Over the past thirty years, meditation therapy has become increasingly popular in fields of mental health, medicine and education as a way to manage stress and impulsive behavior and improve emotional stability, mindfulness, decision making, empathy, cognitive function, and overall health. Evidence has supported the neurobiological, psychological, and social benefits that come with regular practice. Some benefits of regular meditation include enhanced brain and immune function; improved focus and memory; increased self-esteem; healthier relationships; strengthened the ability to prevent recurring depression and potential relapse; among others.
A Holistic Approach to Treating Substance Use Disorder
Many of us who struggle with alcohol use and substance use disorders have a co-occurring mental health disorder. Co-occurring disorders include Bipolar Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, those with mental health disorders are more susceptible to substance use disorders. In these cases, holistic treatment involves interventions and a comprehensive approach to helping clients cope with co-occurring symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, and depression. Meditation therapy has proven to be one of the most effective ways to help clients manage difficult emotions and mood shifts related to a co-occurring mental health disorder.
Emotion Regulation through Meditation
The essence of meditation can be boiled down to the science of attention training. Meditation is the practice of bringing mindfulness back to the present moment. Regular meditation nurtures the mind’s ability to transcend obsessive thoughts and emotional reactivity, and redirect attention to the present feelings and sensations. With consistent practice, individuals are less likely to experience troublesome patterns and emotional distraction, and therefore less susceptible to relapse. Of course we cannot predict when emotional triggers will occur, however, regular meditation gives us the tools and mindfulness we need to manage emotional reactions and redirect our thinking back to the breath.
Neuroscience teaches us that whichever thoughts we focus on most will become magnified. When we spend time obsessing over stressful, shameful or worrisome thoughts, these thoughts manifest deeper in our subconscious and we start to behave (or react) in accordance to this alternative reality. Meditation therapy allows us to redirect our thinking away from destructive cycles which positively affects our behaviors.
While applying the principles of meditation therapy to addiction treatment, experts have seen significant reduction in emotion and mood disturbances that are frequently associated with co-occurring disorders. By offering coping skills learned through meditation therapy, holistic treatment provides a stronger support system for long-term mental health.
You Can Start Today
A Beginner’s Guide: An Introduction to Meditation
- Find a place to sit or lie comfortably. You may want to use a small cushion for support.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a few deep breaths. Inhale through the nose, and exhale through the mouth.
- Bring your breathing back to normal and focus your attention on the rhythm of your breath and on how the body moves.
- Simply observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Focus your attention on the breath while allowing it to flow naturally.
- When your mind wanders, bring your focus back to the breath.
Try this for a couple minutes to start, then gradually work up to longer periods of practice.
Making Time for Daily Meditation
Let’s face it: it’s difficult to make time for meditation when we probably need it most. Here are 5 tips for squeezing some zen time into your jam-packed day:
- Meditate while commuting to work on the bus or train
- Take a 5 or 10-minute break at work, and find a quiet place to practice
- Every evening, set aside 5-10 minutes to wind down for bed (this will help you sleep better too)
- Take a quick break from work and move your body: moving meditation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or walking can help to de-stress and refocus the mind
- Practice mindfulness while eating lunch, walking your dog, climbing stairs, or sipping coffee: observe smells, sounds, tastes, and other sensations while experiencing everyday activities
Make Meditation a Habit
There are many iPhone and android apps that offer a range of guided meditation exercises at varying lengths. No matter if you’re a beginner or a guru, these meditation apps come in handy.
Here are 5 favorites: