In its most basic sense, the practice of mindfulness is focusing your attention on your thoughts, emotions, and senses in any present moment. Often incorporated in ACT, CBT, and DBT therapy, mindfulness has been found to be effective in reducing a number of symptoms, including those of OCD, anxiety, and depression. It can also help with relapse prevention.
While mindfulness exercises are often practiced in clinical settings, the discipline can also be practiced anytime and anywhere in non-formal settings, like at home, work, in your car, at the park, etc. Mindfulness can even be practiced in what might often be considered the most “mindless” routines of daily life, like doing the dishes or folding laundry.
So why would mindfulness benefit recovery and relapse prevention?
Have you ever noticed that even in the most “mindless” routines of our lives, our minds can be racing with thoughts of regret about the past or worries about the future, like what you wish you would have said, or what you’ll say next time? It’s as if our thoughts have drifted elsewhere, or sometimes “elsewhen” and taken us and our emotions along for the ride.
Mindfulness allows us to gain some control over our roaming minds. It’s like exercise for the brain’s pre-frontal cortex, increasing our ability to resist our less disciplined emotions that can trigger cravings and derail recovery. As one of our patients described it, “It gives me a small amount of space to make the decisions I want to make.”
Let’s consider a simple practice in mindfulness.
Next time you’re working chores around the house, consider doing this: While you’re cleaning, pay attention to every detail of what you’re doing. Feel the rhythm of the vacuum, or the warmth and flow of running water, or the squeaking of the windows you’re cleaning; the sights, the scents, the feeling in your muscles. Don’t think about the goal of getting it over with; focus on the doing, or better, the being, not merely finishing. Discipline your mind to stay in the moment the entire time you’re working. That’s it. That’s the entire exercise.
All this may sound a bit silly to you at first, but you may notice that you’re really living when you’re staying in the moment. John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” So let’s stop letting life slip by!