The Role of Meditation in Fostering Emotional Regulation Skills

May 12, 2024

When an individual is recovering from substance abuse, mental health disorders, and other distressing symptoms, intense shifts in emotion and mood can be expected. Navigating such emotions can be challenging, making it important for individuals to identify and implement effective tools for emotional regulation while undergoing treatment. Meditation, in particular, is a valuable tool that is capable of bringing calmness to the mind and body in the present moment. Understanding the role of meditation in emotional regulation can empower individuals to incorporate this practice into their day-to-day lives and recovery process.

At Renaissance Ranch, we believe there is undeniable value in holistic modalities (like meditation) when they are used in conjunction with evidence-based treatments. During treatment, we help our clients implement effective holistic efforts into their recovery and daily routines because we recognize how essential they are for symptom management and ongoing emotional regulation. Yet, as some individuals may discredit the role of meditation in healing, clients must first understand the benefit of this practice before attempting to prioritize it in recovery. 

What Is the Role of Meditation in Healing?

As the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) explains, “The term “meditation” refers to a variety of practices that focus on mind and body integration and are used to calm the mind and enhance overall well-being. Some types of meditation involve maintaining mental focus on a particular sensation, such as breathing… Other forms of meditation include the practice of mindfulness, which involves maintaining attention or awareness on the present moment without making judgments.”

Oftentimes, personal meditation practices morph both of these types of meditation into one. For example, during meditation, an individual may attempt to concentrate on the rise and fall of their breath while also being mindful of the thoughts and emotions that may surface in the present moment. While it is normal for the mind to wander during meditation, the practice is meant to help individuals gently return their attention to their breath. With continued practice, this increased awareness of the present moment can help curb rumination, strengthen focus and consistency, and contribute to more intentional living in daily life.

Using Meditation for Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is an individual’s ability to exert effective control over their emotional state. Many seeking recovery from mental health disorders and substance use disorder (SUD) struggle to effectively regulate their emotions as they attempt to navigate distressing symptoms. Substance use cravings, mood swings, interpersonal conflict, and more all contribute to increased emotional dysregulation. Meanwhile, to establish and sustain healing from emotional dysregulation, individuals must learn healthy ways to cope with and work through it. Fortunately, one of the many benefits of meditation is its ability to foster emotional regulation skills. 

As explained by Frontiers in Neuroscience, “Instead of attempting to change emotional experiences, meditation practice trains the individual to notice and observe emotions simply as they are and to accept emotional reactions as they arise.” Rather than turning to negative emotions of self-blame, pity, regret, and more, meditation challenges resistance, allowing an individual to find peace and acceptance in the present moment. As a result, meditation also increases cognitive flexibility, ensuring that each person can best adapt their thoughts and behavior in response to the environment that they are in. 

Another article by Frontiers in Psychology highlights, “Emotional regulation includes all of the conscious and non-conscious strategies we use to increase, to maintain or decrease one or more components of an emotional response.” In other words, meditation not only works to bring awareness to conscious emotions and behaviors but also to unconscious motives and responses. When an individual engages in regular meditation practice, they are offering themselves the space to actively challenge and reduce distress and, instead, replace such emotions with calmness and peace. 

The Role of Meditation in Long-Term Recovery

For those who have never engaged in a meditation practice, it can be helpful to begin by participating in a guided meditation practice on YouTube, Spotify, or Apple Music. In a guided meditation, the listener is guided by a speaker who reminds them to breathe, return focus back to the breath at times, and simply remain in the present moment. It can also be valuable to play meditation music when meditating, as it helps to reduce any background noise. 

Remember to start small – no less than 5-10 minutes – and to build tolerance to meditation over time. Starting with a 30-minute meditation may be especially challenging for beginners and contribute to reduced concentration and focus over time. As with anything, emotional regulation is a skill that will be strengthened with time. 

Recovery is a lifelong journey. Thus, those attempting to sustain their healing and sobriety must commit to engaging with a wide range of coping skills and practices that focus particularly on fostering emotional regulation skills. Meditation is valuable in that it is a practice that can be used anywhere at any time. Similarly, dedicating just a few minutes a day to a meditation practice can strengthen emotional regulation skills greatly over time. 

Meanwhile, at Renaissance Ranch, we incorporate holistic modalities such as meditation, prayer, and other whole-person approaches into treatment to address emotional dysregulation and other challenging symptoms of distress. Recovery is for everyone, and we are here to guide and support that. 

Meditation is a mindfulness practice that brings focus to a particular sensation, such as the breath, in the present moment. When thoughts and emotions arise during meditation, an individual can use the opportunity to shift their focus back to their breath. By engaging in repetitive meditation practice, individuals are directly strengthening their emotional regulation skills, allowing them to be more flexible and accept circumstances as they are. At Renaissance Ranch, we encourage the use of meditation, prayer, and other holistic modalities for clients recovering from mental health disorders, substance use disorder (SUD), and other co-occurring challenges. Emotional regulation can help prevent relapse and increase the quality of life for those in recovery. Learn more by calling (801) 308-8898 today.