Addiction is a very real concern for athletes. From recreational teams all the way up to professional status, athletes are suffering with injuries – that is a reality. What’s worse is that when athletes try to find pain relief from their doctor, the most common remedy is a prescription painkiller, which may include anything from NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, to opioids, which may include codeine, fentanyl, and oxycodone – all of which have been clinically linked to accidental overdose at alarming rates.1,2
While many athletes struggle with an addiction to pain medications, some have been able to kick the alluring habit of pill popping, and get sober. The recovery process from an injury is never easy, and it is only made more challenging by an accompanying addiction to a potentially deadly substance, but today there are athletes who have successfully paved the way on the road to recovery. Just consider Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter. He was able to take on his drug addiction early in his football career, and after numerous bouts with substance abuse, Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns entered into an inpatient rehabilitation facility, and was able to take back his life.
An addiction to painkillers is no laughing matter, and while at times, prescription medications are needed to reduce pain, the temptation of long-term use is simply unsustainable. But that doesn’t mean the battle for sobriety is an easy one.
The Power of Mindfulness for Recovery After Rehab
Checking into rehab can be very uncomfortable, and maybe even a little scary because after all, you are taking a giant step into the unknown. However, this first step is also a powerful move towards a full recovery.
“Mindfulness meditation is a powerful recovery-centric skill that has several benefits in aftercare,” says Dr. Rod Amiri of Prominence Treatment Center in Calabasas, Calif. “It promotes emotional regulation, which helps athletes stay calm and decrease their stress levels.”
Athletes are able to take the same lessons they learn during recovery, into their everyday lives. And in doing that, they can discover how to use these lessons during more high-stakes situations. You see, if athletes are able to learn how to harness the power of their minds through meditation, they are more likely to be able to center that energy any time they want to. Then, they can focus their mental energy on how to turn away from drugs, or alcohol after a win, or a loss. This way, if their sobriety becomes threatened in the event of a celebration over a big win, or the devastation of a loss, the athlete will be more prepared to handle the situation without turning to drugs, or alcohol. Dr. Amiri adds, “Mindfulness has also proven to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression as well as promote feelings of contentment and global wellness.”
The Many Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness sounds like something that only happens on the top of ancient mountains, performed by gurus. However, it can happen any time, or place you want it to! And the benefits of practicing mindfulness, even for just 5 minutes a day may lead to these health benefits:
- Stress Reduction. When you are under high levels of stress, it is a natural function of your body to produce a hormone called cortisol. In small amounts, this hormone may benefit you if you need to flee from danger. But in large amounts like that produced over time from chronic stress levels, cortisol may lead to negative health effects like unwanted belly fat.3 However, mindful meditations have been linked to clinical reductions in the stress hormone cortisol.4
- Better Understanding. During recovery, it can get confusing inside the mind as to how to kick the habit. For this reason, practicing mindfulness may help. One study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, revealed that mindfulness can help people to see beyond our own limited perspective for a better understanding of ourselves. In doing this, mindfulness can serve as a path to seeing yourself more clearly as you really are which can be difficult during recovery.5
- Better Sleep. Recovery is a process, and you will need your rest! One study researcher, Holly Rau said, “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day. In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress.”6
- Better Mood. Feelings of loneliness are common on the road to recovery, and those feelings can damper your mood, making the journey even more difficult. However, mindfulness has been linked to a reduction of feelings of loneliness, which may help those after rehab make a full recovery.7
- Better Brain Function. During recovery, it can be difficult for athletes to wrap their minds around the problem they have with addiction. Mindfulness has been shown by researchers to positively influence the brain’s ability to process emotions – even when you are not doing a meditation!8
How Can I Do a Mindful Meditation?
Mindfulness meditations come in all shapes, and sizes, and you can perform them any time you want to, no matter where you are! Here is just one example of a simple mindful meditation that you can try today.
- Sit comfortably, with your spine straight, and facing ahead. It is important to maintain good posture, but also feel soft, and gentle in your seat.
- Relax your hands, and place your palms face up in your lap.
- With your right hand, bring your pointer finger, and your thumb between your eyebrows. Then use the soft pads of these fingers to gently pinch the area just between your eyes, at the top of your nose. This should draw your attention to your mind for greater awareness.
- Then, close your eyes, and allow all of your facial muscles to relax. Take one long, deep inhalation that fills your belly up with breath, for a count of 5, (1-2-3-4-5).
- Release the breath all the way out of your belly, exhaling through your mouth for 5 seconds, (1-2-3-4-5). Repeat this for up to 5 cycles (about 1 minute).
- Then, take the soft pad of your index finger, and use it to cover your right nostril. Repeat the breathing exercise, but only with one nostril open. Inhale for 5 seconds, drawing the breath in through your nose, and exhaling fully out of your mouth for 5 seconds.
- Repeat this cycle, up to 5 times (about 1 minute).
- Then, you can repeat this on the left side. Take your right hand, and return it to the resting position, open palm facing upward on your lap.
- Use the soft pad of your left index finger to cover your left nostril. Inhale deeply, through your right nostril for 5 seconds. Exhale out of your mouth for 5 slow counts, (1-2-3-4-5). Repeat this exercise for up to 5 cycles.
- Then, return to double nostril breathing, for 2 full cycles to end this short 5-minute mindfulness meditation.
NOTE: The key to performing mindfulness is to use the mediation time to focus on only your breath. This is known as the ancient yoga technique of pranayama, or “mindful breathing.” As you breathe, notice any sounds in your environment, feelings in your body, or thoughts that arise in your mind. Then, simply continue to breathe allowing it all to occur. This is how you can become aware of yourself during any time in life. Simply breathe, and allow life to happen as you practice being mindful of everything around you. And that’s it!
Remember, you do not have to have a silent meditation studio to perform a mindfulness meditation. You can do this breathing exercise in your car at a stoplight, as you wait for a table at a restaurant, or during a television show to gain the ability to be fully present in any moment of your life, and more fully experience who you are.
For more information on how to practice mindfulness, read about the meditations at Mindful.org.
Get Together With Others to Practice Mindfulness
Did you know that there are many other people just like you who want to practice mindfulness meditations? You may be able to find some mindfulness groups, or practicing meditation circles in your area. So, check online to find a place where you can take everything you’ve learned about mindful meditation, and practice it with group routines.
While mindfulness is a simple practice, it offers these 5 health benefits, plus many more. So, team up with other athletes, or mindful meditation communities in your area, and take back your life. It’s time to do what you love again, and get back in the game!
- Laura J Hunter, David M Wood.The patterns of toxicity and management of acute nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) overdose. Open Access Emerg Med. 2011; 3: 39–48.
- Christopher J. Ruhm, PhD, PhD Christopher J. Ruhm. Geographic Variation in Opioid and Heroin Involved Drug Poisoning Mortality Rates.
- Moyer AE, Rodin J. Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women. Obes Res. 1994 May;2(3):255-62.
- Jacobs TL, Shaver PR. Self-reported mindfulness and cortisol during a Shamatha meditation retreat. Health Psychol. 2013 Oct;32(10):1104-9. Health Psychol. 2013 Oct;32(10):1104-9.
- Erika N. Carlson. Overcoming the Barriers to Self-Knowledge. Mindfulness as a Path to Seeing Yourself as You Really Are. Perspectives on Psychological Science.
- Better Living through Mindfulness. U STUDY CONNECTS TRAITS OF MINDFULNESS TO EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING. March 07, 2013.
- J. David Creswella, Michael R. Irwin. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: A small randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity
Volume 26, Issue 7, October 2012, Pages 1095-1101.
- Gaëlle Desbordes, Lobsang T. Negi.Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 01 November 2012.