Mindfulness Is Not Scary, I Promise
When I tell people that one of my best tools for combatting anxiety and stress is meditation, I tend to get one of two answers:
- “Oh, I love to meditate! It has changed my life!
- “Oh, I can’t do that. My mind is always busy. I could never just ‘clear my mind.”
Guess what, those of you who identify with answer #2? First of all, I used that same line for years. Second of all, I said that when I hadn’t actually tried mindfulness meditation and realized that no one is asking you to clear your mind!
Various types of meditation
There are lots of types of meditations. I have dabbled in guided meditations and affirmations (especially ones that are geared toward people with chronic pain), and I’ve even dipped my toes into the transcendental meditation waters. (Hot tip: from my very basic research, I’ve gathered that it takes a lot of money to be “officially” trained in transcendental meditation, but you can at least get some of its effects through self-teaching.)
The type of meditation that has been the most helpful and the most easily accessible is mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness practice, the meditator is continually encouraged to exercise self-compassion, to not be harsh or judgmental with oneself. You don’t need to clear your mind. Instead, you are prompted to notice what the mind is doing and to redirect your attention to something very steady and basic, like your breath.
Pushing aside fears of "failing mindfulness"
Before I started this round of mindfulness (I have fallen in and out of practice a few times over the last ten years), I felt those same old fears return. I can never find time to do this. I am just too busy. Ten to fifteen minutes a day? I also felt concerned about my level of “success,” which isn’t actually a thing in mindfulness meditation.
What I learned the first time I really became a practitioner and again in recent months as I’ve rededicated myself to the practice is this: every single meditation session will be different from the last. Sometimes I am antsy and itching for it to end. The ten-minute guided session seems like eternity, and my eyes pop open and roam around the room in utter impatience. Other times, I really get into the zone and I feel blissed out, completely calm and centered (those days are rare, but they happen).
Becoming kinder to oneself
Here’s something huge for me: I have noticed that I am kinder to myself and that situations that ordinarily set my adrenaline rushing through my veins are instead just mildly frustrating. Over the years, I inadvertently became an impatient conversationalist, especially during very busy times at work when I was “supposed” to be doing another task. My husband also bore the brunt of my fidgety impatience, and instead of sitting and truly being present with him during sensitive conversations, I could feel my hands looking for a task to perform. Maybe while he’s talking to me about this serious issue I could at least make the best of it and load the dishwasher or something.
Pro tip: if you’re fidgeting and totally distracted when talking with someone, you’re not really in a meaningful conversation.
Being truly present with others
Practicing mindfulness almost daily has significantly improved my ability to be truly present with others and my tendency to be kinder to myself. I have done it enough weeks in a row that I feel a little off-kilter if I skip a day, which is a sign to me that it’s an important part of my self-care routine. Bonus: if you can reduce anxiety and stress and worry about the future, you will likely help your migraine-related health. No joke.
Thank goodness for twenty-first-century tools: I don’t have the funds at the moment to enroll in another mindfulness class here in Athens, Georgia, but I do have a smartphone and have found two apps in particular that have really been effective for me. Want to learn more? Click here to read my reviews of two complementary (not necessarily competing!) mindfulness apps, CALM and HEADSPACE.
Are you someone who knows that meditation would help but you’re still hesitant to try? What’s holding you back?
Have you taken our Migraine In America Survey yet?