"Almost all sadness comes from thinking about the past, and all worry from thinking about the future - present mindedness is your only safe haven. Only in the present is your mind free to do what it does best - solve problems. The easiest way to leave the past behind is to remember that love does not live in the past, only memories - love lives in the present." Bryant McGill
How to Stay Present in Recovery: Mindfulness Techniques
Authored by Amelia Sharp
December 8, 2020
“Being present” is a term you’ve likely heard thrown around in conversations or on the internet, whether you’re in recovery or not. But what does it mean to stay present, and how do you go about doing it, anyway? Perhaps, most importantly, why would one want to practice staying present in recovery?
Staying present in your life, also sometimes referred to as remaining “mindful”, through every distressing emotion, tumultuous situation, or overwhelming joy, is perhaps the easiest and hardest thing you’ll ever do (we know, it’s a total oxymoron). It is also arguably one of the best natural acts you can practice to improve your focus, decrease your stress levels, and manage overwhelming emotions.
Those in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, especially, might be able to benefit from mindfulness practices, grounding techniques, and other holistic practices – all of which tie into the concept of staying present. When you’re in recovery from substance abuse issues, it’s extremely common to have cravings for your drug of choice, overwhelming emotions, and sometimes reckless urges. Many mindfulness practices exist to manage these phenomena. Luckily, we’re here to give you some information on how to stay present while you’re in recovery from drugs or alcohol.
What Does it Mean to “Stay Present”?
Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating a state of awareness. It is rooted in eastern traditions and has been continually adapted to western medicine and psychology. Staying present, or remaining mindful in your daily life, is not one singular act. Instead, mindfulness involves various techniques and practices that exist for those looking to cultivate the act of remaining present in their daily life. It may be easiest to think of staying present as a practice, or a consistent chain of actions that revolve around mindfulness, rather than a single action.
There are two major concepts of mindfulness:
- Awareness (of one’s self and surroundings)
- Nonjudgmental acceptance of what someone is experiencing
Many people consider mindfulness to be a powerful and simple remedy for rumination, anxiety, chronic pain, anger issues, habitual multitasking, or simply living as a prisoner of your emotions. By using certain mental and physical tools, such as mindful breathing, meditation, and body scans (we’ll get into these later), you can devote your attention to the present moment. In turn, you may come to harvest inner stillness, compassion, patience, focus, self-control, discipline, and more.
When you’re present in your life, you are not thinking about the past, the future, or contemplating anything other than what is right in front of you. When you’re present, you face challenges head-on, you weather uncomfortable emotions, and you cope using healthy coping skills. Staying present in your life and making sure you’re grounded in this moment may sound simple but it’s often harder than you might think, especially when you’re in recovery from a mental health condition whose symptoms innately pull you out of the current moment, like anxiety or addiction.
Tips for Staying Present in Recovery
There are various ways that someone can practice mindfulness in their daily life – whether from the comfort of their own home, or through the guidance of a professional.
Mediation is a broad term that lends itself to hundreds, if not thousands of meanings. When we’re talking about meditation, we’re talking about grounding meditations, breathing meditation, visualization, and even yoga. Various mediation practices (such as guided meditations) focus on grounding yourself in the moment and dismissing thoughts about the past or future.
During meditation, one may practice sustaining their attention on their current experience, and gently guiding the mind back towards their present experience if it wanders. Although many people think of yoga as purely a physical exercise, many types of yoga actually place more emphasis on the mind than the body.
Someone may practice mindfulness through meditation, for example. In various studies, mindfulness and meditation, in particular, have shown a positive correlation with higher levels of self-compassion and wellbeing, as well as significantly lower levels of rumination, fear of emotions, and difficulty regulating emotions.
Ways to Stay Present in Recovery:
- Reverse the order of your daily routine. Usually brush your hair, and then your teeth? Try to take care of your dental hygiene first. It may seem like a small act, but the accumulation of small and intentional acts tends to add up to pretty significant changes in thinking, acting, and being.
- Turn your focus to your breathing; either by counting to a certain number as you breath in, or visualizing breathing in light, etc. Or, simply remind yourself to take a deep breath in moments of calm, moments of stress, and everything in between.
- Perform a body scan, or a practice of paying attention to certain areas of your body and identifying any sensations that these areas may feel. Usually, people begin by focusing their attention to their head and working their way down to their toes.
- Download apps that provide guided meditations such as Calm, Headspace, Aura, and more.
- Work out – mindfully. Instead of heading to the gym and jumping into your typical leg day routine, try mixing it up and starting with a new exercise. Not only will it shock your body into its next gear, but it’ll also keep you mentally fresh. Be sure to also pay great attention
Why Work on Staying Present in Recovery?
Mindfulness is thought to alter the brain’s functioning in astonishingly positive ways. Studies suggest that, in people who suffer from depression, those that learn to meditate experience changes in the brain that last long after they stop meditating.
The effects of staying mindful on our psychological health are staggering and have proven highly beneficial. When you use drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or even gambling to feel something – anything – other than what you’re feeling in the moment, that is the opposite of staying grounded in the present moment. It’s acting on autopilot.
Recovery from substance abuse issues and other mental health conditions tends to involve the implementation of new, healthy coping skills to manage uncomfortable emotions and cravings. Mindfulness techniques and daily intentions to remain grounded in the present moment may be one of the best natural coping skills someone can employ.
One true irony in mindfulness practices and the art of staying present is that, by grounding yourself and lending yourself to only what is happening in the here and now, you can also experience healthy detachment from negative stimuli.
What are you waiting for? Start living mindfully today – one breath at a time.—-from American Addiction Centers