If there is just one thing that we can incorporate into our daily lives to enhance overall wellbeing in recovery it is the practice of mindfulness. Studies proliferate regarding the effects of practicing mindfulness on various aspects of our mental health, relationships, career, and even finances. Across the board, cultivating the practice of mindfulness into the recovery routine provides substantial benefits.
Mindfulness refers to the practice of guiding our concentration toward an increased awareness of the present moment, and the sensations around that moment. It teaches us to shift wandering thoughts back to the now, allowing the focused breathing and awareness of the senses to lead to a relaxed state.
Practicing Mindfulness in Recovery
When we experience a stressful event our brains produce extra levels of cortisol and adrenaline, the fight-or-flight stress hormones. When we allow our minds to continually focus on distressing events or fears we become stuck in a constant state of anxiety, which can have damaging effects on our physical and mental health.
Practicing mindfulness throughout the day to help reduce the stress response while at work, parenting, doing chores, or in social situations. Practicing these mindfulness exercises in recovery can help reduce the impact of triggering events by training the mind to relax and stay focused on the present:
- Mindful awareness. Mindfulness helps us pause and listen to our present emotions. This directs our awareness to the source of emotional pain or disturbance without critiquing it. We are able to see it as a reaction to a triggering thought or event, and accept it as just that, knowing that it will soon pass.
- Mindful breathing. Our breathing becomes shallow when we are experiencing stress or anxiety, so mindfulness helps us to restore regular breathing. Focusing on the breathing process, the rhythmic inhaling and exhaling, we regain control over the stress trigger. Also, we can add some deep breathing techniques to further reduce the stress response.
- Mindful observation. Mindfulness helps us distract ourselves from negative thoughts by teaching us to stop and observe our surroundings. Notice how the sun feels on your face or how the wind tosses your hair. See the pretty flowers blooming or the sunset forming on the horizon. These observations have a calming effect.
- Mindful gratitude. Practicing mindfulness helps us to recognize our many blessings instead of only focusing on the negatives in our lives. Expressing gratitude helps us appreciate the positives and minimize the more challenging aspects of daily life. This shift from negative to positive has a deeply profound effect on our overall mental health.
- Mindful listening. Practicing active listening helps us open our minds to the essence of what another person is saying, to really hear the person. Mindfulness allows us to be more compassionate and understanding in our interactions before rushing to judgment.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness routinely can help us protect and nurture our recovery. This simple meditative process can produce a variety of positive wellness effects. The many benefits of mindfulness in recovery include:
- Decreases negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety, anger, and depression
- Makes positive changes in the brain’s hippocampus region, which improves decision-making
- Encourages self-discipline and more rational actions versus impulsive reactions
- Increases awareness of current emotional state, helps recognize signs of relapse
- Helps us be proactive with negative or intrusion thoughts, such as connecting with sober support network or therapist
Mindfulness allows us to observe our feelings, positive or negative, without judgment, allowing for acceptance without reaction. For individuals in recovery, practicing mindfulness is an important coping skill that can be practiced at any time of day.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.