When I realized mindfulness was working for me

The topic of mindfulness has come up again and again here on migraine.com, and with good reason:  it’s an excellent way to manage stress day-to-day and has been proven effective in coping with migraine discomfort and chronic pain.  (Even if practicing mindfulness doesn’t ease the pain, it can actually help you develop a more healthy, less fraught relationship with pain. Trust me on this.)

When I first started doing mindfulness meditation at the local hospital’s Mind-Body Institute (a complementary care center with classes and methods based on research, which made me—a natural skeptic—be able to approach so-called “alternative” medicine with a more open mind), I wasn’t sure it was working.  I mean, I felt good during the classes I took and felt pretty focused during and after my morning solo meditation sessions, but I didn’t see a marked drop-off in my migraine severity at first.

I am a perfectionist and can be pretty high-strung sometimes, particularly during my period (cue the horror music).  If I’m stressed out—which happens more than I’d like to admit—I snap at the little things in lieu of addressing the big things.  For instance, the straw that will break this camel’s back will be something dumb like the dollar bills in the Avid Bookshop cash drawer not all facing the same direction. Never mind the huge stack of invoices I have to process and take care of that day.  I sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees, and those poor little saplings get a beating when really it’s the whole big picture I need to manage better.

About a month into my mindfulness classes and solo sessions (several years ago now) I was having a pretty busy morning. I had work to do, the house was a mess, I couldn’t find my shoes, and I was on the verge of running late for my tutoring job.

And then—dum dum duuuummmm!—I dropped a plate.  It shattered all over the kitchen floor with a smash, pieces scattering to all the corners of the kitchen, and I was still in bare feet.

For a full five seconds I didn’t notice something remarkable had occurred:  I hadn’t cussed. I hadn’t yelled. I hadn’t huffed or groaned or rolled my eyes or uttered a sound of frustration.  Instead, I’d simply taken a deep breath and went to the closet to grab the broom and dustpan.

This was my moment. This was the moment I realized that all my stress reduction work over the previous many days and weeks was really affecting my life in a positive way.  It was a simple moment, and one I could have easily missed had I not been mindful in that moment.

And here’s the rub, folks: as someone who often verges on being chronically stressed out, this was a major feat.  To not get worked up over the little things meant there was no rush of adrenaline pumping through my body. I was able to remain calm, which of course helps the migraine brain immensely.

The idea of getting myself back to that place, the place where dropping and shattering a dish can be met with calm care instead of anger, is hard to face right now, as I have SO much on my plate (so to speak).  But it’s precisely during these times that I need my mindfulness practice the most, and realizing how stressed I’m getting is a good cue for me to get back on the ball to engage in better self-care.

Have any of you mindfulness practitioners had an aha! moment when you realized that your stress levels were lower? Any instance when your old self would’ve gone over the edge but your newer, calmer self had handled things better?

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