Posts Tagged ‘relaxation techniques’

Becoming Trigger-Resistant

October 18th, 2010

I am very fortunate to have my Migraine days down to 3-5 a month now, and most of the Migraines are relatively mild and abort quickly. One thing I notice is that individual Migraine triggers are not so much of an issue, but a whole stack of them will still prompt a Migraine. For instance I can get by for a couple of days with not quite enough sleep, smell some perfume (or more often the bane of my existence, the heavy sweet Axe many of my son’s friends like to wear – Uggh!), be around some smoke, be in a crowded room, and I may get some little twinges that tell me to back down and do some breathing exercises, but they don’t develop into a Migraine. Then say all those things are present and a meal is delayed and my blood sugar gets low, and whammo!

I’m up to 30 hours a week of work at the law firm now, so there’s less flexibility for missing time. My boss is very understanding and lets me build my schedule the way I want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the flow of work. But if I miss a day or half a day because of a Migraine, I can only make up the time by working longer hours another day, and a day longer than 7 hours (6 working and 1 for lunch) takes a lot out of me. Not that a long day will necessarily trigger a Migraine, but sometimes it does if it’s a rushed or stressful one. Usually the effects are less direct – a long day sitting up at my desk typing will trigger a fibromyalgia flare, and if I don’t manage some rest time to help the flare pass, it’s common to get a Migraine on the tail of the fibro flare.

I know I’ve been talking to you all for quite a while about relaxation exercises and breathing, and I use them nearly every day. They have certainly helped my transition back to near-full-time work. As valuable as they are though, I wouldn’t be where I am now without a good combination of Migraine preventives. Nortriptyline not only reduced my Migraines it greatly reduced my anxiety level and helped me sleep like a log most nights. Then lisinopril lowered my blood pressure and continued the job of reducing the Migraines.

I feel like I’m coming back to life! We have been out socializing nearly every weekend, and I’ve been getting walks in nearly every day again. Right now fibro is more of a problem than the Migraines. I’m finding it tricky to learn how to manage.

- Megan Oltman

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How much Pain?

December 2nd, 2009

My daughter had her wisdom teeth out yesterday. Once the anesthesia wore off she started feeling pretty serious pain. She took her first Lorcet and called me on the intercom about half an hour later, sounding panicked – she needed more pain meds, right now! We got her some ibuprofen, but tried to explain that the meds take a while to take effect, and to give it a chance. Today she is in bed with a swollen face, pain and nausea, quite miserable. We’re bringing the ice packs, the medications, the mushy food, and trying to comfort her the best we can.

I’ve been thinking about the nature of pain. At nineteen, my daughter has never had surgery before, never had a broken bone or other serious injury, and the only serious illness she has had was the chicken pox at age four. Her pain today is real and I can’t be the judge of how much pain she has. Her pain may be worse because unfamiliar. When I was her age, I had had: Migraines for at least six years, a broken arm, stitches on my face, major abdominal surgery, the mumps, the chicken pox, scarlet fever, the measles… Pain and I were old acquaintances (I won’t say friends). I have written before about how you never get used to pain. Pain is, in some ways, continuously and horribly new every time, every moment. But at the same time, pain can become familiar, and for that reason, perhaps less frightening.

The most severe pain I can remember was when I broke and dislocated an elbow. I went into shock, I believe from the pain. Both my labors were quite painful, as I had an unproductive pattern of contractions, which came two or three in a row without pause, and each set didn’t do as much work as one normal contraction. Childbirth pains are different, I think, because any pain you experience is for something, something big and very important, and you know there is an end in sight. At twenty-nine I fell and herniated a disk and lived for years with nagging, stinging pain in my low back and right leg. I have also had Migraines where the pain was so intense I felt moment by moment as if I could not stand one moment more, where all I could do was rock myself and sob, to quote a Migraine buddy of mine. I also had my wisdom teeth out at twenty-two and I don’t remember how that pain compared, but I do remember two miserable and very drugged up days.

I have learned, though, that something changes when pain is familiar, when it is not mysterious. Yes, frequent severe pain is debilitating, exhausting, dis-enheartening beyond belief. But at the same time, with familiarity it can lose some of its power over us.

What do I mean by that? This is difficult to talk about. Pain is real, but at the same time our experience of it is subjective. It’s not “all in our heads” in the sense of being imagined. It is not produced by neurosis or by being weak or hysterical. But at the same time, we can change and effect our experience of pain. When my Migraines became very frequent, I learned a practice of deliberate relaxation, based in yoga, biofeedback and guided imagery. A part of the practice is to look at pain head on – to be very aware of the experience of pain. Not to fight it or try to pull away from it, but to meet it, recognize it, describe it and observe it. In that process we get some detachment from it. Sometimes we can reduce it significantly, or make it disappear. Even if that doesn’t happen, we can make it much easier to bear.

I teach these relaxation techniques to Migraineurs and others with chronic illnesses because I believe we can truly make a difference for ourselves when we learn to focus inward. I believe we should fight for better treatment, strive and work to understand and manage our own systems, but when faced with pain we must practice a kind of acceptance. I’m not talking about being a doormat or giving up. I am talking about looking the pain in the eye – saying yes, there it is, it feels like this, it is this much better or worse than any other pain, it is located here, it behaves like this. Observing it, allowing it to be and allowing it to fade.

I’m not saying this is easy. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you should “just” learn to live with it. There is no “just” about it – it’s hard and takes continual work. I use relaxation zealously in the tough times and then I slack off, and have to pick it back up and get back in practice when the next challenge comes along. Overall I have developed an awareness of my system and its ups and downs. I have less pain in my life, and the pain has less effect on me, than before I began these techniques.

There may be some kind of threshold level beyond which the rules change, or become distorted. I haven’t experienced really frequent or chronic severe pain. Six years ago my Migraine pattern suddenly increased, from a monthly menstrual Migraine plus one or two big ones a year, to three or four major Migraines a week. That was the closest I have come to experiencing truly chronic pain. And three or four times a week I felt something like the panic I heard in my daughter’s voice yesterday. Nowadays pain doesn’t panic me. I may get cranky and resentful, but sooner rather than later i say to myself, Okay here it is again. Be with what’s so, and do what I can to help it ease or pass.

I am learning a new kind of pain as I adjust to fibromyalgia. My body has become a pain amplifier, and a small pain can grow outward with ripples over a day or more until I hurt everywhere. I am having a flare-up today. I ache from head to toe. I am grateful that despite the allover aches, I don’t feel the constant severe pain I hear of from some with fibro. I am practicing what Migraines have taught me, to pace myself, to push only gently, to be with the pain, not to fight it, to know that this too shall pass.

I’m hoping for a better tomorrow, for me, for you, for my daughter. In the meantime, I will be with what’s so. My arms ache and I’m going to rest now.

- Megan

Wisdom tooth image courtesy of Steve Montgomery; broken elbow image courtesy of H Dragon.

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Keeping my Head Above Water

August 18th, 2009

Well, I wish I was literally swimming, rather than figuratively trying not to drown. I was just noticing how few posts there have been here, and that’s not like me. The good news is I’m managing not to have too many Migraines. I may be headed for one tonight – we’ll see. there’s a ferocious thunderstorm out right now. And the good news is I got away to my lovely cousins’ lovely beach-house on the LI Sound for the weekend, and didn’t bring much work with me.

I won’t try to hide that things have been tough. Although I am keeping busy writing and Migraine coaching and mediating and part-time lawyering, getting a daughter ready to start college in 3 weeks and a son to start high school at the same time, it’s a lot to juggle, and still get the rest I need and take care of myself the way I should to manage my Migraines. My husband has some free-lance work but needs a full-time job. Money is tight and I am a worrier. I just want to say hi. The worst thing is to go out of communication, and not let anyone know how you are. How I am is busy and worrying too much.

What’s my great coachly advice for you today? I’m working hard to take the coaching myself. Going out for a walk in the morning when I’d rather sleep in a little longer, because I know I need the endorphins from the exercise in my system, to help keep pain manageable. Because I know then I’ll drink less coffee and rest better, which will make me less triggerable. Because I know the exercise is good for keeping my anxiety levels down, and while I walk I do relaxation exercises that help me keep my nervous system less triggerable.

We do have some exciting new stuff coming at Free my Brain. We’ll be starting a Migraine Support and Coaching group on September 2nd. We’ll meet by telephone twice a month to work together on goals in managing our Migraines and improving our health. Get support from other Migraineurs and individualized coaching from me, at a fraction of the cost of one to one coaching. Look for the sign-up on the Home page, coming soon.

Right now we have a special for newsletter subscribers, where you can get 40% off of BREESE Relaxation Recordings. Check your email for the coupon code. If you’re not a current subscriber you can subscribe in the 6 Migraine Keys box in the upper right corner of the blog page, and you’ll find the coupon code on the Thank You page.

And though I haven’t gotten over here to write very much, I have been writing articles on Law, Migraines, Disability and Work for Health Central’s My Migraine Connection. Feel free to check them out – I wrote most recently about Work & Disability: Don’t Fall Through the Cracks.

I hope you’re keeping your heads above water too. Expect more from me soon. Let me know how you’re doing, in the meantime! Say hi, let’s keep up the communication. Okay?

- Megan

Swimming image courtesy of David Joyce; rain shower image courtesy of AlmazUK.

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No, You’re not Crazy, You just Have Migraines

June 18th, 2009

On last month’s Managing Life with Migraines Teleconference with Dr. Roger Cady one of the things we discussed was living with the hyper-sensitive nervous system we have as Migraineurs.  Dr. Cady helped us recognize that in caring for ourselves and our emotional helath, we need to nurture the sensitive nervous systems we have.  This was a theme that resonated with many of us on the call, and I’ve had a few participants telling me they never knew that…

As a Migraineur, you might have a highly developed startle-reflex, and jump at every loud noise…

As a Migraineur, you might not be able to process multiple auditory inputs, but feel overwhelmed, panicky, and like you can’t hear when there are many noises at the same time, or even several people talking to you at the same time…

As a Migraineur, your sense of “not liking” crowds is more than just a dislike, it’s an inability to process too much sensory information at the same time – in other words, it’s not psychological, it’s neurological…

As a Migraineur, sensory overload is a very real thing, with very real consequences for you. If you’re like me, you have been accused by co-workers, friends or family members at some point of being hyper-sensitive, neurotic, or just plain no fun because of your tendency to break down in the face of too much noise, light, or overall stimulation. Or you have accused yourself, and pushed yourself to continue in the face of too much, because you want to keep up with everyone else.

When you feel overloaded, that is part of your early warning system.  Heed the warnings.  Seek some quiet.  Take some deep breaths.  Use relaxation routines.  I have some very easy relaxation exercises you can use in the midst of everything to calm your system back down. Continuing the overload leads to our systems’ form of short-circuit – a Migraine.

Are there things you’ve noticed about yourself, like startling at loud noises or panicking in crowds, that you can see are part of your Migrainous nervous system? Please share them!

- Megan

Crowded street image courtesy of Wm Jas.

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How Do you Relax? (Is it Relaxing you?)

April 8th, 2009

I really do want to know. I’m very curious about this phenomenon – we seem to be so drawn to things that are fun, or enjoyable, or give us some kind of gratification, but don’t actually relax us. For instance (when in doubt, I’ll always tell one on myself) I am very drawn to playing Snood – a computer game that involves shooting down these silly faces with matching faces – lots of eye-hand coordination, speed, a danger-bar that raises the stress level, electronic music and noises, bright colors on a computer screen – Migraine hell, yes? Why would I want to do that? Is it relaxing? No! Fun? Yes!

Some people like roller coasters. Gut-wrenching fear. The sense you are about to die. The sensation of your heart about to burst from your chest (not really my cup of tea…). Is that relaxing? That’s a different issue, really. The endorphins your body releases after the ride, when it realizes you have survived, are probably what keeps you coming back. The endorphin rush is very sweet. But is it relaxing?

Now – a walk in the woods. A swim in the ocean, or a lake. A long gentle bike ride. Rocking on a porch swing on a breezy day. Meditating. Yoga. Deep breathing. Guided visualization. A really good laugh. A great talk with a friend. Loving and satisfying sex. A massage. A hot bath. Clearing your mind and practicing letting go. These things truly are relaxing.

When I am working, whether I am writing here on this site, creating more classes for you, working with coaching clients, or doing legal work, I enjoy what I am doing, and I can get into a zone where I just keep rolling and I don’t want to stop. I’ve learned to recognize when I need a break, and I know how important it is to relax. But I will tell you right here and now, it is not easy, even for me. It’s hard to break away. When we’re on a roll, we want to keep rolling. When we’re on the computer, we want to stay on the computer. But what our nervous systems need is for us to shift, to take a break, to practice relaxation.

Deliberate relaxation practice at least three times a week (preferably five) can reduce your Migraine triggerability. How does that work? You will be exercising your parasympathetic nervous system – strengthening your relaxation response. You develop your ability to relax, to release stress, turn off the pressure valve. Deep breathing and guided visualization are two great methods, and I use them in the BREESE relaxation teleclasses.  There’s more about the relaxation response in the Free my Brain Migraine Management Newsletter coming out this week, and if you’re not already receiving the newsletter you can sign up for it in the Six Migraine Keys box in the upper right corner of the page.

But I want you to know – I do my relaxation practice, as regularly as I can, and I take breaks and breathe, and take little walks, and do all those things I know I should, but it’s hard!  And I still like to do things that are fun, but not particularly relaxing.  I’m lucky – I get to lead relaxation classes, so I get a chance to relax with all of you.  What do you do to relax?

- Megan

Porch swing image courtesy of Elvissa.

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Calming down the migraine brain

February 20th, 2008

Several people have asked me lately about relaxation techniques. If stress is our enemy, we need to relax, yes? But if we strive and worry about whether we’re relaxing, we tense up. Raise your hand if this applies to you. My hand is up. Luckily there are some very simple techniques you can use to begin to practice relaxation.

Relaxing is not the same as doing fun things – fun things may or may not be relaxing. When I had my first job out of college I used to go to the video parlor on my lunch hour and play PacMan (yes, I am that old). I would return to work with my wrists and hands asleep, so stressed out I could
barely cope. I learned eventually that video games are not relaxing for me!

Our nervous systems have two components – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic
nervous system controls stress – this is where our flight or fight response comes from. The parasympathetic nervous system controls relaxation, which is often neglected in a busy twenty-first century life. We can build the tone of our parasympathetic nervous system in many ways, including through deep breathing, meditation, moderate exercise, yoga and movement, stretching, reading a good book, having an enjoyable conversation, playing with children or animals, being out in nature, loving touch or sexual contact. If we take some time to strengthen our relaxation “muscles” daily, we improve our ability to handle stress. According to Dr. Ian Livingstone, studies showed a 40% reduction in migraines in those practicing regular relaxation.

So here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Sit comfortably with your back supported, legs uncrossed, hands on your knees. Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply through your nose, for a slow count of three. As you inhale, allow your abdomen to inflate like a balloon. Then breathe out through your mouth for a count of five, gently pulling in your abdominal muscles as you exhale. Gently concentrate on your breathing. If you find yourself thinking of other things, don’t get upset with yourself. Gently remind yourself to focus on your breathing. Try doing this for five minutes at first. Each day you can increase the time.
  1. Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms resting comfortably at your sides. Bring your awareness to your feet. Notice how they feel, any discomfort. As you breathe in, imagine silver light being pulled with your breath into the soles of your feet. If there is any pain or discomfort in your feet, imagine that you are exhaling it out as you breathe. Next notice your ankles. Breathe in and pull the silver light up into your ankles. Breathe out any pain or discomfort. Continue to gently pull the silver light up through your body, being aware of each part of the body in turn and blowing pain or discomfort out with your breath. If pain still remains, don’t fight it or worry about it. Just keep breathing the light into your body and exhaling out the pain. Continue until your body is glowing from head to toe. You may want to do this in bed to help you fall asleep.
  1. Take a walk and practice keeping your awareness in your body as you walk – the way your muscles feel when they move, the way your feet hit the ground. Be aware of the rhythm of your breath and
    the rhythm of your walking. Look at any trees or plants, any living things or natural features you pass – fully observe them as you pass. If you find your mind getting busy, working or worrying at anything, gently return your attention to your body and to the trees, ground, plants, rocks or sky. If you are walking in the city be aware of the sky, the wind, any elements of the natural world.

Give these techniques a try and let me know what you think!

- Megan Oltman

Not trying to be stressless, but to stress less!

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