Mindfulness

Kayla Zawislak, MSW, CADC
Addiction Policy Forum

Mindfulness is a tool that can benefit nearly anyone, whether in recovery or not. But for those of us in recovery, it is a particularly helpful tool that can reshape how our brain works and our thought patterns.

It teaches us to stay in the moment by focusing only on what is occurring at that moment, rather than letting our minds drift to the future or retrace the past. We have no control over what has happened or what will happen, and dwelling on either can cause anxiety, depression, and fear.

The goals of mindfulness are to

  • Reduce suffering and increase happiness
  • Gain control over our minds

Practicing mindfulness can also help us to become less judgemental. For example, it can be difficult to stay focused on the moment at hand and not let our thoughts creep ahead to what we plan to do that evening or backward to what happened at work yesterday. While this can be frustrating, it’s a normal part of practicing mindfulness that everybody experiences. The trick is to not judge yourself and to learn to let go of the thoughts and return to the present. Although it is easy to judge ourselves for chasing our thoughts, we should strive to acknowledge the thought and then let it go.

One of my favorite things to do in the moments when I am struggling to clear my head and be present is to focus on my breathing. I will take a few slow and deep breaths in my nose and then exhale through my mouth. Another trick that I like to do, especially when meditating, is to close my eyes and imagine the distracting thought is a bird and watch it fly away. A friend of mine likes to imagine that he is sitting next to a stream, and he places the distracting thought on a leaf and then watches as it floats away.

When we practice mindfulness we are utilizing the following skills.

  • Observing
  • Describing
  • Participating

You can practice being mindful in all sorts of ways. For example, if you eat a meal alone you could be mindful of what you are eating and focus on the smell, taste, sound, and texture of the food. Follow the journey of the food, from plate to fork to mouth to stomach.

You can even practice mindfulness while driving. How many times do you drive somewhere and because your mind was racing you can’t remember how you got there? There are tasks in our daily lives, like driving, that are almost automatic. Next time you hop into your vehicle, turn the radio and your cell phone off, and be mindful by:

  • Noticing the feeling of your foot on the pedal, hands on the steering wheel, seatbelt against your chest, and the movement of your car.
  • Listening to the noise your car makes and to the noises outside the car. Smell the air freshener in your car or maybe the smell of a restaurant as you pass by.
  • Pay attention to any turns you make, how your hands move on the steering wheel, other drivers on the road, and any traffic you experience.
  • When your mind wanders, notice it wandering, and bring it back to the current moment.

One more example of an activity that you can do is called 5,4,3,2,1.

Sit quietly. Look around you and notice:

  • 5 things you can see: Your hands, the sky, a plant on your colleague’s desk
  • 4 things you can physically feel: Your feet on the ground, a ball, your friend’s hand
  • 3 things you can hear: The wind blowing, children’s laughter, your breath
  • 2 things you can smell: Fresh-cut grass, coffee, soap
  • 1 thing you can taste: A mint, gum, the fresh air [1]

Check out this video to learn more about mindfulness.

References:

[1] Mayo Clinic Health Systems, (2020). https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/5-4-3-2-1-countdown-to-make-anxiety-blast-off

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