Meditation is a practice for quieting the mind and bolstering self-control.
When you shut off the outside world and pay closer attention to your own thoughts and reactions, you can grow exponentially in these areas. Adding mindfulness to your meditation can take it to the next level.
Mindfulness involves focusing on creating a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. You concentrate completely on the right now without allowing memories of the past or anxiety about the future to interfere. The goal in mindfulness is to work at coming to an acceptance of the present and being comfortable in it before delving into the uncertainties of the future or painful issues of the past.
Mindfulness meditation, in this respect, is a reasonable addition to any addiction treatment plan and there are many clinical studies affirming it as such. Attending to your mental health is an important aspect to overall well-being that can significantly lower the chance for relapse into substance use post-treatment.
Consider mindfulness meditation as a workout for the mind. Each time you non-judgmentally come to accept the present moment from a place of self-compassion and love, your capacity for experiencing these things from a place of peace and happiness grows.
1. Mindfulness Meditation Has Positive Effects for Both Body and Mind
When you use mindfulness meditation to cultivate your self-awareness, its positive effects can be seen in not only your anxiety and stress levels, but in the actual physical makeup and behavior of your brain. It can also reduce the risk of developing physical diseases related to your stress levels by having a calming effect on your entire body.
The “plasticity” of the brain is a term used to describe its ability to adapt to and change how you perceive and react to triggers or cravings experienced in your everyday life. Studies have indicated that regularly practicing mindfulness meditation increases the thickness of specific cortical regions of the brain, mainly those that correlate with processing auditory, visual, and somatosensory stimuli. Another long-term physical benefit to practicing mindfulness meditation is that it may also slow thinning of the frontal cortex, a common problem that happens with age.
On a physical level, a Wake Forest University study shows that meditation reinforces and activates the areas of your brain used to process pain, thus achieving an effect of reduced physical discomfort. Your immune system is boosted thanks to reduced stress, and you become more in tune with your body. These things help you notice changes in your overall health so they can be dealt with proactively.
2. Mindfulness Meditation Increases Self-Acceptance and Quiets the Mind
When first learning to practice mindfulness meditation, you will become acutely aware of how much the mind likes to wander, and the chatter that is its nature. You will notice the negativity, the anxiety, and the fears it dwells on. Those struggling with addiction admit that it can be considered a way to escape the reality of the present moment or situation.
The journey to self-love and self-acceptance starts with increasing your ability to not only tolerate but accept the present moment regardless of whether you’re being negative, reactive, or even downright mean—even when you may not be particularly happy with your current feelings or mood. By doing this, you grow in your ability to make the changes necessary for successful treatment. Instead of giving in to the escape route of substance use, you are able to create a lasting relationship with recovery.
3. Mindfulness Meditation Enhances the Quality of Attention
Mindfulness as a skill requires practice. The more you work on it and learn ways to focus while
practicing the meditation, you’re more able to focus in your daily activities at work or school.
As mentioned before, the mind is constantly “chattering” —generating feelings, thoughts, and emotions. By learning to observe and let your mind’s activity happen in the background, you quiet it. Whatever gets attention becomes empowered. If you pay less attention to your mind’s chatter, the quieter it becomes.
4. Mindfulness Meditation Diminishes Stress
Stress and anxiety are common triggers for addictive behavior and substance abuse. When you focus on the present instead of worrying about your past or having anxiety over your future, your stress levels are managed more easily.
High levels of stress also have an effect on the body as a whole. Your immune system can be compromised, increasing your risk of developing one of the numerous physical and mental health conditions connected to stress. Mindfulness meditation, by helping you to lower your stress levels, reduces your chances of stress-related diseases and improves your overall health.
5. Mindfulness Meditation Cultivates Resilience
Resilience, described as being able to rebound from experiences that are difficult and the ability to adapt well to changes, is an important factor in the journey of recovery. When you are resilient, the likelihood of relapse diminishes. No matter the challenges thrown at you—temptations, triggers, memories, or even crossing paths with people from your time of substance abuse who still are bound to the habit—you’ll be able to stay true to your recovery path.
Mindfulness meditation helps build up the parts of the brain that handle resisting distractions and promoting self-regulation or self-control. This leads to better decision-making skills, which in turn cultivates resilience.
Building resilience greatly improves your ability to thrive in recovery as well as continue on the path of sober living outside of treatment. When mindfulness meditation is used hand-in-hand with other treatments through St. Gregory to address your substance use, your success—and overall health—will benefit for years to come.