we are hardly aware of what is actually happening right now, right in front of us. Because of that, it is important to keep your mind, well, in mind as you plan how to maintain your sobriety once you have left rehab.
This attention to what is going on in our minds is particularly important for someone in recovery. If we allow our minds to swirl with regrets about the past or anxiety about the future, it can make it more difficult to resist the tug of drugs or alcohol as a way to shut down our negative thoughts.
But the practice of mindfulness offers another (and much healthier) approach to the problem of the busy mind.
A Quick History Lesson, If You Don’t Mind
Mindfulness has become quite popular in recent years thanks in large part to various smartphone apps and in-person classes that teach techniques and provide motivation for regular practice. All of these programs and apps have the same general goal: helping us remain focused on the present moment regardless of any thoughts or emotions that may arise to distract us.
(Note that some of the smartphone apps have the advantage of being free, though many are subscription-based, and classes are often offered for a fee. The benefits may well outweigh any monetary cost, however.)
The idea that such attention to the present is possible grew out of Hindu and Buddhist practice. The concept of mindfulness was largely limited to these Eastern religious practices until the end of the 1970s. That’s when Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Center for Mindfulness, which was located in the med school at the University of Massachusetts, and the Oasis Institute for Mindfulness-Based Professional Education and Training. Kabat-Zinn created an eight week program to introduce the concepts of mindfulness. He called the program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Mind the Meaning: What Mindfulness Actually Means
To be honest, mindfulness is a fairly easy concept to understand—even if it is sometimes hard to put that concept into practice in our daily lives.
Being mindful means purposely paying attention to whatever is happening in the current moment. It involves an awareness of the emotions you might be experiencing at that precise instant and experiencing them without judgment. Again, this sounds easier than it actually is. As soon as we feel something, we tend to react to it instead of remaining still and observing it.
Mind(fulness) Over Matter in Matters of Recovery
The benefits of mindfulness for a person in recovery from a substance use disorder are many:
- Breaking the cycle: mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. As a result, it breaks what could be called the cycle of negativity.
- Keeping cravings at bay: mindfulness can be of great benefit for people who must overcome strong cravings to maintain their sobriety.
- Improving decision making: mindfulness makes it easier to achieve clarity of thought, which in turn can improve a person’s decision making–leading to a reduced likelihood of self-destructive behavior.
- Warning of relapse: mindfulness promotes the understanding and recognition of emotions and thoughts—which may serve as an early alarm system for increased relapse risk.
- Supporting overall wellness: mindfulness has benefits for our memory, our ability to get restful sleep, and our feelings of both physical and mental wellbeing.
Meeting of the Minds: How Mindfulness Strengthens Relationships
Here’s what former Buddhist monk and popular mindfulness coach Andy Puddicombe wrote in The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness:
“It should come as no surprise that the impact this simple skill can have on your relationships with others is quite profound. In becoming more aware of everything and everyone, you inevitably become more aware of others. You start to notice how sometimes you might unintentionally (or even intentionally) push their buttons, or notice what causes them to push yours. You start to listen to what they’re actually saying, rather than thinking about what you’d like them to say or what you’re going to say next. And when these things begin to happen you’ll notice that your relationships with others really start to change. But so long as we’re immersed in our own thoughts the whole time, it’s very difficult to truly find time for others.”
This is a powerful idea, especially given how frequently a person in recovery from a substance use disorder needs to do the hard work of repairing broken relationships with family members and friends. We know strong, healthy relationships are central to a successful recovery journey and that making amends and forging a path forward can be exceptionally challenging. A mindful approach may very well help you meet this important challenge.
You Are Always on Our Mind
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center in Indiana, our focus is on you and the ways in which we can empower your rehab and recovery. Mindfulness is regularly a part of our continuum of care, and we have the expertise and resources to ensure you get the most out of your mindfulness practice. We will personalize a treatment plan just for you and help you follow it to success as your pursue long-term sobriety. When it is time to find a recovery center (for yourself or for a loved one), all of us at Wooded Glen hope you will keep us in mind.