The holiday season has just ended, and the rest of the new year is in front of us. This can be a stressful time of year – work has piled up over the break, we need to find a place for gifts, cleaning up after relatives who have visited, parties, scheduling time with family and friends that we couldn’t fit in before, taking down all the decorations, dealing with all the money we have spent and struggling to stay disciplined – are you overwhelmed yet? With all of this, now is the perfect time to introduce mindfulness into our lives.
The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions are seen as a good thing, motivating a person to establish goals and giving them hope for a better tomorrow. However, they can also be a major stress factor. People can easily overwhelm themselves by setting too many goals, or even a few unrealistic ones. Others may feel pressured to make “new year, new me” changes even if they are satisfied with their lives, because everyone around them is bragging about the “changes for the better” they’re about to make.
Setting goals is a good thing, but too many people approach it in a wrong manner. If you’re passionate about making resolutions, make sure you don’t set yourself up for failure. Maybe you want to lose 20 pounds, get promoted at work, travel more, learn a new language, quit smoking and start going to the gym regularly. That’s great! However, you have to know that change doesn’t happen overnight. You’re not going to wake up overnight a whole new person.
Instead, list your goals as what you hope to achieve, but make only one resolution – become more mindful. In achieving mindfulness, you’ll be able to make changes more naturally, with less stress and more success.
What is Mindfulness?
Used in many spiritual practices and even yoga, mindfulness is defined and being conscious of one’s thoughts, emotions and actions, by being mindful of the present instead of focusing on the past or future. It is also the acceptance of our feelings and actions.
If you are sad, you are sad for a reason. If you are angry, you are angry for a reason. In modern society, there is a lot of invalidation, and people are told that it’s wrong to “feel” or “think” a certain way. This can be detrimental in achieving one’s goals.
When you have trouble achieving your goals, mindfulness can help because you can remind yourself that you are not a failure. Analysing why you are not being as successful as you expected will help you identify what you’re doing that’s wrong and how you can improve, or admit that you have done your best – either way, this is ok.
Mindfulness is a key element in many therapies, and has been used to treat anxiety, depression, stress, addiction and trauma. It is widely used for addiction and mental health treatment at Castle Craig. It is also used as an aid for improve general health and wellbeing – including weight loss.
While some people are born with a natural knack for mindful thinking, mindfulness is considered a skill that can be learned and cultivated. In doing so, they will gain insight into themselves, enhance their lives, and reduce stress.
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
It may seem that mindfulness and meditation are sometimes used interchangeably. While it is true that they overlap in some parts and complement each other, they are actually two different things.
Meditation is a broad term referring to the practice of centring your focus by quieting the mind. There are many forms of meditation, and mindfulness (becoming aware of oneself and one’s surroundings) is only one of them. Hence, the term mindfulness meditation is often used when discussing certain meditation techniques.
Dealing with Stress via Mindfulness
Mindfulness is an excellent technique used to deal with stress, through becoming aware of when we find ourselves in stressful situations. Even if one adores the holidays, one can still be stressed and overwhelmed from all the to-dos. Of course, the causes of stress are different for each person, but stress and anxiety can lead to making unhealthy choices or falling back into bad habits, such as drugs or alcohol.
By being more present in the moment, enjoying the present instead of overthinking about the future (or past), and reacting appropriately should a bad situation arise, you can reduce your stress.
One of the elements of mindfulness is learning to see things from another person’s point of view. By becoming more compassionate towards others’ perspectives, you are less likely to get upset when people don’t act or think the way you expect them to.
How Mindfulness Can Help in Addiction Relapse Prevention
Holiday-related stress may also come from the temptations of breaking discipline, which can be problematic for people dealing with addiction. Because of this, mindfulness is an asset for those in recovery during such a hectic time. Awareness of one’s triggers and impulsive behaviour can help prevent relapse.
For example, if you follow a strict healthy diet all year, you might find yourself irritated by the plethora of unhealthy meals and snacks that surround you. Likewise, holiday parties are usually stocked with wine and liquor, which can be tough if you are in recovery from alcoholism.
By being mindful, you can admit that there is a problem. If you know you have a problem, you can find ways to prevent it from growing. Following the previous example, if you are in recovery from alcoholism and know you will be attending a family gathering where wine will be served, you can mentally prepare yourself for the event.
For example, you will expect to get offered drinks, and not get offended if someone isn’t aware of your addiction. You can bring some alcohol-free beverages for yourself (and others) to enjoy. You can invite a sobriety-supporting friend to keep you distracted from cravings. You can prepare some mindfulness exercises for when you start to get overwhelmed.
Mindfulness will help you be conscious of your thoughts and emotions, especially ones that may tempt you to drink.
Mindfulness will help you recognise addictive thought patterns, such as denial, blame-shifting or rationalising, which can lead to falling off the wagon.
Mindfulness will also remind you that, should it happen, relapse is a part of recovery; it is not the end of the world. Accept that you made a mistake, analyse what you can do to avoid it in the future, and move on. The time you spend punishing yourself for your wrongdoings is time you can spend improving your life.
Remember, addiction is an illness. Just like you cannot blame yourself for getting the flu, you cannot blame yourself for having an addiction. If you accept your flaws, you have greater power to change.
Seven Ways to be More Mindful in Recovery
Learn meditation and mindfulness exercises
These don’t have to be complicated. There are a number of breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that can help you become more aware of yourself and your surroundings. In times of stress, they can help you calm down.
Of course, we’re all busy, but multitasking can overwhelm the mind and distract us from the pleasant moments of the present. Next time you have a meal, sit down and take the time to enjoy each bite. Don’t read, don’t watch TV, don’t check your phone. Simply focus on what you love about what you’re eating. You chose this meal over another because you like it. This technique has been proven to help people eat more healthily and lose weight.
Next time you feel a strong emotion, accept it and understand it
Don’t let anyone tell you that what you feel is wrong. If something is upsetting you, there is a reason for it. Instead of acting on it, take a moment and figure out what exactly is bothering you and why. Then, think about a rational response to the situation. This can prevent you from lashing out at someone out of anger, or reaching for a drink in moments of stress.
Often we hear people without actually listening. Sometimes, we even get caught up in judging them for what they are saying. When this happens, try to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand where they are coming from. You would want people to do the same to you, right? By being compassionate towards others, you can also learn a lot about yourself by considering how others see you.
Practice “urge surfing”
Anyone struggling with cravings due to addiction can benefit from this exercise. Mindfulness teaches us to be in awareness, not denial, and this applies to addictive behaviours. The goal of the exercise is to teach the mind that urges, or cravings, do not need to be acted upon.
Next time you feel a craving coming on, try this simple exercise:
- Sit down, take a deep breath, and relax. Close your eyes and become aware of the sensations in your body. Where do you feel the craving coming from? What exactly is bothering you?
- Pick one part of your body that’s affected and focus on it. Describe the sensations to yourself. Maybe you leg is bouncing. Now the muscles are tense. Now, it’s a pins-and-needles feeling. Repeat this for each area of your body.
- Cravings tend to subside within half-an-hour or so. While you complete this exercise, you can gain some insight into how your addiction affects your body, and distract yourself from acting upon your cravings.
Identify your triggers
Triggers are troublesome when a person is in recovery from addiction. Take the time to figure out what situations tempt you into going back to your addiction. Perhaps you crave a drink whenever you talk to your in-laws, or get into rush-hour traffic. Maybe you reach for alcohol whenever you’re sad, or stressed out at work. Knowing what your triggers are can help you avoid them, or learn mindful ways to deal with them.
Learn to sit still
This seems like an impossible task in today’s go-go-go world, but it is important to learn. Society makes us believe that staying busy is a good thing. However, it can be bad for people who need to focus on themselves during their recovery. If you’re always on the run, you may not notice that you haven’t eaten for several hours. If you’re too focused on work, you may not realise that you’re upset about a situation, and it can come back to bite you later on.
For starters, just try doing nothing for five minutes. Turn off your phone, don’t listen to music, and enjoy being still. Then try doing the same when you take a walk, or lie on the beach. Learn to appreciate the moments of doing nothing. With time, you can learn a lot about yourself.