How Mindfulness Can Be One of The Best Relapse Prevention Tools

Fitness healthy woman runner relaxing after running outdoors enjoying view on waterfront.

Mindfulness, a practice that is beneficial to both addiction recovery and trauma recovery, among many other areas of one’s life, is the mental process of becoming aware of one’s current thoughts and experiences without being judgmental of them. Mindfulness is all about having the ability to respond to a situation versus immediately reacting to a situation, being able to track thoughts, emotions, feels, and sensations in the body. With its origins in the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness has since moved to the Western field of medicine and clinical research has shown its amazing ability to aid in both the body and the mind.

Benefits of practicing mindfulness can include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced chronic pain
  • Decreased feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Improved patient
  • Improved job performance

What is mindfulness NOT?

Mindfulness is not about having a completely blank mind, but instead, tracking what is happening moment to moment, embracing curiosity, and putting aside judgement. While mindfulness is a key component of many meditation practices, “mindfulness” and “meditation” are not synonymous. Unlikely meditation, which can be a standalone and structured activity, mindfulness can be seen as more a way of interacting with the world throughout daily life.

Why is practicing mindfulness so difficult?

In our modern society of constant change, movement, and energy, we often feel pushed to rush through our day, and our lives. Mindfulness requires us to slow down. While slowing can be uncomfortable or difficult for those who are not used to it. Like any activity, mindfulness gets easier with practice, and each person may need to learn what techniques work best for them.

How does mindfulness relate to trauma recovery?

Cultivating mindfulness for trauma can be especially difficult for those who have experienced trauma, and this tendency to move fast can be a powerful coping mechanism. Therefore, while mindfulness practices have been shown to be a tremendously help to trauma survivors, it is always encouraged for everyone to embrace their own mindfulness for trauma practice and to move at a level that feels comfortable for them. For example, some mindfulness teachings recommend closing one’s eyes, however, this may be too uncomfortable for some. If this is the case, one should feel free to keep them open or on a fixed point in the room. Mindfulness for trauma is about being present and comfortable, and so modifications are always encouraged when they can help best promote this.

How can mindfulness help to prevent relapse?

Substance abuse is about avoiding and escaping unpleasant feelings. Mindfulness can be a way of training ourselves to sit with these uncomfortable feelings and learn how to navigate these sensations without turning to unhealthy behaviors.

Especially for those with regular mindfulness practice, mindfulness can be a way to detect early signs of relapse coming in observing thoughts. Practicing mindfulness can increase one’s awareness of how their body is feeling, how they are experiencing the world emotionally, and the thoughts they are having that could lead toward returning to substance abuse. Mindfulness can not only help prevent relapse, but also to help us show compassion to ourselves even if relapse does occur and can be a tool to help us pull ourselves out of our addictive cycle of substance abuse.

What are some ways one can begin to practice mindfulness?

Examples of mindfulness include being able to track the feeling of pressing one’s feet into the ground, sitting in a chair, and noticing thoughts as they flow in and out of the mind. While not judging the thoughts, but observing them as they come in, mindfulness allows us to fully experience life, to be present and to enjoy life.

Set realistic goals, such a practicing mindfulness for a few minutes a few times a week. Mindfulness is not a one-size-fits-all practice. Whether it involves going to a structured mindfulness group, watching a mindfulness YouTube video, or taking a walk and being aware of all the sights, smells, and sensations of being in nature. It is about letting go of pretenses of how one should sit or look when being mindful, about simply being aware of what is.

There are some useful apps such as Insight Timer, a free app that can be used for meditation, among lots of other apps too. Tara Broch is an amazing resource in Bethesda, MD who gives classes for donations and has a podcast on Spotify. The Shambhala Meditation Center of Washington, DC also offers meditation sittings that are open to the public. While we live in a fast-paced society that may make mindfulness difficult to practice, our society is also rich in technology and connectivity, allows us to use more resources than ever to cultivate a practice of mindfulness.

At our VA substance abuse program, we use mindfulness as a technique to help those suffering from substance abuse disorder and dual diagnosis. For more information visit us at encorerecovery.com or call us today at 703-594-7398

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