When it comes to addiction recovery, there is no shortage of treatment methods. Almost anyone can find one that works for them. Science, psychiatry, and medicine have undergone several advancements that have proven to be successful for many people in recovery. Still, medical science can only heal the physical side of addiction. Spiritual methods can be just as effective for maintaining sobriety and a sense of emotional balance after the medical side of treatment is complete. One of these methods is practicing mindfulness.
The Definition of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined a few different ways. Essentially, mindfulness is a conscious way of thinking that allows you to be present in the moment and experience things directly without a perceptual filter. It’s like waking up from a long sleep and paying purposeful attention to the world around you.
What Does Practicing Mindfulness Mean?
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow… Each day has enough trouble of its own.
—Matthew 6:34 NIV
Practicing mindfulness means living in the moment. It also means tuning out any invasive thoughts of the past or future by shifting your focus onto the present.
The purpose of practicing mindfulness in recovery is to disentangle any judgments or self-deprecation from your experiences going forward. Recovery professionals already encourage this for their patients, so practicing mindfulness only reinforces the need to take things one step at a time.
The Studies of Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn developed one particular approach to practicing mindfulness that is popular today. Kabat-Zinn is the Emeritus Professor of Medicine who founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Kabat-Zinn’s approach combines meditation, yoga and a variety of psychotherapy techniques to create a method of practicing mindfulness through relaxation and stress reduction.
In many of his lectures, he describes mindfulness an “awareness that [comes] from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” His definition of mindfulness is one of the most widely used today.
The Primary Components of Practicing Mindfulness
Although there are several ways to practice mindfulness, there are three universal components:
1. Mindfulness is Intentional
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
—Philippians 4:6 NLT
The point of practicing mindfulness is to acknowledge and neutrally register your experiences. When you practice mindfulness, you’re much more aware of what’s happening around you and how those things may affect you going forward. Everything in your life follows a steady pace from one moment to another. The idea of “taking things one step at a time” is what drives this facet of practicing mindfulness.
2. Mindfulness is Accepting
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
—1 John 1:9 NIV
Practicing mindfulness is about progressing without being restrained by your checkered past or uncertain future. A significant step in both mindfulness and recovery is accepting that things are not the same as they once were. When practicing mindfulness, especially in recovery, you can’t let your experiences be ruled by ‘if,’ ‘but,’ ‘should have,’ or ‘could have.’ Instead, mindfulness shifts your focus onto the present and what ‘is.’
3. Mindfulness is Non-Judgmental
Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.
—Deuteronomy 1:17 NIV
To practice mindfulness, you can’t be too critical of yourself. Doing this will prevent you from enjoying all the good moments in your life. On the same note, you can’t be over-confident, either. Over-confidence can test boundaries and has the potential to influence poor decision-making.
Practicing Mindfulness in Recovery from Substance Addiction
Mindfulness has become a prevalent practice for those in recovery, especially in recent years. Since it involves reevaluating the way you think about and respond to the goings-on in your life, mindfulness is beneficial both during and after addiction treatment. In fact, practicing mindfulness in recovery is one of the best ways to navigate stressful situations and potential triggers. This is because mindfulness can help you acknowledge and handle any painful thoughts and feelings in a healthy way rather than suppressing or ignoring them. In a way, practicing mindfulness is almost the opposite of addiction.
Unconscious vs. Aware
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
—Philippians 4:13 NIV
A lot of the time, people turn to substance abuse to pacify painful feelings or cope with stressful situations. However, as an addiction develops, the cravings for drugs or alcohol become an automatic, unconscious behavior. Addiction, after all, is a disease that rewires your brain into believing that your body needs drugs or alcohol to continue functioning.
Mindfulness works the opposite way. When you practice mindfulness, you are consciously making an effort to address stressful emotions or situations. Facing specific difficulties head-on and finding healthy ways of coping with your stressors takes away their power without giving it to a harmful habit like substance abuse.
Dishonesty vs. Transparency
Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.
—Colossians 3:9 NLT
Addiction is filled with denial, distrust, and dishonesty. These and other similar feelings are a significant threat to both your emotional and spiritual health. One way to address these kinds of feelings during and after addiction treatment is through practicing mindfulness. For people in recovery, an important part of mindfulness is acceptance— the ability listen to your own thoughts and feelings without judging them. After all, being mindful means having a keen awareness of your thoughts, your feelings, and your environment. So, through mindfulness, you can take responsibility for your actions and allow yourself to embrace positive change.
Self-deprecation vs. Self-esteem
Though good advice lies deep within the heart, a person with understanding will draw it out.
—Proverbs 20:5 NLT
Many people struggling with addiction also struggle with a great deal of shame, remorse, fear, and self-loathing. This sometimes translates to aggression toward loved ones, which can only make the situation worse. Part of the addiction recovery process is to trade in your self-deprecation for a renewed sense of self-respect. By practicing mindfulness, you can rebuild your confidence and your sense of consideration for others.
The Physical Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness in Recovery
Practicing Mindfulness Strengthens the Immune System
Substance abuse has a massive impact on the immune system. For example, alcohol reduces white blood cell production. As a result, the lower number of white blood cells can’t kill as many harmful germs in the body. Unfortunately, this can leave many people in recovery with weakened immune systems, even after detoxification. However, practicing mindfulness during recovery will have a significant positive impact on your immune system.
One study from the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine showcases the connection between practicing mindfulness and immune system improvement during addiction recovery. In this study, 25 patients had eight weeks of training in mindfulness while another 16 did not. By the end of the eight weeks, the 25 patients who practiced mindfulness during their recoveries developed stronger immune systems than the other 16 patients.
Practicing Mindfulness Keeps the Amygdala Healthy
Practicing mindfulness has been proven to strengthen the amygdala, the region of the brain that deals with emotions and emotional well-being. The amygdala is responsible for regulating feelings, including anxiety and stress. Practicing mindfulness helps the amygdala by finding new and better ways to respond to emotionally-driven issues, especially in recovery.
Practicing Mindfulness Reduces Cravings
A growing body of research suggests that supplementing standard treatment methods with practicing mindfulness can significantly reduce the risks of relapse during recovery. One study compared the success rates of mindfulness-based behavioral relapse prevention (MBRP) and other, more traditional relapse prevention programs. This results revealed that those who completed the MBRP program had significantly fewer cravings and lower relapse rates over the four months following the study than those who underwent non-MBRP programs.
Practicing Mindfulness Lessen Your Chances of Relapsing
To stay grounded during your addiction recovery, you should keep an unbiased view of yourself, your progress, and the changes you make in your lifestyle. Maintaining this sense of balance through practicing mindfulness will help you learn how to regulate your thoughts and emotions, which will keep your chances of relapsing low.
Achieving Christian Mindfulness
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat… or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you —you of little faith?”
—Matthew 6:25-30 NIV
When Christ implored the disciples to worry less and trust in God, he had them pay more attention to the beauty and prosperity of the world around them. He invited them to observe their own situations without want or judgment. This is one of many examples of practicing mindfulness in The Bible.
When it comes to addiction recovery, you cannot make progress or live your life in the present if you’re always worried about the future. The essence of mindfulness is paying attention. It’s about taking the time to savor what you are doing, thinking and feeling when you do, think or feel it. And since God is part of your everyday life, paying attention more attention to Him and your faith is a fundamental part of faith-based mindfulness during recovery.
Practicing Mindfulness with Road to Freedom
For Christians in addiction recovery, practicing mindfulness requires both effort and trust in God. It can help strengthen both your sobriety and your faith. Christian mindfulness, after all, allows you to better recognize that you and your recovery are in the hands of God. If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction, please call Road to Freedom at (844) 402-3605. Our counselors, therapists, and pastors are here to help.