In today’s fast-paced world it can be easy to get lost in our racing thoughts and busy schedules. Those of us who struggle with mental illness or other health issues–or addiction, which can include both of these–have it even harder. These conditions can cause us to lose touch with ourselves. When our identities are in turmoil it can cause feelings of isolation that perpetuate this negative cycle, which can make us feel disconnected from others. The ancient practice of meditation can be monumental in counteracting this disconnect. Keep reading to learn about the incredible benefits of meditation for addiction recovery.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation, meaning “to ponder” in ancient Latin, is not simply ‘sitting around and doing, or thinking about, nothing’. This practice has long been praised by ancient cultures for connecting the mind and body, promoting mindfulness, and instilling a sense of calmness. Although it only recently became popular in Western culture in the past few decades, meditation has been around for a long time. The earliest references of this contemplative exercise can be found in 1500 BCE India.
How has meditation persevered for so long and been adopted by so many cultures and civilizations? Because it works. Scientists have found concrete evidence of the physical and psychological benefits of meditation both short and long-term: from moderating the pain response to keeping the brain sharp. More importantly, meditation is accessible. It’s something that anyone can do, anywhere, and doesn’t require fancy equipment or training. It’s simply the decision to dedicate a few moments to yourself to focus.
The Benefits of Meditation for Recovering Addicts
- Reduced stress and anxiety
The brain and body are more connected than you might think, and simply willing yourself to relax through meditation can cause your body to follow suit. A study conducted by a team of researchers at John Hopkins University found meditation had the same effect as antidepressants for dealing with depression and anxiety symptoms. Another study found that participants of an 8 weeks mindfulness program continued to experience lower stress levels well after the program was over.
- Better memory and focus
Another group of researchers found that meditation literally causes changes in the brain’s structure, something that could be attributed to the repetitive nature of the chants and mantras that accompany meditation. Meditation was found to increase the thickness of the hippocampus–the part of the brain strongly related to memory, learning, information processing, and even emotion regulation. It improves attention span and even protects the brain from age-related memory or cognitive losses. Meditation also decreases the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for those negative emotions that can hijack rational thinking (such as fear, stress, and anxiety), which strengthens the case for the point above.
- Better sleep
Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep, especially when the lack of it can cause cognitive decline on par with that of being thoroughly drunk. Meditation provides handy practice for shooing away the intrusive thoughts that prevent us from relaxing and falling asleep (over half of the population struggles with insomnia at some point in their lives).
- Reduces pain
Mind over matter is real, especially when it comes to our perception of pain. By strengthening your mind’s connection with your body, you’ll be able to better regulate your pain response in the moment and train yourself to have a reduced pain sensitivity in the long run.
- Lower risk of heart issues
The act of meditation can also lead to a healthier heart, as can the lasting effects of lower stress. Meditation was found to lower blood pressure, which is key to reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Meditation can also temper your body’s fight-or-flight response so that it isn’t fired as often, and thus saving your heart from undue stress.
- Enhanced self-awareness
Last but not least, improved self-awareness is a cornerstone of not just self-improvement, but also overcoming addiction. Meditation itself is a healthy coping mechanism that can be used to fight cravings and modulate delicate emotional stability. However, it also gives us the tools to better understand why we do what we do and is helpful for relapse prevention in the long term.
How Do I Start?
For beginners, sit in a quiet place without distractions. Turn your phone on silent, turn off the tv, and just let yourself be. The core of meditation is about breath focus. With this, one can train their mind and body to relax, letting go (at least temporarily) of the cares and stressors of everyday life. Your thoughts will inevitably wander at first–let them, it’s okay–but over time you will become more adept at blocking unwanted thoughts, a skill that holds tremendous benefit in regular, everyday life.
If you want more guidance as you pursue addiction recovery, look for a mindfulness-based addiction treatment center near you.