Mindfulness seems to be “the latest and the greatest” self-help tool in the mental health toolbox. I am reminded of my past take on exercise and physical health. When both concepts, exercise and mindfulness, were first introduced as recovery tools, I was skeptical! Now, I’m a huge believer in the strength of both these practices to improve the quality of a person’s physical and mental health!
Mindfulness in Recovery
I am particularly interested in what mindfulness offers to people in addiction recovery. And that means recovery from almost any situation! According to what I’ve researched, regular practice of mindfulness, will dramatically reduce stress and anxiety. It will also improve one’s ability to become more self-aware. And once a person is more aware of themselves, they are freer to devote their energy to healing. I think practicing mindfulness is a great addition to anyone’s recovery plan. Especially those in addiction recovery and their family members.
So, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique, defined as a mental state, achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. Similarly, mindfulness is the process of calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s own feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Another definition of mindfulness, “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.)
The key words of these definitions are present, moment, nonjudgmental, acknowledging, and
accepting. They are requirements for mindfulness to be effective and healing. The key words in the definitions tell me that family members, and those with a substance use disorder (SUD), would benefit greatly from the practice of mindfulness.
The Family Program
In our Family Program at Sanford Behavioral Health, we discuss the importance of reducing codependent behaviors. These behaviors include judgement of oneself and judgement of loved ones in recovery. We focus on paying attention to the current behaviors, not the former behaviors of active addiction. We also focus on being more in the present with recovering loved ones.
Feelings, Thoughts and Behaviors
In the Family Program, we stress the importance of identifying and owning feelings, thoughts and behaviors. So, mindfulness is a strong method to achieve these desired behaviors. Likewise, our clients in treatment at Sanford are taught abstinence-based living to cope with stress. We encourage clients to take responsibility for managing their SUD and to be accountable for their behavior.
As human beings, we frequently judge ourselves and our thoughts and feelings as good or bad. This is based our life experiences and past learning. We end up reacting to the goodness or badness of our feelings, NOT the feeling itself. This causes us a good deal of trouble and conflict within ourselves and our relationships.
There is never anything wrong with a feeling or a thought. There is only the inaccurate beliefs behind our thoughts, that lead to our feelings and the behaviors that follow. Imagine the positive results a person could experience if they just took time to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings!
Look at this progression from the University of Utah Mindfulness Center:
Emotional Regulation Attentional Control Self Awareness
The above is telling us that together, these mindfulness qualities lead to self regulation. What person on either side of the addiction coin, does not want to manage their emotions and behaviors as they make changes in recovery?
Research shows that people who practice mindfulness gain the following positive results:
- Increased perspective
- Increase in executive function
- Emotional regulation
- Increased gray matter in the brain
- Better focus
- Increased memory
- Improved ability to remain calm under stress.
These abilities are so helpful to have when facing challenges as a recovering family. Luckily, there are multiple websites and books available on mindfulness and mindfulness exercises. It is my hope that you will follow up this article with a holiday gift for yourself, practicing mindfulness!
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