Mindfulness Practices to Help With Recovery

Naomi Carr
Morgan Blair
Written by Naomi Carr on 21 February 2024
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 22 February 2024

Mindfulness is a concept based on traditional practices that have been incorporated into many modern Western practices and mental health interventions. Utilizing mindfulness practices alongside addiction treatment can help improve the recovery process and provide numerous mental and physical health benefits.

Mindfulness Practices to Help With Recovery

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness refers to the practice of being fully aware of the self, others, and the environment. With mindfulness, it is possible to focus your attention on the present moment, without dwelling on or worrying about the past or future. It can help us recognize and appreciate our experiences and better understand our emotions, thoughts, and sensations without judgment or criticism.

Mindfulness is derived from traditional Buddhist and Hindu practices known as ‘Sati’. In recent decades, mindfulness has become integrated into several Western practices and mental health interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress relief and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

The benefits of mindfulness

Mindfulness can provide numerous benefits to physical and mental well-being, including:

  • Reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Feeling calmer
  • Reducing rumination and worrying
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Reducing physical pain
  • Improving resilience and ability to cope with negative experiences and emotions
  • Increasing awareness of others’ emotions and needs
  • Improving quality of life and well-being
  • Increasing enjoyment and pleasure
  • Improving the ability to regulate moods

How can mindfulness help with recovery?

Mindfulness can be a very helpful practice to incorporate into addiction treatment and the recovery process. It can provide numerous benefits, including:

  • Increasing awareness: Mindfulness can help individuals become more aware of their addictive behaviors, such as recognizing what triggers substance use, the times or occasions in which larger amounts are used, and the issues and consequences of substance use. This can help with accepting and regulating these behaviors.
  • Improving resilience: Stress can be a common trigger for substance use, so by using mindfulness to become more resilient to stressful experiences, individuals can reduce their desire to use substances.
  • Improving impulse control: Mindfulness can lead to changes in the brain relating to cognitive functioning. This can help improve impulse control and acting on ‘autopilot’ or repeating learned behaviors relating to addiction. This can prevent substance use and help gain control over impulsive behaviors.
  • Restructure reward processes: The reward circuit is often altered by the release of dopamine that occurs with substance use. Mindfulness can help to restructure these processes to allow for natural pleasure responses and reduce the desire to use substances.
  • Mood regulation: People with substance use disorders often experience co-occurring mental health issues that impact their substance use. Mindfulness can help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression and help regulate emotions that might trigger use.
  • Managing cravings: Mindfulness can help reduce physical and emotional symptoms that occur during withdrawal and can reduce cravings or improve the ability to cope with cravings when they occur without acting on them.
  • Improving general well-being: Mindfulness can contribute to improved mental and physical well-being, which can help individuals maintain abstinence, engage in recovery treatments, and feel motivated to continue taking positive steps within their recovery process.

Mindfulness practices to incorporate into your recovery journey

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, from generally trying to be more aware of your surroundings to engaging in specific mindfulness practices. You may find that one practice is more enjoyable or effective than another, so it can be a good idea to try several different ones to find something that works well for you and provides benefits to your recovery process.

Yoga

Yoga is a mindfulness practice that incorporates physical movement, breathing techniques, and meditation. There are several styles of yoga, some of which are slow and gentle, while others are more dynamic and physically demanding. Yoga can be practiced at home alone or in classes with others.

Studies show that yoga has many benefits on physical and mental well-being, including reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, improved heart health, improved physical fitness, better sleep, and reduced pain. There is also evidence to indicate that the use of yoga alongside other addiction treatments can significantly improve recovery and treatment outcomes.

Meditation

Meditation often involves the use of breathing techniques and a chant or mantra, to focus on stillness and bring attention to the present. Meditation can be practiced in a variety of ways, including alone or as a group, and guided or self-directed meditation.

The aim of meditation is to integrate the mind and body to create calmness and awareness. This can improve mental health symptoms, stress, sleep, and physical discomfort. Incorporating meditation into the recovery process can help recognize and manage triggers, prevent relapse, and reduce cravings.

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are often a very helpful technique in managing the physical and emotional symptoms of stress and anxiety. They can be utilized at any time, although it is ideal to practice regularly in a quiet and relaxed setting. These exercises can be beneficial in the recovery process, helping to reduce substance use triggers, associated mental health issues, and sleep problems.

Various types of breathing techniques can be used, and they can be easily adapted to meet individual requirements. A commonly used technique is the 4-7-8 technique:

  • Take a deep breath in, counting to four
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven
  • Breathe out slowly for a count of eight, making a sound as you exhale

This can be challenging or cause lightheadedness, particularly on the first few attempts. You can reduce the length of time for any of the steps, gradually increasing to 4-7-8 as you feel more comfortable with the technique.

Body scanning and relaxation

Body scanning and relaxation exercises can help bring your focus to the physical body and away from negative thoughts while helping to release tension or pain in the muscles. This can be a useful practice during the recovery process as it can help reduce symptoms of co-existing mental health issues, distract from triggers and cravings, and improve sleep.

The following is an example of this type of exercise:

  • Sitting or lying down, draw your focus to your toes, tensing and releasing these muscles.
  • Gradually work your way up the body to your head, tensing and releasing each group of muscles.
  • As you do this, focus on the sensations in your body, looking for any tension, and aim to release this tension as you relax the muscles in this area.

Five senses exercise

This is a simple exercise that can be used anywhere at any time. It involves the use of all five senses and can effectively bring your focus and awareness to the present moment and your environment.

  • Start by noticing five things that you can see.
  • Then four things that you can touch or feel.
  • Three different things that you can hear.
  • Two things you can smell.
  • And one thing that you can taste.

This can be a helpful distraction from overwhelming thoughts and feelings, cravings, or challenging situations, and can draw your attention to your bodily sensations and the world around you.

Resources:

  1. Mindful.org. (2024). Getting Started with Mindfulness. Retrieved from
  2. American Psychological Association. (2022). Mindfulness. APA. Retrieved from
  3. Schuman-Olivier, Z., Trombka, M., Lovas, D.A., Brewer, J.A., Vago, D.R., Gawande, R., Dunne, J.P., Lazar, S.W., Loucks, E.B., & Fulwiler, C. (2020). Mindfulness and Behavior Change. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 28(6), 371–394. Retrieved from
  4. Mineo, L. (2018). With Mindfulness, Life's In The Moment. The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from
  5. Keng, S.L., Smoski, M.J., & Robins, C.J. (2011). Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(6), 1041–1056. Retrieved from
  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (Updated 2022). Meditation and Mindfulness: What You Need To Know. NCCIH. Retrieved from
  7. Garland, E.L., & Howard, M.O. (2018). Mindfulness-Based Treatment of Addiction: Current State of the Field and Envisioning the Next Wave of Research. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 13(1), 14. Retrieved from
  8. Priddy, S.E., Howard, M.O., Hanley, A.W., Riquino, M.R., Friberg-Felsted, K., & Garland, E.L. (2018). Mindfulness Meditation in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders and Preventing Future Relapse: Neurocognitive Mechanisms and Clinical Implications. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 9, 103–114. Retrieved from
  9. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (Updated 2023). Yoga: What You Need To Know. NCCIH. Retrieved from
  10. Walia, N., Matas, J., Turner, A., Gonzalez, S., & Zoorob, R. (2021). Yoga for Substance Use: A Systematic Review. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: JABFM, 34(5), 964–973. Retrieved from
  11. British Heart Foundation. (2023). 3 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress. BHF. Retrieved from
  12. Fargo, S. (Updated 2024). A 5 Senses Meditation Script for Increased Awareness. Mindfulness Exercises. Retrieved from

Activity History - Last updated: 22 February 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 20 February 2024 and last checked on 22 February 2024

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan Blair

Reviewer

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