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?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (8)
  • deborahvan-der-harst
    4 years ago

    Hi Janet, I started meditation about a year ago, out of desperation to treat my terrible anxiety disorder. I felt I had nothing to lose by trying it. My mild to moderate migraines are less painful with regular meditation. I was recently hospitalized for a week by The Diamond Headache Clinic at the Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago to have DHE 45 administered for 7 days. While there I was able to try acupuncture and biofeedback. I found that for me biofeedback is extremely effective in treating my pain. Acupuncture took my pain away as well, but it came back a short time later. I’m wondering if I had acupuncture done on a regular basis, if it would have more lasting effects. I’m going to give it a try along with the biofeedback. I am happy that I have options that aren’t medication.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Deborah,

    Thanks for the comment–sorry it has taken me awhile to reply.

    I’m so happy to hear that biofeedback is working for you. Can you believe I’ve never tried it in a formal setting? (I once did a little demo at a headache conference for about two minutes.) I have been really anxious this summer and realized yet again that I need to get back to meditating and doing other stress-calming activities that soothe my mind.

    Take care; I hope you’re feeling good!

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • MigraineSal
    4 years ago

    W-E-L-L D-O-N-E that girl . . . that is one heck of a mindfulness technique you have got going on to be soooo composed when you dropped the plate !

    I have been practicing mindfulness for almost 2 years now and have been very pleased with the results, which have been noticed by others and were even mentioned in my work Performance Appraisal this year ! On the whole I am able to take a step back and not got off on a rant like I would have done and this has surprised more than a few people but I had a very trying week at work last week and this lead to a weekend of tears ( not good for a Migraineur ) and resulted in a stonking migraine which started Monday and which really took hold yesterday and meant that I just could not go in to work. This was a big disappointment to me as I had thought that I was doing soooo well with my mindfulness technique but that was yesterday’t thoughts when I wasn’t well . . . today I can see that I had created unnecessary stress by putting soooo much pressure on myself to keep my mindfulness training and professional composure in check and not revert to my ‘default setting’ of letting rip and consequently got myself in such a tizz that it lead to a migraine !

    A critic could say that this means that mindfulness isn’t working for me but I would perhaps prefer to say that yesterday was a ‘mindfulness blip’ . . . none of us are perfect and at least I have been back on track today and much more focussed on my mindfulness techniques and mindset.

    What I will say is that starting with migraines and going to my pain management group has made me into a much better person and on the whole ( when I am not gripped by migraine, which leaves me frustrated / tired / grumpy, et al ) pain has turned me into a better person because of the techniques I have learnt to cope with the pain . . . most notably meditation and mindfulness so there is a positive to come out of a migraine diagnosis . . . who would have thought that was possible !

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Dear MigraineSal,

    I am sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Thank you for the kudos about my not flipping out when I dropped the plate! 🙂

    One thing that I have to consistently remind myself of is that I don’t have to erase my mind or be somehow perfect when I practice mindfulness. It can be a part of your every day, from taking deep breaths while at a stoplight to taking a minute to focus on your body’s rhythms when you’re stressed to lying down for two hours doing a formal meditation practice. “Start where you are,” Pema Chodron and others might say, and that’s what I try to do. Day by day. Some days I am flying off the handle at the littlest thing, but I try to check in with myself and be more aware of where my behavior is originating. It’s an ongoing journey, but I’m proud to be on it.

    Take care, and I am so happy to hear you’re doing so well, mindfulness-wise. Well deserved!

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • quilter laura
    4 years ago

    Not necessarily an a-ha moment, but I know that mindfulness works wonders for me. Not so much in reducing pain, but instead increasing my ability to deal calmly with pain. Before I started mindfulness I would often panic at intense pain levels or chronic periods when migraines did not go away. I think staying calm has helped my pain not escalate as well as shorten the duration.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Meri,

    I needed to reread my own article today to remind myself to engage in practice again. It’s an ongoing process of resetting and redirecting myself back to the breath, back to being in the moment. It’s hard, but it sure does help.

    Take care; I hope you’re feeling good today.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Laura,

    My relationship to my pain is much less fraught with anxiety when I am practicing mindfulness regularly. I don’t start imagining worst-case scenarios constantly as I used to the moment I felt a migraine start. Now I can roll with it and be more in tune to the signals my body is giving.

    I hope you’re feeling well today. Thank you for the comment, and sorry it took awhile for me to get back to you!

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Meri
    4 years ago

    I started mindfulness practice about 2 months ago. Thank you for reminding me how important it is to practice daily- I haven’t… I think I had an aha moment some time ago but hadn’t really connected it to my practice, until I came across your article… Thank you for reminding me that things don’t change overnight and patience is truly a virtue worth developing.

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