Gemma, a busy primary school teacher had painful tension headaches every month.
For much of the time she managed with painkillers to take the edge off her discomfort. But sometimes they didn’t work.
When they didn’t, it would mean having to leave work early so she could lie down. At their very worst, the headaches forced her to take a day sick, making her feel anxious and guilty about having to take time off.
You can watch the video or skip below to read the transcript to learn more about Gemma and how meditation helped improve things for her:
Having to take the drugs so frequently made Gemma quite anxious about the long-term side effects. That anxiety flared up every time she popped a pill into her mouth. But it wasn’t only the pain and anxiety bothering her, she also felt intensely guilty about missing work when there were people relying on her to be there.
Having heard that meditation could be helpful for reducing pain, but also that it could be very relaxing, she decided it was worth giving it a go, even though she wasn’t really sure when she was going to fit it in and she was a little unsure about her ability to sit ‘doing nothing’.
Because Gemma felt there was no time to waste, she booked a 1:1 coaching with me. This meant I could give her the exact meditation she needed as well as a a few weeks support in getting started.
Tension headaches triggered from the shoulders, neck, jaw muscles
At the beginning of the coaching, we talked through what a working day involved and it became clear that, even though Gemma coped really well with the intensity of her job, the stress of having ‘a-hundred-things’ to think about was being carried in her muscles:
- With each ‘this-thing-to-do and that-thing-to-do’ thought her jaw, her neck and shoulder muscles got tighter and tighter.
- All of these muscles in her upper body connect to the back of the head which is where Gemma’s tension headache started from.
- Because her shoulder, neck and jaw muscles never really had time to relax, each day one layer of muscle tension built on the previous days tension until the tension headache was triggered.
A guided meditation that would reduce headache frequency and intensity
I created specially recorded guided meditation for Gemma which combined three important elements that would help her reduce her headaches frequency and intensity:
- A relaxation sequence to undo jaw, neck and shoulders tension.
- Woven in with the relaxation was taking Gemma her through a gradual slowing down of her thoughts. This was step by step process, taking her from the ‘hundred-things-to-think-about’ state of mind to being able to rest and relax into the peace and quiet of the present moment.
- The final element, woven in with the first two, was guidance on letting go of anxious thoughts as well as guilty and worried ones too.
We integrated this ‘letting-go-of-thoughts’ into her meditation because anxious, guilty or worried thoughts were popping up, more often than she realised. They weren’t just related to when she had her headaches, they often came on a Sunday evening and on Thursday and Friday evenings too.
When was the best time to meditate?
During the coaching we talked through when the best time to use it would be and agreed before bed would fit in best. Doing it at this time would enable:
- Both her body and her mind to calm down.
- She’d be mentally and physically re-set, relaxed and ready for the next day.
- Meditating before bed would enable her to sleep better.
To make this plan a reality, Gemma set the alarm on her phone for 9.30pm. This was the prompt for her to go up to her bedroom and meditate before going to sleep, which she’s been doing around 3 or 4 times per week.
Going from feeling ‘wired-up’ to sleepy
This ‘9.30pm-is-meditation-time’ decision worked really well for her. Gemma found that, instead of meditation being a time of ‘doing nothing’, she realised the 15-mins passed by really quickly. Within that time, she usually went from feeling wired-up to being very sleepy and more than ready for bed.
Was meditation taking up time that should be used for something ‘more important’?
Even with the coaching and the bespoke meditation Gemma initially struggled with the belief that meditation was an indulgence. That it was taking up time that ought to be used for something ‘more important’.
The coaching follow-up support emails helped Gemma get clear in her mind about the importance of taking time to relax and calm her mind. When she took the time to meditate, she noticed:
- She slept better and felt clearer and brighter the following morning.
- This led to her taking fewer painkillers.
- And so far, (5 weeks in) she hasn’t had to take any time off work for headaches.
Best of all, she hasn’t had any anxiety or guilt because of missing work.
These insights helped Gemma put meditation higher up on her to-do-list, choosing to do this rather than spending 20 mins (or more) on social media in the evening.
Help is available for you
If you’re struggling with tension headaches, anxious about using lots of medication, feeling guilty about having time off work, then meditation can help you as you’ve already seen with Gemma’s story.
A great way to get started with meditation is with Exploring Meditation Week, or if you feel that a more bespoke programme would be more helpful, book in a free Discovery Call with me to find out if 1:1 coaching is the way to go.
PS: Meditation is not a replacement for medical advice. If you need help right now, please seek the advice of a medical professional.