5 Tips for Bringing Mindfulness to Your Recovery Journey
Quick question: How much of your time is spent living in the moment – or even in the day? For many people, the answer is often “not a whole lot!”
The human brain is prone to wander back into yesterday, leap ahead into tomorrow, and think about a million things other than the present. This feeling can be difficult to cope with, and even more so for people experiencing the early stages of recovery from substance use.
Fortunately, there is a tool available to help achieve a greater sense of calm, well-being, and self-awareness throughout the recovery process. This practice is called mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be broken down into three different layers to understand it best. Mindfulness is a state of mind where:
- You are focused on the present moment.
- You are aware of everything that’s going on at that moment.
- You acknowledge and accept everything that’s going on at that moment in a nonjudgmental way.
Everything that’s going on at the moment can include:
- All that’s happening in your surroundings
- What you hear, see, feel, taste, and smell
- Other bodily sensations
- Your thoughts
- Your emotions
- Any activity in which you’re engaged
Practicing mindfulness in recovery helps separate us from negative thoughts and puts us back in the present of everyday life, where we can fully participate in and enjoy the unfolding moments. It can help us feel calmer, complete tasks more efficiently, and gain a new perspective and appreciation.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The origins of mindfulness can be traced back to the Buddhist and Hindu traditions of the East, and it was brought to the West with help from Jon Kabat-Zinn. A writer, scientist, and meditation teacher, Kabat-Zinn developed the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. This program gave rise to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), a type of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy designed to treat depression.
Mindfulness has since become more widely accepted and practiced in the West, being used to help everyone from high-performance athletes to people seeking a clinician’s help in substance use recovery programs at treatment centers.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Practice
- Can be used anytime, anywhere, whether you’re at home, at work, or even attending inpatient or outpatient treatment programs at a recovery center
- Can be used to help with relapse prevention, specifically to help manage unhelpful, automatic responses to triggers
- Can help people pause and witness their thoughts instead of immediately giving in to cravings or impulsivity
- Can be done on your own or with loved ones, inviting them to join you in this fresh way of thinking and being
5 Mindfulness Exercises to Practice
While it would be nice if we could snap our fingers and suddenly be mindful, it doesn’t work that way. At least at first. We need to build it into a regular habit, and several mindfulness practices can help.
- Look at your feet. No, this isn’t an exercise to help you admire your shoes. It’s an easy way to immediately focus your awareness on the present moment. If you feel your thoughts are trying to whisk you away into a thousand different places, fight back by looking at your feet. It’s a great reminder that you are right here, right now – and your feet in front of you on the ground prove it.
- Pay attention to your breath. Another easy way to bring yourself back to the present moment is to focus on your breath. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of three. Then exhale through your mouth for a count of three. Repeat as many times as needed until you feel grounded, balanced, and calm.
- Treat your thoughts like clouds in the sky. You know how you look at the clouds in the sky and let them float on by as easily as possible? Try the same thing with your thoughts. When different ideas come streaming into your mind, let them pass on. Don’t grab onto them. Don’t let them grab you. Let them float on by as easily as they please.
- Thank your thoughts for sharing. Sometimes clouds – and thoughts – can be rather stubborn. Instead of passing on by as easy they please, they may hover and stick around. Trying to ignore or suppress them typically doesn’t work. It just makes them clamor even louder. So acknowledge them. Accept them. Then thank them for sharing. When you take away their power, they have nothing left to do but leave.
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation can take many forms, but one of the most common is sitting quietly in stillness. The goal is to ground yourself in the present moment, away from the distractions of daily life. You’re allowing yourself to simply be. Mindfulness meditation practice can be even more powerful when you share it with others, which you can do with a meditation class. We even have an on-demand option.
Mindfulness in Recovery: One Last Thought
Just like anything else in life, the more you practice mindfulness in recovery, the easier it’s apt to become. When we’re used to constant busyness every second of the day, sitting still for a few minutes can feel like hours – but do it anyway. Be patient with yourself. Keep on practicing. You may be surprised when the mindfulness practices start to feel like second nature, along with the calm and serenity those practices bring.