Why Mindfulness Works in Recovery
We live in an age where the world seems to be zipping by, and sometimes, it can seem like we are being left behind. We start to believe the messaging of famous sayings like FOMO (fear of missing out) and the non-stop barrage of social media memes shouting that amazing things are happening without us. We know in our logical minds that the highly filtered and curated lives we intentionally share on social media are a distraction to our real lives. Oddly, we seem to have stopped living, and we are neglecting “real life” while we wait for this Instagram version to arrive at our doorstep by some magic.
No matter our jobs, social lives, or realities, none of us are immune to these images and pressures. We are internalizing and even passing these insecurities onto our children and spouses. But how do we break free from this cycle – take back a “normal” sense of self and stop punishing ourselves for falling short?
A buzzword for sure, seemingly a smart way of saying, “stop and take in what’s happening right now.” But mindfulness isn’t a new practice. The Buddhist practice of meditation has been around for centuries. The basic principle of reflection is to focus your mind and attention on the present moment. Mindfulness can be tied to a practice, like yoga, meditation, or exercise. It can be journal-writing, talking to someone, being honest about your feelings, or patient self-talk. Think of mindfulness as your stop sign. The traffic of life is chaotic and everywhere, and when you see a potential collision ahead – mindfulness reminds you to stop and see the present moment for what it is. Mindfulness takes charge of the noise and pausing to stay – or get back on – track.
So What Does Mindfulness Do?
In stopping the chaos, the momentary pause allows us to refocus. It tells us to look at what’s happening and reframe it. To some, the madness of that traffic is all-consuming or suffocating; to others, it’s just the insanity that is part of life’s commute. So that latter person, rather than fall apart or be unkind to themself, can look at it as something that has to be faced, that has a part in our lives, that can’t be hidden from, but that can be handled by gradually working through each piece.
This analogy can also compare it to the “traffic” in your brain. I don’t know about you, but most of our brains swirl with to-do lists, self-expectations, and doubt that you’re mishandling things. But, remember, there’s no right way.
The first step is to de-clutter and pause those thoughts. Take stock of the ideas that swirl and reshape them into actions that can get you through the traffic, leading to stress and anxiety. How you see your thoughts is critical. The second step is to pay attention to what is happening. You take power away from that trigger by analyzing how you feel and see a pattern in how you would typically react. Rather than lash out or break down in a typical, “automated” response, you now decide how you wish to respond.
These steps highlight how important perception of a problem is. And if you understand that perception can become a reality, you start to understand the power of your thoughts. By feeding positive reviews to your brain, you can alleviate stress. Mentally repeating phrases like: “I will get through this situation” and “I am safe right now” literally shift how you see the problem. Saying, “I feel anxious right now, but I can feel my heart rate slowing, and I will soon be calm,” can signal your mind and body to do so.
Like loving-kindness meditation, reassuring self-talk helps you stay focused on the positive to gain control over your emotions. It also must be consciously practiced each time panic, or anxiety attacks arise.
Mindfulness forces you to clear your mind of all thoughts and draw your attention to your breath or the various sensations in your body. Practice mindfulness as a daily meditation habit to start. It doesn’t have to be for very long. The most effective way to benefit from mindfulness is to practice it consistently. Eventually, it will develop your willpower, so you remain mindful throughout the day, not just strictly when allocating time.
In practicing mindfulness, you can slow down and focus on the world around you — your surroundings, the flavor of your meal, and the texture of the chair you’re sitting in. Worrying about the future and situations out of your control can create unnecessary anxiety. Instead, focus your awareness and sense on the present, and you should feel less tense.
Another type of meditation practice is what’s known as loving-kindness, in which your present thoughts are focused entirely on producing positive and compassionate thoughts about yourself and others.
It’s essential to treat mindfulness or meditation as an anxiety-prevention practice. First, it may not be easy to calm your mind down and sit still for even 10 minutes. Eventually, with enough consistent practice, it will become easier. The whole idea is to make it part of your daily life, and over the years, it will become a very effective way of managing stress and enriching your life in general. Mindfulness teaches you patience, gratitude, and acceptance, which are excellent qualities to develop when overwhelmed by anxiety. Over time, you’ll build more confidence, and regulating your emotions will become easier and feel more natural. Because of this, present-moment living and mindfulness are preventative methods of alleviating anxiety — meaning that if practiced regularly, they will help you have fewer negative situations.
Being mindful of the events that caused the anxiety and seeing the pattern before it occurs is again critical. If you identify the triggers, then with the help of a mental health professional or your doctor, you can establish reliable measures to approach them again in the future. Being mindful that anxiety is part of life is also essential. We cannot close ourselves off in a bubble, and this sort of attempt leads to more anxiety and paranoia. By identifying and being mindful of our stressors, we can begin to implement our practice of getting through these challenges.
Mindfulness can be practiced at home, as part of a drug and alcohol treatment program, or at a mental health center. No matter how mindfulness is achieved, it is incredibly beneficial. If you or a loved one needs help, we encourage you to contact Destination Hope and discuss treatment with one of our specialized admissions staff.