Mindfulness is one of the most powerful ways to retrain the brain to adapt to positive behaviors instead of turning to drugs or alcohol. When practiced regularly, it is proven to lower stress as well as improve mental and physical health. These practices trigger a greater sense of well-being, curb anxiety and stress, and allow you to acknowledge and deal with your cravings head-on.
If you could benefit from better managing your stress while in recovery, here are our favorite mindfulness practices that you can begin implementing today.
Meditating in the Moment
People in addiction recovery often struggle with the concept of being in the present moment. It feels uncomfortable, stressful, and sometimes even painful. The discomfort that stems from this often leads to further substance abuse. By meditating at the moment, you can practice feeling your emotions right now and sitting quietly with them instead of looking for something to take the edge off of your raw emotions.
Meditation doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you sit cross-legged on the floor with your eyes closed for ten or fifteen minutes. It can also mean that you pay attention to the sensations that accompany actions. For example, you might spend a few minutes really feeling the application of lotion to your dry skin or the texture of the food in your mouth.
Spend five minutes or so just being aware of the present moment, no matter what activity might be going on.
As you become more experienced at staying in the present moment, you might try traditional meditation as well. This allows you to tap into the feeling in your body and your mind, making it more likely that you will be able to tolerate those feelings when cravings hit. After all, you made it through some of these uncomfortable moments before and you can do it again.
Do you need mindfulness exercises to interrupt harmful thought patterns? Mindfulness is great for alleviating stress and it doesn’t require any fancy equipment or skills. Breathing exercises are one of the most calming ways to tap into mindfulness and give you some feeling of control over the situation at hand.
Square breathing is one of our favorite mindfulness techniques because it is easy to implement and remember. All you have to do is breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for four, let it out for four, and hold for four. Picture drawing a square in your mind as you go through each of the four stages. Repeat this five to ten times and notice the shift that it makes in how you feel about your stress.
Visualization can also be a powerful tool when it comes to mindfulness. People in recovery often have lots of impulsive thoughts that used to lead to substance abuse. Now that they are trying a new way of living, it can be helpful to visualize those thoughts coming and going.
One of our favorite exercises is known as falling leaves and it is quite simple. For each thought that you have, imagine it written on a leaf. The leaf gently falls from the branches of the tree to the ground as you let each thought pass you by. As new thoughts arise, assign them to their own leaves and watch them drift away in the breeze.
Another way to perform this exercise is to picture the leaves floating away down the river.
If you really need to let thoughts go, consider writing them on a piece of paper and then ripping them up as you allow them to pass.
Sometimes, you might need a little bit of help to tap into the sensation of being physically anchored in a time or place. This is where a body scan can be quite helpful. You can perform this exercise lying down or sitting comfortably in a chair.
Start at the feet and notice the sensations in the body as you wiggle your toes, roll your ankles, and gently sway the lower legs.
Bring the attention up the body, being conscious of releasing each muscle as you pass. As you move to a new part of the body, take a deep breath and exhale it all out each time. Continue this practice until you get all the way to the crown of the head.
You may even be able to find guided meditations that practice the body scan on YouTube if you need some guidance with this activity.
When anxious thoughts threaten to overwhelm you, anchoring yourself in a particular place and moment can be helpful. Many people in recovery like the simplicity of the 54321 exercise because it can be practiced anywhere at any time.
All you have to do is be still for a moment and draw your attention to the room that you are in. You will name:
5 things that you can see
4 things that you can touch
3 things that you can hear
2 things that you can smell
1 thing that you can taste
By engaging all of the senses in this mindfulness practice, you can set the stage for reduced stress. Some people repeat this process a few times before they feel their anxiety start to drop. Don’t rush the exercise in an attempt to get done as quickly as possible. If you can, take a moment to sit back before you start this exercise. Breathe deeply while you do it for the best results.
Practicing Mindfulness Daily
Even if you are having a good day, practicing mindfulness is a process that grows with you. You might notice that you feel calmer and more in tune with your body as you develop a regular mindfulness practice. Not to mention, you can tell from these simple exercises that mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.
In just five to ten minutes a day, you can make a difference in your mental health and continue on the road to recovery!