Mindfulness Meditation Found To Reduce Drug, Food Cravings
According to a new review from the University of London, mindfulness meditation, a technique which occupies short-term memory, may prevent or intervene in cravings for drugs and food, including cigarettes and alcohol.
For the review, researchers examined studies that focused on the effects of different mindfulness strategies on cravings, and it was discovered, that in many cases, these techniques induced immediate relief.
Cravings are potentially intense, conscious desires, often to consume food, such as ice cream, or use a substance, such as tobacco.
There has also been substantial evidence found that suggests cravings are directed linked to behavior. For example, cravings will often precede an event such as overeating and over time, weight gain. Thus, cravings may be treated as a relevant target of intervention.
Mindfulness meditation is nothing new – in fact, it has historically been used to interrupt cravings. Ancient Buddhist writings note that craving results in suffering, a state that can be avoiding using mindfulness meditation. In recent years, mindfulness interventions have been employed to target cravings to purposefully alter behaviors.
Mindfulness-based approaches use a wide range of strategies, such as those that include exercises employed to foster an increased awareness of body sensations or to help people perceive themselves as separate entities from their thoughts and feelings.
There is a limited understanding, however, in the ways these different strategies may affect craving-related outcomes. Moreover, this review sought to clear up these limitations by examining research that has focused on the singular effects of mindfulness on cravings.
For the review, researchers analyzed 30 relevant studies and revealed that some of the beneficial effects that resulted from craving-related mindfulness techniques, They found that the impact of mindfulness appeared to due to the interruption of cravings by occupying working memory (a component of short-term memory) which involves immediate conscious processing.
Also, it was shown that mindfulness meditation mitigates cravings over the medium-term, probably as a result of extinction. Moreover, strategies that lead to the person inhibiting responses and behaviors related to cravings eventually cause an overall reduction in these desires over time.
Tips For Using Mindfulness Meditation And Other Tactics To Reduce Urges And Cravings
How does one use mindfulness and other techniques to help with easing addiction symptoms and fostering recovery? One effective method, developed by psychologist Alan Marlatt, is called “urge surfing.”
Urge surfing is a mindfulness meditation technique that has been shown to be effective for coping with addiction. Here’s an example of how you can practice it:
- Take notice of an urge or craving. Rather than act on that urge, pause, and consider it mindfully.
- Identify the location of the physical sensation of the urge or craving in your body. Is it in your chest? Mouth? Stomach?
- Focus on that area and mindfully note the sensations you experience.
- Permit them to increase, peak, and then subside, similar to a wave. Just watch the feelings change form as if you were objectively watching a wave. Realize that they are just sensations. They are nothing worthy of raising anxiety or panic.
This method works because when we are mindful, we interrupt that portion of our brain that immediately acts on urges and cravings. We also learn that the urge isn’t life-threatening or critical, even, it’s not an order. It’s just a sensation that is not us, but something that we feel, and can, therefore, separate from ourselves.
Other Ways To Deal With Cravings
Change Your Environment
Keep your home free of temptations. If you are trying to quit smoking, do not have cigarettes or ashtrays lying around within your sight or reach. Stimuli such as this can trigger urges and make it easier to act upon them. Avoid social situations that put you in contact with potential triggers.
This technique works because without temptations, urges are weakened, and therefore, they are easier to mindfully manipulate.
Develop Healthier Coping Habits
Addictions are a way of dealing with stress, mental health issues, family conflict, and past trauma.
Finding healthier ways to cope with these factors will reduce the likelihood you will feel the need to return to your addiction.
It’s not often possible to just stop or remove the addiction. The stress and negative feelings will remain, so you need to have a plan in place for coping when these problems arise.
This coping mechanism can be anything that helps you stay in control and deal with problems without turning back to your addiction for help. These may include mindfulness meditation, exercise, talking to someone, attending a support group, doing yoga, etc. – moreover, any activity that you find to be helpful and effective.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
Katy Tapper. Mindfulness and craving: effects and mechanisms. Clinical Psychology Review, 2018; 59: 101 DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2017.11.003