MBSR Day 4: A Mindfulness Hangover

Today I awoke with an unexpected side effect of my latest mindfulness efforts: a massive headache.

I should have seen it coming from the night before. Around 6pm, I felt my brain just kinda shut down. I had been really good all day about constantly checking in with my body, redirecting my thoughts away from my self-critical narrative, and keeping my focus immersed on my current task. I was really pleased with how well it was going.

Then at 6pm, I put my credit card in the refrigerator. About ten minutes later, I put a kitchen utensil I had already used to stir up cooked food back into its drawer while filthy (we discovered it later that night). I was mixing up words and couldn’t remember what I was doing. My brain was done and it had checked out.

The next morning: massive headache. In the front of my head towards my eyes pounding. It lasted all day and pain relievers didn’t do anything to help.

Apparently, it’s possible to overdo it on mindfulness and meditation. I looked up whether mindfulness has caused headaches for anybody else, and couldn’t find anything but there were a lot of people who had similar experiences with meditation, particularly on retreats where they were meditating all day long. Apparently the brain is like a muscle, and it needs to be eased into activities it is not used to or there are negative consequences. Like energy and strength in muscles, we have a finite amount of focus in our brains (particularly when we have never practiced it before).

I suppose that’s why my MBSR program has two assignments for this week: a 30 minute body scan meditation and then being mindful in ONE moment over the course of the day. And here I went, throwing myself into this and overdoing it (like I normally do) and trying to be mindful all day long.

So my Day 4, I did my body scan but then I really eased back on the whole mindfulness thing to give my brain a break. Day 5, and I already feel better. It’s a good reminder that this is something that needs to be eased into, with small changes, instead of throwing myself into it headlong. It’s my internal critic that wants me to change immediately. This is a marathon, not a sprint and I will have to continually remind my critic of that.

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