Spending time contemplating the past, worrying about the future, pondering major life decisions or dealing with problems can be both a mental and an emotional drain for anyone. For most people, though, this is a normal part of their day-to-day life.
The stresses and strains of modern living have, in the past decade, led to more and more people turning to the ancient practice of mindfulness. But what is it?
A focus on the present moment
People have been practising mindfulness for thousands of years. The majority of the methods that are popular today are derived from Hinduism and Buddhism.
Essentially, mindfulness, which is a type of meditation, is when someone focuses all of their energy and attention on the present. In doing so they contemplate, without judgement, what they’re seeing, sensing and feeling in the moment.
Mindfulness was introduced to the West in the 1970s by scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts was used to treat chronically ill patients.
Since then its use as a form of therapy has increased as evidence increasingly shows that it can help with many mental health and emotional disorders, in addition to some physical problems too.
The benefits of mindfulness
Because mindfulness encourages a greater focus on positivity, this is hugely beneficial both to mental and physical health. This is because those who focus on negative thoughts experience negative feelings – and this is felt by the mind and body.
Mindfulness helps us to move away from this sort of thinking and learn to observe and, to an extent, have control over our thoughts – an invaluable skill to have.
The ability to choose which of our thoughts we pay attention to has many benefits:
- Better emotional regulation. Mindfulness can make it easier to cope with your feelings by giving you more perspective. Having less emotional reactivity can improve many areas of your life, especially your relationships with others.
- Stress reduction. Mindfulness is shown to boost an individual’s ability to experience emotion selectively. Such emotion regulation is extremely useful when an individual is subjected to multiple stressors in their family or work life.
- Improved memory. Practising mindfulness has been shown to improve short-term memory by reducing ‘proactive interference’ – where older memories interfere with your ability to access newer ones. It has also been suggested that mindfulness training increases the volume of the hippocampus – an area of the brain associated with memory.
- More focus. The process of learning to be more aware of your thoughts increases your ability to think clearly. This is because you are more able to suppress other interfering thoughts, allowing you to sustain your focus for longer.
- More cognitive flexibility. Being conscious of your thought processes also gives you greater flexibility. Mindfulness increases your ability to shift your thoughts and attention despite the distractions around you and to think quickly and adapt to changing information. Such skills can enable you to solve problems more efficiently.
- Less rumination. Those with negative thoughts tend to feel bad about them. And these negative feelings then lead to a vicious circle of further negativity as we try to understand why we feel so bad. Mindfulness can help to break this cycle.
The above are just some of the reasons why mindfulness is being used more and more as a therapeutic method.
Mindfulness and addiction
That said, the benefits of mindfulness can also be seen in the treatment of addictions.
On the one hand, mindfulness can help you to better recognise your reaction to triggers. Understanding the things that lead you to drink, take drugs or engage in other addictive behaviours will make it a lot easier to respond differently in the future.
Likewise, mindfulness trains the brain to slow things down and to quieten the mental chatter, helping you to achieve a sense of tranquillity that some people can only find by taking substances such as alcohol, marijuana and opiates.
Another way that mindfulness can help with addiction is by increasing your awareness of sensory experiences that occur in everyday life that you might not have previously noticed.
When you allow these sensations into your consciousness, the desire to pursue the high that you get from substance use may be diminished – even if only slightly.
How do you practise mindfulness?
The greatest benefit of mindfulness is that it is incredibly straightforward and anyone can do it. Everyone has the ability to be mindful.
These are three mindfulness methods which are the most popular:
- The body scan. This is the most typical mindfulness exercise and is very simple to do. Firstly, lie on your back with your arms by your side and your palms facing up. Then, pay close attention to every part of your body, going from top to bottom. Start at your scalp and slowly work your way down, body part by body part, to your toes. As you ‘scan’ your body, take note of any sensations and feelings you’re experiencing in each part, as well as any thoughts you have about any body part as you focus on it.
- Sitting mindfulness. This technique focuses strongly on your breathing. First, you must sit with a straight back and both feet flat on the floor. Let your hands rest in your lap. Then, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. And while doing so, focus on every breath that moves in and out of you, noting how your chest rises and falls each time. Do this for around five minutes.
- Walking mindfulness. This exercise is best done outdoors, preferably in nature. Start off in a quiet spot then slowly walk for about 20 paces, fully focused on the experience of walking, staying mindful of every step. Pay special attention to the sensations you feel, particularly beneath your feet, and observe the sounds around you.
Ultimately, mindfulness can be practised anywhere and at any moment.
Many people find that practising first thing in the morning is best and provides a positive start to the day.
If you’re doing it for the first time, try to do it for just five minutes at first, before working your way up to a longer time.
Addiction treatment at White River Manor
The peaceful environment we have at White River Manor is perfect for practising mindfulness. In fact, our experienced and passionate therapeutic staff encourages all of our clients to partake should they wish to do so.
At White River Manor, we take a varied approach to therapy, incorporating many different methods and techniques, including mindfulness and other forms of meditation, that we believe have the best chance of helping clients to overcome their addiction.
Every treatment plan is personalised according to each client’s needs and preferences.
If you want to find out how we can help you, please get in touch today!