Can Mindfulness Be Used in Substance Abuse Recovery?
Ever get the feeling that you’re living on autopilot? You wake up, brush your teeth, get dressed, and then suddenly you’re at the office -- or, nowadays, at the dining table -- answering emails without really knowing how you got there. It’s just the same old thing everyday, and your feet carry you through the motions without any thought at all. This feeling of living your life by rote is common, but fortunately there’s a solution in mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
In its simplest terms, mindfulness is a state of awareness of where you are and what you’re doing. As a mind-body discipline, it trains you to stay connected to the present moment by becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Over time, living a more mindful life can reduce stress, improve memory and focus, increase emotional regulation, and decrease depressive symptoms and generally lead to feelings of more holistic wellness.
Mindfulness techniques can be applied to most of our daily activities like eating, walking, even breathing, and can be strengthened through practices like meditation and journaling. In addition to this, mindful living has become a key component of some counseling disciplines, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Mindfulness & Addiction Recovery
According to researchers at the University of Washington, it’s an unconscious human tendency to seek pleasure and avoid discomfort. In some instances, these coping mechanisms are harmless, but they can be grave for those struggling with substance abuse issues, where the automated response can lead to relapse. This is where mindfulness comes in. Retaining a moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and physical surroundings disrupts the autopilot response that leads to substance use in those dealing with addiction.
What is Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention?
In Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP), treatment combines mindfulness techniques with more traditional therapy approaches. Rather than encouraging those in treatment to simply avoid their triggers, MBRP champions a concept called “urge surfing”: using mindfulness techniques to ride out their cravings instead of succumbing to the urge and relapsing.
Staying present allows you to become aware of urges as they arise without surrendering to them. This also relates back to the greater degree of emotional regulation mindfulness allows. When you are better able to manage your emotions, you are less likely to respond to them with substance abuse. In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, participants in a MBRP program fared better than those in a traditional 12-step program, showing lower rates of relapse. However, an important part of MBRP is understanding that building daily acts of mindfulness into your routine is key in maintaining progress. As with other treatment plans, self-improvement remains a lifelong journey.
Who Can Mindfulness Help?
Mindfulness can be incorporated into anyone’s treatment plan, but it’s important to remember that there’s no one approach to recovery. At New Era, we work with clients and their families to develop individualized treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. MBRP may be an especially useful tool when combined with other treatment options. Reach out today to take your recovery into your hands.
As conversations about mental health become increasingly, thankfully, more mainstream, it’s more important than ever to get clear on the language we use to discuss it. What’s “good” mental health anyway? Here are some necessary definitions before we get down to answering that question.
Mental Health & Mental Illness
According to the CDC, mental health is multifaceted: it’s comprised of our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, and it affects our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Mental illness is categorized in two ways, depending on severity. All Mental Illness (AMI) refers to a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. Serious Mental Illness (SMI) refers to the same, but to such a degree that it significantly impedes your ability to lead a normal life -- ie, to hold a job, or to fulfill your usual family obligations. Going through a period of poor mental health doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental illness. Similarly, those who have been diagnosed with mental disorders can go through stretches of good mental health -- and extending these stretches is one of the goals of treatment.
“Good” Mental Health
What it means to have good mental health can be a little more nebulous, but it goes beyond simply the lack of diagnosed mental illnesses. Mentally healthy people:
These attributes come together to produce feelings of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction, which protect against the development of mental health issues. They also contribute to something called “mental resilience,” a key factor in preserving emotional well being.
What is Mental Resilience?
Mental resilience refers to a kind of mental toughness -- though not in a harmful “suck it up and tough it out” kind of way. Instead, psychological resilience describes an adaptiveness and flexibility that allows you to successfully overcome life's adversities. Between workplace woes, financial hardship, and unprecedented global health crises, modern life has plenty of stressors, and a strong sense of mental resilience is required to deal with them, nerves intact. Developing resilience doesn’t mean that an individual won’t deal with emotional distress, but rather that they have built a skill set that allows them to confront traumatic experiences and thrive in the face of them.
The American Psychological Association writes that building mental resilience requires intentionally developing four core components: connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning. By focusing on these factors, anyone can learn how to maintain good mental health even in the toughest situations.
Developing mental resilience requires some work, and sometimes treatment. There’s no shame in reaching out and taking your mental health into your own hands with the help of your family, friends, and trusted professionals.
Even in times of extreme adversity, talking about mental health still holds some stigma. It is still far too common for those struggling mentally or emotionally to feel the need to ignore their hardships and put on a brave face. In other instances, those who make the leap to find care may simply not know where to find the help they desperately need, or find themselves overwhelmed by the process of searching for it. This is especially unfortunate as the prevalence of mental issues in the United States only continues to grow, continuing an upward trend set into motion long before being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The State of Things
While mental health struggles can feel like a secret shame, it’s more common than you might think. According to Mental Health America’s 2021 report on The State Of Mental Health In America:
Mental health is just like physical health -- a key factor of our overall health, one that requires some effort to maintain. By the same token, mental illness, like physical illness, is nothing to be ashamed of. By taking the steps to preserve our mental health, we also do the work of substance abuse prevention, considering the high rate of comorbidity between substance abuse disorders and mental illness. It is necessary work with impact that ripples beyond the individuals in treatment to their families, friends, and broader communities.
Introducing New Era Rehab & Wellness
At New Era, we have always privileged the mental health of our patients in substance abuse recovery and those seeking behavioral solutions. But as our society continues to steadily open up, still reeling from the unprecedented upheaval of the last year, we feel the need to do more.
This Mental Health Awareness Month we’re launching New Era Wellness, a suite of service offerings and resources to help those in need of some extra help while navigating the curveballs life can throw our way. In addition to individual and group therapy, we’ll be expanding our focus to a more holistic picture of wellness by including other disciplines like meditation, yoga, and mindfulness. For the rest of the month, these blog posts and corresponding content on our new social media channels will provide information on how to pursue a more complete understanding of health.
Seeking help for mental illness isn’t always easy. It can mean confronting long-held beliefs about the “kind” of people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other common mental illnesses, or shedding stigmas you’ve unwittingly internalized. But ultimately, it’s key to showing up for yourself and others, so you can live the life you deserve. There is absolutely no shame in getting the help you need. We hope to be of service.