How Mindfulness Can Help with Mental Health and Addiction

What is mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of awareness and focus. It has become particularly popular in the past ten years – with good reason.

More people are discovering that mindfulness gives excellent results for their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. As well, an increasing number of mental health experts have realized its therapeutic benefits.

Most mindfulness techniques that are popular in the West these days originated in Hinduism and Buddhism thousands of years ago. But it was notably introduced to the West by writer and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s.

He developed a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This was to help chronically ill patients.

One great advantage of mindfulness is that it is a relatively simple technique – that anybody can do in any place and at any time.

What is mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn described mindfulness as: “Awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.”

That is, paying attention to what you are feeling, seeing, hearing, and sensing at the time. This is without any judgment or attachment, meaning having as little chatter in the mind as possible.

It also involves becoming aware of when you’re acting without thinking about what you’re doing. Those who often practice being mindful say how it helps them to gain a loving and uncritical attitude towards themselves and other people.

It certainly needs self-discipline and dedication to keep oneself in the present moment. This comes the more it is practiced.

Mindfulness as a therapeutic tool

Mindfulness also enables those doing it to become observers of their thoughts, rather than impulsively reacting to or acting on those thoughts. This is an extremely useful life tool to have – to realize that we can choose which thoughts we pay attention to and ‘let in’.

This is because anything we focus on grows bigger, whether it’s negative or positive. Thoughts create feelings – they are what are behind most of our negative or positive states of being.

For instance, often when people focus on the past, they will have negative feelings of regret or remorse. Thinking about the future often creates equally negative feelings of worry and anxiety.

But learning to be in the now is a proven way to avoid anxiety, stress, and depression. It will leave us feeling more grateful – and gratitude is vital for mental health well-being.

Benefits of mindfulness for mental and physical health

The present is a gift

Mindfulness leads to a greater focus on positive thoughts and feelings. Clearly, this is beneficial to mental and physical health.

Being mindful lowers stress levels. Many people who regularly practice mindfulness say how they increasingly experience a feeling of serenity.

It also boosts emotional regulation. This makes it easier to cope with feelings and to modulate responses triggered by them.

As well, mindfulness improves short-term memory. This is because it lessens older memories that can interfere with accessing our newer memories.

In fact, mindfulness helps with many physical and mental health problems, including:

Mindfulness in the treatment of addictions

Mindfulness has been shown to help people who have an addiction, whether that’s alcoholism, drug addiction or a behavioral addiction

Firstly, being mindful tends to slow everything down, especially the mental chatter that causes many people to reach out for something unhealthy in an attempt to quieten it.

Another way it helps is in allowing people to observe how they are feeling about certain things or situations. By observing feelings like this with presence and compassion rather than fear or judgment, allows the opportunity to not react impulsively to whatever has caused the feeling.

Mindfulness also means people can start to see the wonder of the world about them – and themselves. If someone focuses, for example, on the intricacies of their hand, it can give a positive feeling of gratitude.

Some mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been developed to help people with addictions. These include: 

From recent research into data from a number of independent studies on the effectiveness of MBIs in helping people with addiction, it was concluded that: “MBIs hold promise in treating addictive disorders.” Research is ongoing.

How to practice mindfulness

Meditation helps to control impulses and fight addiction -Tikvah Lake Recovery

Anyone can be mindful at any time and in any place or situation – in a way that works for them. But there are also specific methods that have been developed which can be very helpful for those just starting out.  

Five of the most popular mindfulness techniques are:

Raisin exercise

Get a raisin (or other fruit) and study it for some time. Pay careful attention to how it smells, feels, changes shape when squeezed, and eventually how it tastes. As with all mindfulness, it helps to imagine with childlike wonder that you are experiencing something for the very first time.

Sitting mindfulness

Sitting with hands resting on your lap, back straight and feet flat on the ground, become conscious of every single breath in and out of your nose. Doing this for at least five minutes, also notice how your chest rises and falls as you breathe in and out.

Body scan

Lie on your back with arms to your sides, palms facing upwards, and feet falling slightly apart. Begin by bringing awareness to your breath. Then, scan slowly up your body from the tips of your toes right to the crown of your head, noticing any feelings and sensations you have in each body part. Also, observe any thoughts that come into your mind as you focus on each body part. 

There are plenty of guided body scans available, for example, on YouTube, which many beginners find easier to follow.

Walking mindfulness

woman in green sweatshirt standing alone with trees behind her

Slowly walk from a quiet spot where there is a clear way ahead. Focusing your full attention on this, walk for around 20 steps while observing sounds and feeling sensations for each step. After 20 steps, turn around and head back doing the same again for every step.

Five senses exercise

This exercise can be practiced quickly in almost any situation. It requires you to simply notice things around you that you’re experiencing, using each of your five senses. 

First, look around you and bring your attention to five things you can see, ideally things you don’t normally notice. Then, four things you can feel, like the texture of your clothes on your skin, or the breeze on your face. Next, notice three things you can hear, perhaps a bird singing, or distant traffic. Now, focus on two things you can smell. Finally, bring your awareness to one thing you can taste – if necessary, take a sip of a drink or eat something. 

Although mindfulness can be practiced at any moment and anywhere, many people find that the peaceful great outdoors is the most beneficial. As well, any time of the day is rewarding, but a lot of people find that early morning works best of all.

Start by trying to be mindful for even just a couple of minutes each day. Then, work up to around 20 minutes twice a day. A daily practice will provide the most benefits. 

It is normal for the mind to wander, so simply notice and accept when this happens, and then gently guide it back to the mindful exercise you are engaged in.

Mindfulness at Tikvah Lake Recovery

Our tranquil setting at Tikvah Lake is perfect for practicing mindfulness. We also offer techniques like mindfulness as part of our holistic wellness program.

We’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by peaceful picturesque nature. Sitting by our beautiful lake lapping up to our lawn is healing in itself.

Our friendly experienced team has helped people with all types of emotional and mental health problems.

Get in touch with us to hear how we can help you or someone you care about – starting today.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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