The Art of Mindfulness
There are different practices we can employ to enhance our well-being and that are also used as supports in the treatment of addiction. One particular practice that has a strong empirical support is mindfulness. Mindfulness has gained a lot of popularity and attention in the scientific community in the past few decades and has been studied as a treatment for improving resilience, enhancing well-being, and working with addiction. But what is mindfulness? And how can it be practiced? Let’s take a look.
Mindfulness refers to the practice of paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally. For example, a person can be practicing mindfulness while in the bus or in the store or while eating. Mindfulness does not require the person to do anything specific, just that they become fully and non-judgmentally immersed in everything that is going on right now. That means paying full attention to a person’s emotions, sensations, thoughts, and the situation going on outside as well. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What can you smell, feel, touch?
The origins of mindfulness, like the origins of meditation, are associated with Buddhist and Eastern spiritual traditions, however, mindfulness was exported to the West a few decades ago and can be completely divorced from its spiritual roots, so it may be practiced by anyone who is interested in it.
The goal of mindfulness, unlike the goal of most forms of meditation, is not to empty the mind or quiet it, but instead to become fully immersed in what is happening now. This is important. We only have the present, however, our mind tends to wander, so we often do not enjoy or even experience fully what we are doing right now.
When our mind wanders, we are less satisfied with our lives and feel less happiness overall. However, when we are present in our situation, even when it’s not the most pleasant one, we feel more satisfaction overall. Mindfulness has become a staple of many treatment programs for a variety of disorders and addiction as well.
Mindfulness helps gain awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and inner experiences. It reduces our distress by allowing us to approach ourselves and our experiences non-judgmentally. Mindfulness promotes awareness by allowing us to enter a state of observation where we are aware of what is going on but we choose not to label or judge it in negative or positive ways. This state of observation also helps become less impulsive and more measured in one’s decisions and actions, as instead of reacting, we are able to first notice and be aware of what we are experiencing.
Research in recent years has supported the idea that mindfulness has many different benefits. It can reduce stress and helps us obtain a greater inner balance, mentally and even physically, by promoting positive physical changes and a better health. Mindfulness helps us regulate mood. In regards to addiction, mindfulness has been associated with lower levels of relapse. Mindfulness is important because it teaches us skills and practices that can be applied in a variety of contexts and generalized to many different areas of our lives.
How can mindfulness be practiced? One of the most common practices is mindfulness meditation that involves taking time and practicing mindfulness for 10-15 or more minutes. For mindfulness meditation, the person needs to sit and focus on paying attention to the present, their sensations, feelings, and thoughts without judgment. Mindfulness can also be practiced by choosing a situation and making the conscious decision to fully engage with that situation. When the mind wanders, the person only needs to bring it back to the present gently.
There are programs that teach mindfulness and it is often a part of other forms of treatment. There are many online courses and classes, many of which are available for free, to promote the development of this skill.
Does mindfulness have any side effects? It might cause some distress in people who have depression, dissociation, or a severe mental disorder but this is not common. Mindfulness is usually associated with positive effects and rarely any side effects, although it becomes important to pay attention to one’s own inner experiences.
Learning mindfulness can be very beneficial for people with addiction and can support them on their road to recovery. It is a useful skill that can be applied in many different situations and that promotes well-being and happiness overall.
Don’ hesitate to call our professional staff if you or a loved one need help. Overcoming addiction is always easier with support, reach out to Charleston Sober Living today. Feel free to read our previous blog about the misconceptions contributing to the stigma of addiction.