Many people grow up with underlying pain, fear, or shame that becomes a looming influence in their lives. This can lead people to self-soothe. In turn, people may use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. For the most part, addiction is about running away from feelings and painful emotional states. Mindfulness has become a staple of addiction treatment because it gives people new skills that provide an optional way to behave and react.
What Is Mindfulness?
Self-soothing is a way of numbing or dissociating from difficult emotions. It’s a common defense mechanism that addiction treatment attempts to address. When people self-soothe, they’re using drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their emotions instead of dealing with them head-on.
Mindfulness is about being present and aware of what’s going on instead of dwelling in the future or the past. Focusing on the future makes people anxious, and focusing on the past can make them depressed. Someone who can focus on the current moment is likelier to be happy because they’re engaged in what’s happening here and now.
Recovery programs encourage taking it one day at a time, but many stresses and triggers may occur in the course of a day. The goal of mindfulness is to respond with awareness to life’s stresses and to self-soothe in healthier ways. Techniques include:
- Meditation and meditative moments
- Pausing to assess the situation before reacting
- Breathing exercises
- Using the imagination
Four Techniques to Help You Stay Present
1. Breathe Through It
When a stressful moment or a trigger occurs, it helps to stop for a moment, focus on the feelings underneath the reaction, and breathe. Following the breath, inside and out, four or five times, and feeling the abdomen expand and contract offers a chance to calm down and to bring the heart rate down. It is also a chance to refocus. Name the negative thoughts or urges running through your mind and imagine them floating away on a cloud.
2. Visualize a Safe Place
When anxiety or stress is high, and it feels like the danger is all around, it can be helpful to focus on a safe place. It could be a memory of lying on the beach as a child, or hiking in the woods with a friend. It might even be sitting in your favorite chair at home. Whatever it is, picture it in as much detail as possible. Include all five senses in the visualization:
- What does it look like?
- What does it smell like?
- What does it sound like?
- What does it feel like?
3. Use Your Senses
When you find yourself in the grip of a craving, or feeling overwhelmed by a memory, it can be helpful to use your senses to ground yourself in the present moment. The more senses you can involve, the more present you will feel:
- What do you see around you?
- What do you feel?
- Touch something—a pen, a book, a door handle.
- Smell something—coffee, soap, flowers. Taste something—toothpaste, an apple.
- Listen to the sounds around you—traffic, music, birds singing.
4. Scan Your Body
Stress can cause tension in different parts of the body. Once you have identified the source of the stress, it can be helpful to focus on that part of the body and breathe into it. For example, if you feel an urge to drink alcohol, you might first notice tension in your jaw or neck. By focusing on that area and taking slow, deep breaths, you can help to release the tension.
Promises Behavioral Health is Here to Help
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, we can help. Our team of experts will work with you to create a treatment plan that meets your unique needs. Contact us today at 844.875.5609 to get started.