Do you ever get the feeling that you’re running on autopilot?
You go about your day doing the things you’ve always done without much thought.
Your brain has already decided that each action is worth doing through past experience. You don’t need to stop and think about it, the sub-conscious mind makes the decision for you.
This happens all day, every day. When new habits are formed, they are offloaded to the subconscious mind for next time, so you don’t have to think about it again. This area of the brain doesn’t discriminate about good or bat. If a habit solves a problem, it gets remembered.
- Need energy to get going in the morning – Make a coffee
- Feel stressed – Have a drink
Studies have shown that the brain knows what you will do before you have the compulsion to act.
Off-loading to the subconscious mind is meant to be productive. But it’s unhelpful when we continue to do things habitually which do not serve us.
When you make decisions without much conscious thought (habits), it can be more difficult to stop them too. If the right cue appears, your brain is ready with the action it remembered from before. It thinks it’s doing the right thing. If drinking is the solution to feeling stressed, then to the brain, it’s solving a problem, and its worth remembering.
How mindfulness can help break the cycle
Mindfulness is all about being in the present with awareness. With practice mindfulness can be used as a tool to notice, stop and make a decision without judgement.
It is easy to learn and doesn’t require teacher intervention.
Mindfulness can be used anytime, anywhere, but a good starting point is 5-10 minutes per day. If you drink alcohol because your stressed or agitated, mindfulness will help you to become more aware of this.
Each time you are mindful of the feelings, emotions or thoughts that occur when you have a craving gives you an opportunity to break the cycle.
It’s not just stopping cravings that mindfulness is good for either. It’s already well documented in helping other areas which have a knock-on effect on addiction.
These are all things that can have a contributing role in maintaining an addiction, and act as barriers to change. If depression is a trigger for drinking, then reducing depression through mindfulness serves to remove a trigger.
The key with mindfulness is to remember it takes practice. You don’t have to be good, you just need to keep doing it. It’s not about fighting or trying to block out your thoughts, feelings or emotions. It’s not a battle, it’s a way of putting you back in the driver’s seat and giving you the chance to decide what route to take.
- Try a mindfulness app for your phone
- Try a guided mindfulness exercise on youtube
- Try one of 22 mindfulness activities (article/PDF)
Mindfulness is beginning to be integrated into all areas of the health system, from hospitals to halfway houses and 12 step programs. Give it a try for yourself and above all, stick at it!
About the Author:
Article published by Step Up Inn, a sober living house exclusively for women in West Haven Connecticut