10 Ways to Practice Mindfulness in Addiction Treatment and Beyond

Mindfulness is often described as “being present in the moment.”
It can also be defined as following your breath, focusing on what is happening to you right now, and acknowledging feelings and events without judging those feelings and events to be good, bad, or indifferent.

Mindfulness and Addiction

couple living in the present moment while spending time together at the beach while in recovery

For people in addiction recovery, learning how to be mindful is huge. It is empowering to individuals who very often find that they experience an emotion or an issue, have an uncomfortable emotion as a result (e.g., anxiety, feeling bad about oneself, hurt, disappointment, anger, depression, frustration, etc.), and then go on autopilot and drink or use drugs to escape those feelings. The practice of mindfulness means focusing on the now only, which minimizes the level of stress experienced, allowing the feeling or experience to simply be without placing an amplifying judgment on it that can increase stress, and then moving on to the next thing that is happening in the present moment and letting go of the past moment.

Not sure how to turn the theory of mindfulness into an everyday practice? Here are a few things you can do:

  • Listen to the person speaking to you. How often do you spend most of a conversation thinking about what you will say, if it’s okay to speak, judging the person or the comments being made, or wondering if the person is judging you? In the practice of mindfulness, all of these thoughts would be acknowledged and let go, to make room for actively listening to what the person is saying without judgment.
  • Go for a walk. Take a 20-minute walk without a destination in mind and pay attention to what is in front of you, how the air feels on your skin, and breathing in and out. Notice the details on the buildings or trees, feel the weight of your feet on the pavement or earth, and feel your muscles moving in your body. Do not let your mind wander to planning what you will do when you get back or mulling over an encounter from earlier in the week. Instead, let these thoughts pass and focus on the moment you are in.
  • Let thoughts pass like clouds. It is impossible to stop yourself from having an internal reaction in the form of thoughts and feelings to the things and people you encounter, and you do not have to. To practice mindfulness, simply acknowledge those thoughts and feelings, and choose to turn your focus to the present moment, how you feel about where you are, the things that are happening around you, and breathing in and out in that moment.
  • Meditate. Take 10 or 20 minutes to simply sit in a quiet place and do nothing but breathe in and out. Again, do not focus on thoughts or feelings, or allow your mind to leave your body. Rather, pay attention to your body, your breath, and “the now,” and let everything else pass by without judgment.
  • Eat intentionally. Most people eat multiple times a day, and it is not uncommon to combine that activity with watching TV, working, or chatting, or to simply shovel in the food without thinking. This can lead to overeating and consuming foods that are not nutritious, which in turn can exacerbate mood and sleep disorders. Instead, consider what you are craving, prepare a plate of healthy items, sit down, and do nothing but eat until you are done.
  • Do a body scan. Mentally consider your facial muscles and jaw, your neck, your shoulders, your spine, your stomach, your hips, and your thighs – all the way down to your toes. Notice if you have any aches or discomforts. If you need to change what you are wearing, move, or otherwise make yourself more comfortable, do so.
  • HALT. In recovery and behavior management in general, it is commonly prescribed that you take a moment and HALT – that is, consider whether you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Any and all of these can negatively impact your ability to be functional during the day and may trigger a relapse. Take notice and do what you need to do to feel more rested, relaxed, stable, and present.
  • Accept yourself as you are. It can be tempting to compare yourself to others, to compete with yourself, or to otherwise feel as if you are not measuring up in some way. In terms of personal appearance, work and financial accomplishments, relationship status, and more, many feel that they don’t measure up in the estimations of others or by their own standards. Practicing mindfulness, however, means accepting yourself as you are without judgment, and knowing that you are enough in this moment with no need to do anything but stay sober.
  • Accept others. In the same way, a mindfulness practice occurs when you do not judge other people, but simply allow them to be who and what they are without any qualification or comment.
  • Ask for an informed, objective opinion. If you are struggling with being mindful in everyday life or if you are having a hard time with any aspect of recovery, reach out for help. The objective opinion of a therapist or other substance abuse treatment professional can help you to identify any of the obstacles standing in your way, provide coping mechanisms to address the issue, and support you in the process of recovery.
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