Mindfulness. It’s a super sexy buzzword we hear often but because it’s so overused, we collectively have no idea what it means. Sound familiar? I’m here to clear all that up and share some helpful insights on why mindfulness can be incredibly beneficial to recovery as well as 5 tips on how you can incorporate mindfulness into your recovery journey ASAP!
Mindfulness is about bringing awareness and presence to everything - thoughts and thought patterns, environment, habits, bodily sensations, emotions, food, relationships, sleeping, etc. Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment and not getting caught in the easy-to-fall-into-trap of ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. It is about wholeheartedly experiencing and engaging in the exact moment that you’re in now. It’s often assumed that mindfulness automatically means meditation, which it does not. Meditation is one of many mindfulness tools.
Why does mindfulness matter? When we practice mindfulness, we bring not only a greater awareness to our thoughts and feelings but we are able to do so in a non-attached, judgment-free way. Can you think of a time when something stressful/upsetting/disruptive happened in your life and long after the actual event was over, you were still thinking about it and responding emotionally to it? Applying mindfulness to scenarios like this can be incredibly powerful, freeing and calming.
Mindfulness is so important because with practice, it allows you to detach yourself from your thoughts and stay in the moment. Mindfulness offers a whole slew of remarkable benefits including: decreased stress (I literally don’t know one person who couldn’t benefit from that); improved emotional regulation; decreases in depressive symptoms; improved general health; better sleep, increased creativity … the list goes on. There has been a ton of research conducted on the positive impacts mindfulness has on neuroplasticity (aka changing and re-wiring your brain). When we practice mindfulness, we are sending a message to our brain that we are becoming more effective at managing everyday tasks and stresses in an aware, non-judgmental way.
A mindfulness practice is especially beneficial for those in recovery, particularly those who are newer to recovery. When we were in active use, we were likely engaging in repetitive, destructive thought patterns that supported and encouraged our active use. Through mindfulness, we have the capacity to undo and re-route those thought patterns by creating new ones that support our sobriety, our new habits and move us closer to our health goals. Below are 5 mindfulness tips you can incorporate into your life immediately that will bring a greater awareness to your thoughts, feelings, habits and everyday existence.
1) Intentional Breathing
When was the last time you actually stopped what you were doing and focused on your breathing? If you can’t remember, it’s been too long. Straight out of my coaching practice (and a client fave!) is a breathing technique called The Stress-Less Breathing Method. The goal of this technique is to move you out of a stressed state by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is where we rest, heal and digest. Most of us spend too much time with an activated sympathetic nervous system (aka fight or flight mode), which isn’t great. The Stress-Less Breathing Method is simple, free and you can use it anytime plus it can positively shift your mental and physiological state in a matter of minutes.
2) Practice Gratitude
The benefits of gratitude are quite literally innumerable. I bookend my day with gratitude, by thinking about and emotionally connecting to the things, people, opportunities, etc. in my life that I’m grateful for. It’s a useful activity to practice because it really shifts your mindset and puts a new perspective on the moment that you’re in. Even on your worst day, there is always something to be grateful for.
3) Recognize that your Thoughts are Thoughts (not fact or truth)
The average human has 12,000-60,000 thoughts daily, of which 80% can be negative and 95% are repetitive. While not all negative thoughts are bad, a lot of them are imaginary drama so being able to recognize thoughts as thoughts and not anything that’s reflective of who you are, your capacity or value as a person, can be super helpful, especially in recovery and especially if we have a tendency to catastrophize. Thoughts are temporary and in practicing mindfulness, we can learn to observe and release them, without attaching meaning. It’s also helpful to remember that thoughts are neutral and we get to choose whether or not we want to apply meaning to them.
4) Brain Dump
A brain dump is simply the opportunity to get everything out of your head and onto paper. I find this activity especially helpful when I have a lot on my mind and it's taking up a bunch of headspace. I often recommend using a brain dump before bed to give your brain a bit of a rest and to ensure all things are accounted for. I find writing to be incredibly helpful in sorting out thoughts, creating relief, offering a space for reflection and for clarity. To amplify this activity, if there are any thoughts or ideas that you're ruminating on, once written out, you can ask yourself a series of questions about them including: is this true? what would be possible if this wasn't true? are there any benefits to holding onto this idea? what would be possible if I let this idea go?
Despite the plethora of benefits associated with meditation, it’s sometimes hard to get started. People have misconceptions about what it should look like, feel like they have to clear their mind or sit on a lilypad for hours in order to achieve blissful serenity. Toss allllll those ideas out. If you’re new to meditation, I suggest you start with guided meditations. I use the Insight Timer app. It’s free and there are thousands of guided meditations to choose from at various lengths. Aim for 5 minutes a day. Be patient with yourself, stick with it and you’ll start to notice the shifts. You can also find some helpful tips on how to get started here.
Integrating mindfulness into your daily life can have a profound impact on your recovery by increasing your awareness, reducing stress, building resiliency and re-wiring your brain. Good luck and let me know how it goes!