When we’re in active addiction, we become accustomed to numbing painful emotions by engaging in behaviors that provide instant gratification. In recovery, we must learn to shed the urge to “escape” feelings of discomfort and become comfortable sitting with them.
Luckily, mindfulness is a simple and effective tool that can provide a variety of benefits, including coping with uncomfortable emotions. In the same way that we exercise the body to get it in better shape, we can exercise the mind. There is a common misconception that mindfulness may be good for relaxation but not much else. In reality, the benefits of practicing mindfulness can exceed the sense of rejuvenation you feel after taking a vacation or a good, long nap.
What is Mindfulness?
- A state of nonjudgmental awareness of what’s happening in the present moment, including the awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and senses
Components of Mindfulness
- Awareness: During a state of mindfulness, you are able to notice your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations as they happen. The goal isn’t to clear your mind or to stop thinking; it’s to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, rather than getting lost in them.
- Acceptance: The thoughts, emotions, and sensations that you notice should be observed in a nonjudgmental manner. For example, if you notice a feeling of anxiety, simply state to yourself: “I notice that I’m feeling a little anxious.” There’s no need to judge or change that feeling.
Benefits of Mindfulness
- Reduced symptoms of depression & anxiety
- Improved memory, focus & mental processing speed
- Improved ability to adapt to stressful situations
- Greater relationship satisfaction
- Reduced rumination (repetitively going over a thought or problem)
- Enhanced ability to manage emotions
- Better sleep: Mindfulness practices help regulate stress hormones cortisol & adrenaline.
- Increased levels of dopamine: Mindfulness meditations can naturally increase dopamine levels by 65 percent
- Pain reduction: Mindfulness practices have been proven to be more effective at reducing pain than opiates, which merely block pain receptors in the brain and don’t actually reduce pain.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a state of mind, rather than a particular action or exercise. However, without practice, mindfulness is difficult to achieve. Luckily, there are several techniques you can do with little or no resources at all to help you feel more confident in your practice.
- Mindfulness Meditation: Sit in a comfortable position, and simply begin by paying attention to your breathing. Notice the physical sensation of air filling your lungs, and then slowly leaving. When your mind wanders, which it will, notice your thoughts and bring your attention back to your breath. Try this for at least five minutes.
- Mindfulness Walk: While walking, make it a point to practice mindfulness. Start by noticing how your body moves and feels with each step. Then expand your awareness to your surroundings. What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? This technique can also be expanded to other daily activities, such as eating.
- Body Scan: Pay close attention to the physical sensations throughout your body. Start with your feet and move up through your legs, groin, abdomen, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and face. Spend anywhere from 15 seconds to one minute on each body part. Remember that you’re not trying to change any physical sensations — you are simply noticing them.
- 5-4-3-2-1: Make a conscious effort to notice the present moment through each of your senses.
- What are five things you can see? Look around you and notice five things you haven’t noticed before. Maybe a pattern on a wall, light reflecting from a surface, or an object in the corner of a room.
- What are four things you can feel? Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture.
- What are three things you can hear? Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as the air-conditioning humming, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street.
- What are two things you can smell? Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn’t have to be a nice smell either! Maybe there’s an overflowing trash can or a sewer nearby.
- What is one thing you can taste? Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. “Taste” the air to see how it feels on your tongue.
If you want to practice meditation, but you’re not sure how to access resources, here are some awesome apps to help you get started:
- Insight Timer
- Simple Habit
- YouTube has an endless supply of meditation videos and music! Some of my favorites are:
- Sarah Blondin
- Abraham Hicks
- Jason Stephenson
- binaural beats music
- Delta brain waves music
If you want to practice yoga more often, here are some fantastic YouTube resources that are totally free:
- Yoga With Adriene
- Fightmaster Yoga
About the Author
Adelinn Cook, BS, TRS, CTRS, is the Director of Recreational Therapy at Wasatch Crest. She is the curator of Wasatch Crest’s robust Recreational Therapy program, which includes adventure therapy outings, experiential group therapy, expressive therapy, and mindfulness interventions such as yoga and meditation. She works closely with clients to create personalized recreational therapy treatment and aftercare plans. Using evidence-based therapeutic methods, she guides clients to discover their passions, develop resilience, and ultimately develop meaningful lives in sobriety.
In her leisure time, Adelinn enjoys rock climbing, fly fishing, disc golfing, and painting. She is also working toward her yoga instructor certification. Adelinn received her Bachelor’s degree in Recreational Therapy from Indiana University, Bloomington.