Stress is something that affects practically everyone in this life. While it might affect different people differently, it will definitely have an adverse effect on anyone who is exposed to it. This is why there is a need for mindfulness in recovery. Stress is seen as one of the strongest drivers for a person to succumb to substance abuse and mental health disorders.
People definitely need help in dealing with stress. For some, it’s meditation, while others turn to their favorite activities, such as listening to music or engaging in an art form. There are those, however, who see substance use as the fastest way to deal with stress. It numbs their mind or removes their sense of self, allowing them to escape stress, albeit temporarily. Chronic use of this method, however, is a sure way to develop substance dependence.
This is an important thing to know for people in recovery because so many people slip into relapse because they don’t know know how to deal with stress, troubles, or triggers. Being mindful will give a person the opportunity to deal with things before they get out of hand so that it does not get to the point where the only thing left to do is react.
What Is Mindfulness?
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There are many instances wherein a person gets overwhelmed mentally or emotionally. Generally, this happens because instead of finding ways to deal with stress and troubles that may already be driving them to the end of their wits, they make things worse by overthinking everything or by needlessly worrying themselves to death.
This is why there are approaches in psychotherapy that teach people to live in the here and now, as these are things that can be dealt with conclusively, rather than fuss and worry about things that no one could really do anything about. This approach focuses on the importance of being mindful, particularly in areas where a person is likely to be pushed either emotionally or psychologically into using substances again.
Mindfulness helps because it helps a person in paying attention to what is currently happening at the exact present time. This gives the person a better sense of what is going on inside of them if they are near a point where they could no longer function properly because of stress or some other emotional or mental burden.
How Can Mindfulness Aid In Recovery?
Many people often find themselves neck-deep in emotional or psychological trouble because they don’t pay attention to how they really are in those areas. A person could only determine how they are doing if they are able to focus on what is currently going on inside of them, to know how they feel, and what troubles them at that exact moment.
This may sound too simplistic to be a solution for emotional or psychological issues, but there are quite a few evidence-based approaches in psychotherapy today that work on this very principle. Not paying attention to how a person currently feels allows the troubles to pile up, and by the time the person realizes how bad it already is, they are already scrambling for a solution.
For many, the quickest way would be to grab some alcohol and drown their troubles in it. For others, it is the escape that comes in the form of a numbed mind provided by substance use. For a person in recovery, this matter is particularly important because not being mindful of the current state one is in could undo all the hard work done during rehab, as the confidence, motivation, and determination developed all fade away due to stress and troubles. Mindfulness provides much-needed help in a number of ways:
Removes the Need for an Escape
In interviews done with recovering patients, most revealed that they turned to use either alcohol or substances as a means of escape from the harsh reality of life. Many admitted to facing emotional or psychological burdens that they simply could not handle, so they sought what in their minds was the only solution: escape.
In most cases, the need for escape is due to the person’s immense need for avoidance. It could be avoidance of stress and troubles, avoidance of acknowledging they need help in kicking the habit. It could simply the avoidance of certain facts in their life that they simply disagree with.
Mindfulness teaches a person to embrace everything that is in the present, regardless of the circumstances. By facing these things, the need for avoidance is removed, and the person is allowed to deal with what could be dealt with at the time. This is far better than giving in to the anxiety of entertaining thoughts of “what if”.
Find the Needed Peace
People who suffer from anxiety readily admit that they are willing to pay any price just to experience a moment’s peace. The irony of this is that this much sought-after peace could be found through the act of mindfulness. There are practices of mindfulness, such as meditation, that help people center themselves and achieve a measure of inner peace. While meditation is not as all-encompassing and as magical as most others would portray it, it does come with proven benefits.
Meditation creates a sensation of lasting peace in the people who do it because it enables them to tune out the distractions and noise of the outside world while directing a person’s focus inwards. People who do this regularly say they are more able to cope with the pressure and stress of everyday life.
Increase Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is not just about being able to perceive, interpret, and evaluate one’s emotions constructively, but it is also the ability to evaluate what effect situations have on people’s emotions and respond in an appropriate manner. Being in control of one’s emotions is also an essential element of psychotherapy. It allows a person the luxury of understanding how certain events could affect a person emotionally, and from there discern how best to react or handle the situation.
While it is understandable that some emotions are so intense that they cause people to react in an illogical or uncontrolled manner, being mindful reflects a person’s emotional intelligence in that it helps in managing emotions better. This does not mean that being mindful means inhibiting emotions. It simply means that in instances where significant emotions are involved, it allows a person enough control to not react in a way that would be regrettable later.
Allows Intentional Responses
Much like when people lash out when they are emotionally charged, not being mindful of such things could lead a person to respond in a way that they don’t intend to. A mild example would be when they intended to say something that could be considered to be controversial and provocative. If a person is mindful enough, they could say what they wanted to say in a manner that delivers the message but is not intentionally offensive.
A more extreme example would be when people react to certain challenges, just to prove their courage or willingness to engage in extreme activities. This includes being dared to try substances that could lead to the person becoming addicted to them. In situations where people are in recovery, this could be when the person is goaded into having just one drink to see how much control they have. An intentional response to this would be a polite rejection of the challenge, and also an accompanying explanation of the rejection, should it be necessary.
What Is Mindfulness in the Context of Recovery?
What Is Mindfulness in the Context of Recovery?
The greatest danger to recovery is the risk of going into a relapse. Depending on the substance that the person was once addicted to, the risk of relapse could be anywhere from moderate to high. This is not counting the external factors that also contribute to a relapse, such as stress and personal triggers.
Being mindful during recovery helps the person in building a stronger resolve to stay sober and in dealing with the triggers that would normally push people over the edge and into a relapse.
Mindfulness Centers Thoughts
During recovery, looking back at a terrible life while being hooked on substances is normal, as it is part of the lessons learned from the experience. There are those, however, who tend to dwell too much on past mistakes such as this. Lingering on past mistakes is not part of the learning process, and it only serves to make a person feel bad and lessens self-worth.
Being mindful centers the thoughts on the here and now. It also helps in putting things experienced in the past into perspective, so that it helps a person move forward and not be held back by the weight of the past.
Mindfulness Is Meditation in Action
There is a practice in meditation that teaches a person to focus solely on breathing. This might sound overly simplistic, but it actually takes some time to master. This practice allows a person to center their thoughts much better, as it removes any outside “noise” or wayward thoughts that might distract a person while in recovery.
Being mindful means engaging in conscious breathing, something that too many people take for granted. By focusing on the rhythm created by breathing, a person could remove distracting and damaging thoughts and focus more on what is needed in recovery.
Mindfulness Helps Create Achievable Expectations
As being mindful allows a person to be more in touch with what is happening right now, the person is more aware of where they stand relative to their life and their recovery. Having a goal is a good thing to do, and there is no question about that. Having a realistic goal that still serves to push a person to work for it is another thing.
It is important to be mindful of expectations when one is in recovery. Time is an essential factor, and recovery is all about time. It is also worth mentioning that being sober is not a permanent thing locked in time. Being sober is a decision that a person sticks to every day. Therefore, the thoughts and actions are all relevant to a full recovery and to staying sober.
Free by the Sea Can Help You in Being Mindful During Recovery
Most people think that most of the work in addiction recovery is limited to the alcohol and drug rehabilitation period. This is not the case and we here at Free By The Sea understand this more than most others. The recovery process is all about continuing the work done in rehab because being sober and staying sober are two very different things.
Mindfulness is a practice here at Free By The Sea that we have shared with people to help in their recovery process. It is also something that will greatly help in staying sober. We would be more than glad to share this practice with you so that you do not stray from the path of recovery. Contact us today.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.