Trouble Shooting Our Emotions

Can you see trouble shooting our use of emotion regulation skills as a scientific experiment?

  1. Ask- am I biologically vulnerable? Do I have a physical illness or distress? am I out of balance in sleep, use of drugs or exercise?
  2. Review what you have tried. Have you used skills? Did you follow the instructions?
  3. What is the purpose of your emotion? Is it communicating an important message or influencing others? Is it motivating you to act? Does it validate your beliefs?
  4. Are you putting the time and effort into the skills?
  5. Are you too upset to use complicated skills? Do you need to focus on mindfulness or other distress tolerance skills?
  6. Check your thoughts. Are you judging your emotions- “I shouldn’t feel this way” “There is a right way to feel.” Is a belief keeping you stuck? “I am my emotion.” “I am an angry (sad, anxious etc.) person.”

Try viewing your skill use and experience of emotion as a scientific experiment. Notice how different use of skill impacts your experience of emotion- what makes emotions less intense? What shortens the duration of painful emotions? What brings happiness, joy and other positive emotions?

Mindfulness as a New Treatment for Substance Dependency

According to Government figures around 23 million Americans suffer from
substance dependency.

Addictions to alcohol, drugs and other habit-forming substances are difficult to overcome due to the reward-based learning center in our brain. While this developed to aid survival, tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs all target the mesolimbic pathway, triggering the release of feel-good dopamine, which reinforces these habits. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one strategy used to change behaviors, but it works through our prefrontal cortex, which fatigues under stress, so has limited success in managing addictions. Thankfully, mindfulness works through another mechanism and shows potential as a treatment.

*Evidence for mindfulness-based addiction therapies*

Mindfulness is a Buddhist principle that encourages us to become more aware of our thoughts, feelings and body sensations. This is helpful in addiction therapy, as it enables addicts to appreciate cravings and notice how they alter with time. Rather than acting on a craving, individuals are able to ride out cravings, adopting a more positive behavior. Paying close attention also allows those dependent on substances to better appreciate their behaviors and the downsides of their habits, so they no longer appeal. This isn’t just based on theory though, as there is good evidence that being mindful helps during smoking cessation and recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse.

Indeed, a randomized controlled trial found mindfulness twice as effective for giving up tobacco as the best available treatment. By targeting the addictive loop, mindfulness disrupts it, breaking down the association between craving and behavior, and the desire to act on these.

*Accessing mindfulness therapy*

Although further research is necessary, a clear mechanistic link makes mindfulness a promising treatment for relapse prevention. Therapists are now trained in its use for addiction recovery, and the value of internet and app-based mindfulness is also under  exploration, with clinical trials underway.