Urge Surfing: Beat Cravings and Relapse with a Mindfulness Technique
Trying to ignore or suppress your cravings doesn’t work very well – the more you try not to think about having that drink or hit, invariable the more you do think about it!
So you don’t ignore them… you fight them, right?
Well, battling against your cravings doesn’t always work that well either. Sometimes your cravings are just too strong for you to fight, and you relapse. Other times you are able to resist your urges for a while, but you find yourself spending a lot of time and energy each day engaged in an internal back and forth debate about whether or not to give in to your cravings – it’s like by resisting your cravings you feed them with your mental energy and in response they grow stronger and occur with more frequency.
So, if fighting against the craving doesn’t always work either - what can you do?!
Try just going with your cravings using a mindfulness technique known as urge surfing and you might find that though you still experience cravings, they no longer have the power over you they once did and you can literally glide over and down a craving as naturally as if you were surfing a wave on the ocean.
As the intensity of a craving builds it feels like it is going to keep on getting worse and if you don’t give in to it, it will last forever. In actual fact, if you can just wait it out it will peak in intensity after a few minutes and then gradually subside into nothingness; just as a wave crests and falls. Cravings very rarely last for longer than half an hour and are generally briefer in duration.1
The trick is to forget fighting or suppressing cravings but instead to learn a technique that asks you to experience a craving fully so that you rob that craving of its power over you.
Urge surfing is a relapse prevention technique based on the principles of mindfulness meditation. By paying great attention to what a craving actually feels like, by maintaining awareness on the craving on a second by second basis and by avoiding passing value judgments about what you are experiencing (this is good, this is terrible, this will never end etc.) you learn to ride over waves of cravings and you rob these cravings of much of their power.
To get started with urge surfing try these three steps:
- When you feel a craving coming on, sit down in a comfortable chair (ideally in a place where you won’t be disturbed), put your feet flat on the floor and take a few deep breaths to relax yourself. Close your eyes and look inward into your body. Try to feel where in your body you experience sensations of cravings and describe to yourself what these cravings feel like in different parts of your body (for example "I feel a tightness in my legs and my stomach is kind of jumpy…").
- Pick one area in your body that seems most affected by sensations of craving and focus deeply on these sensations as they pass by. To keep your mind from wandering, describe the sensations you experience in your chosen part of the body as they arise (for example "my arm is kind of itchy, now it’s almost like a pins-and-needles sensation just below my elbow in my inner arm…It feels warm too now…")
- Next move to another affected part of the body and repeat the focused attention there, and then repeat with another part of the body. After a while, you will notice that the craving will have passed by.2
By learning a new way to experience cravings you learn a valuable skill in overcoming them, and as you learn to experience your cravings in a mindful way, without judging and without giving in, you will find that in time the frequency and intensity with which you experience them will diminish.
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