A daily mindfulness practice can be of huge benefit for sufferers of PTSD, complex trauma, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression… basically everyone, but especially those of us with some sort of mental illness. Mindfulness is being present, in the present moment, in your present physical location, and in your body. Mindfulness helps lessen dissociation and trigger events, it takes you out of the past (depression) and out of the future (anxiety). Sleep hygiene is also crucial, I’m not going to go into that, but it needs stated that it is a necessary component.
For me, mindfulness is part of dialectical behavior therapy, which I am currently going through to help me handle various complications due to my complex trauma. DBT is massively helpful for learning to handle overwhelming emotions and also makes it easier to handle distress without losing control or being destructive. In my experience, the most successful DBT is DBT that never stops. A complete stop can cause me to have a PTSD relapse. Continuing DBT even after the first successful pass through every topic is, for me, critical for keeping the information fresh in my mind and easily accessible for actual use.
Mindfulness really needs to be consistent. I have a morning mindfulness routine that I must go through every single morning, not because some doctor said so, because I know what works for me and I said so. My morning mindfulness routine is from a book called The Dialectical Therapy Skills Workbook by Matthew McKay, Jeffery C. Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley, I discovered this book by doing a few of the worksheets in a partial hospitalization program I recently went through to teach me to better control my complex trauma symptoms.
This is not going to explain who should or shouldn’t do this, it’s not going to explain how to do DBT, and the workbook is not a comprehensive DBT manual, you really do need a therapist to help you through DBT. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is awesome and helpful, but please don’t try to put yourself through it, I can’t suggest strongly enough that you have professional help to do this, do not try to DBT yourself, you can really tangle up your thoughts trying to do this alone.
Here are the steps to a solid daily mindfulness practice!
- Deep Relaxation
- Committed Action
Mindfulness is a skill necessary to build so the others can be effective. For the mindfulness section of my morning, I choose from two options, mindful breathing or wise-mind meditation. The wise-mind meditation linked is directly from the workbook I already mentioned.
Deep relaxation is for distress tolerance, to control symptoms, we must be able to tolerate distress. The options I give myself daily for deep relaxation are band of light body scan, and safe-space visualization. It is important to mention, your safe space shouldn’t be Grandma’s house or something because while that may be happy now, one day it could be triggering. Keep people, pets, your home, etc., out of your safe-space. It doesn’t have to be a real place, and physics doesn’t even have to apply. It’s your place, make it how you want it. Cue-controlled relaxation can also be an option for deep relaxation, it just isn’t an option I find to be more useful for me than the others.
Self-observation and affirmation help with emotional recognition and emotional regulation. For self-observation, I use both thought records (this is the most helpful part of all this for me) and being mindful of emotions without judgement. Nonjudgemental mindfulness of our own thoughts and emotions is not especially easy to nail down, I cannot put this out there without saying please learn this with a therapist. Affirmation means a short phrase that means something to you, this term isn’t jargon, it’s exactly what you think of when you think of affirmations. Because I do all this as part of DBT, there is also a spiritual aspect. If it applies to you, it would also be totally appropriate to say a prayer, make an offering, whatever it is you do, in addition to repeating an affirmation a handful of times.
Committed action is actually planning to take action on something that means something to you. Are there activities, people, or things that are crucial to your mental wellbeing? Of course there are. This is where you make sure you are supporting and fostering those things. If family is crucial, committed action can be calling or visiting a relative to keep that relationship. If your mental health has created a situation with financial struggle, small steps toward solutions in finance can be committed action. Whatever you like to do for self-care is definitely good for committed action because it means you commit to take care of yourself. Committed action should start solving a problem, figuring out how to deal with a difficult situation or person, strengthen awareness of higher power. It is how you go about making real changes in your life.
My personal morning mindfulness routine looks like this, I spend 3-5 minutes on each section, but sometimes a lot more than that on thought records:
- Mindfulness- choose one of the following
- Mindful Breathing
- Wise-mind meditation
- Deep relaxation- choose one of the following
- Band of light
- Safe-space visualization
- (Cue-controlled relaxation)
- Self-observation- (you can choose just one, I do both because that works for me)
- Mindful of emotions without judgement
- Thought record
- Affirmation x 7 and/or prayer
- Committed action
- What is today’s committed action?
- Plan tomorrow’s committed action
If you’re anything like me, all this is fine and dandy, except that I don’t know what day it is half the time, I certainly can’t always remember what I need to do. So I made a special calendar for this that I just keep inside my regular planner. It helps me to not have all this on my regular calendar because having all that stuff written everywhere makes my day appear overwhelming. I have also used a notebook for this, but that wasn’t a good solution for me because I wouldn’t go get the notebook sometimes because it was way easier to just keep sitting in a chair. However, those may be great ideas for others.
The link below is a pocketmod I made for mindfulness. Folding directions are on their website, just print and use. If you like this but not exactly how I have it, you can make one however you like on the pocketmod website.
I hope I’ve managed to make some semblence of sense here. Happy Braining!