If you or someone you know is struggling with problematic drinking or using behaviors, chances are you feel a great deal of stress, anxiety, fear, and depressive thoughts surrounding this behavior. Managing thoughts about cravings, regrets of the past, and fears of the future can feel so overwhelming that engaging in mind-altering chemicals seems like a rational idea. Practicing mindfulness helps avoid the fears of the future and the resentments and regrets of the past by bringing one’s attention to the present moment and a more solutions-focused attitude.
As I discussed in the previous post about how beneficial mindfulness can be, it begs the question of how does one practice mindfulness when the mind is constantly jumping from one thought to the other? Simple answer: with patience and persistent practice. When we begin to notice our habitual mode of thinking it can be easy to get discouraged because our habitual thinking may be very pessimistic and negative. That is a good sign you are on the track to changing! Through mindful awareness of our thoughts we give ourselves the opportunity to choose a different, more helpful thought process.
Integrating mindfulness into your daily life may not be as hard as it first appears because we are already practicing some mindfulness each day. Anytime your mind is fully in the present moment and not focused on the past or future, you are practicing mindfulness. Setting an intention to practice mindfulness can be a helpful first step to push you to make an action plan on how you can be proactive in establishing your new cognitive habit. Here are some easy and quick ways you begin using mindfulness in your daily life.
-Showering: This is an excellent time to put your attention on all the bodily sensations that are felt from washing your hair, scrubbing your body and feeling the relaxing water flow over your skin. When a thought comes to the mind, calmly and patiently bring your attention back to the flow of the water coursing over your skin.
-Driving: While driving alone focus on the surrounding sights and be fully present absorbing all the visual scenes and sounds around you. The goal is to observe objectively, without labeling and judging what is happening on the roads. Simply observe and notice without engaging in judgmental thoughts.
Eating: With each bite put your full attention on the taste, texture, temperature, and smell. You can use this technique with a meal or a dessert item you can really savor slowly.
Sitting still: Sit upright in a chair with eyes closed and simply put your attention on your breath. Watch each inhalation and exhalation with deepest attention. Challenge yourself to be mindful for three consecutive breaths. If, and when, a thought comes into your mind, acknowledge the attention has wandered, then calmly and patiently bring it back to the awareness of your breath. Practice for 3-5 minutes 2-3 times a day.
Practicing mindfulness changes the structure of our brain, and over time will change the way we think. Having more conscious control over our thinking and not being dragged aimlessly from thought to thought, we are better able to engage in daily activities with calmness and poise. You can learn how to consciously choose which thoughts to entertain and which thoughts to simply observe, and then let go.