On Friday morning, 8.45 a.m., I bent down to pick up something from the floor of my bedroom. In that instant, a sharp, searing pain shot through the base of my neck and between my shoulder blades. Frozen, in pain, I cried out, unable to move.
Sixty hours later, I am here, writing a post on what happened between then and now. And it all has to do with mindfulness and how it helped me deal with this pain.
As soon as this happened, I did the most natural thing in the world: I panicked. Slowly attempting to straighten up made the pain worse, so I inched over to the bed and lay flat on my back for a few minutes. I’m no stranger to back pain or stress, as regular readers of this blog would know, but each episode brings me closer to an understanding of what to avoid and how to learn from my mistakes.
I knew, for instance, that the injury was cervical or muscular in nature. The last time this happened with such excruciating agony was two years ago, when I’d blogged about taking a break.
Treatment back then needed medication, therapeutic massage and almost complete rest from laptop and smartphone usage. Bearing that in mind, I decided to do the same this time as well, deactivating my Facebook account and logging out of my other social media accounts. Save two friends and of course, my husband and daughter, nobody else even knew about my predicament. Plus, it was the weekend, so they wouldn’t have known anyway.
Lying there, in bed, weighing my options, I turned to two important things: the cause for the sprain and the way to overcome it.
If I were to go strictly by the physical aspect, I know the answer to this one. I hadn’t done the customary warm-up stretches before my daily workout. The funny thing is, this was exactly the reason for the last episode as well, and yet, here I was again!
How fickle is the mind. When things go according to plan, we remember everything. One lapse here or there and the mind takes its painful way to remind you.
But to be very honest, I must admit that the cause here was rooted in a couple of other things as well. One was mental stress created of my own doing. I won’t go into details because I don’t think that matters. The other was, strangely, enough, the barrage of negative news I’d been reading for the past 2 weeks.
Many people aren’t aware that we stopped buying newspapers well over 9 years ago. I’ve also stopped watching TV news, out of choice. So the only way I get my news is through online channels. While that works, what has been happening of late, is the slew of articles on my news feed that are heavily tilted one way or the other. There is, in fact, more opinion, than news.
As a student of journalism, this disturbed me deeply, probably more than I realised. I couldn’t turn anywhere for just reporting of facts. Everything was a conspiracy theory or a cover-up. Details of murders were gruesome to the point of making me want to throw up. (I was a first-hand witness to a suicide last year and that episode still triggers my anxiety and causes severe post-traumatic stress disorder).
The atmosphere was getting oppressive. The activism of social media warriors was making me question my own silence on various topics. Was I wrong to not speak up? Was I being too sensitive?
Any wonder that my body reacted and violently so? We all know that our minds and bodies are inextricably linked when it comes to physical and mental well-being. A muscular spasm was just the body’s way of saying, ‘Enough is enough.’
Dealing with it
Naturally, I took meds to ease the pain. I took sufficient bed rest and stayed off my feet for as much as possible. Having a tween daughter and a completely hands-on spouse are a Godsend in this situation!
But what mattered more was the way I chose mindfulness to tackle the root cause. Mindfulness is pretty simple in essence: It asks that you be fully present in the current moment, without judging it, one way or another.
Simple in theory. Very hard to practice, if you don’t make a habit of it. So I began with the following:
- Guided meditation
- Watching my breathing (especially when online)
- Taking a whole minute or two, to decide if I needed to read a news item or post an update/ respond to a tweet
- Responding with patience to triggers
- Not being everywhere at once
I downloaded the app ‘Calm’. The easy ten-minute meditation pieces are incredibly calming. People I know also recommend the app, “Headspace” for similar reasons.
When we are online, we tend to hold our breath while reading tweets, scrolling through Facebook or opening e-mails. It’s true! So, now, each time I access any of those, I do it with intention and yes, I attempt not to hold my breath!
As much as I advocate thinking before posting on social media, I’ve fallen prey to posting angry tweets or ‘funny’ status updates. Humour can be misconstrued online, have you noticed? A ‘harmless’ post of mine triggered an unnecessary debate. Upon reflection, maybe I should not have posted the update. But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have learnt this lesson in mindfulness! Catch-22, eh? So, judge nothing. Even the instinct to share is human. Do it, but be ready for the outcomes, whatever they may be.
The best thing to have come out of the mindfulness practice is my ability to respond better to triggers. Offline, at home, I can now pause before I react and choose to respond. Online, I can now choose to scroll past a tweet/update without having the urge to engage.
Mindfulness also taught me not to put too many roles on my slender shoulders. They can’t take the strain (pun intended). Be it home or blogging or social media, I shall aim to do what I can and when I can. What matters is whether I enjoy myself while doing it and not hurt/harm myself in the bargain.
Advocates of this practice recommend that you indulge in it daily. Even a few minutes a day can work wonders, they say.
We all know that’s true when it comes to physical fitness. Why don’t we take care of our mental health the same way? For our own sake, we must and we should.
If you haven’t yet, I suggest that you start today. Make mindfulness a part of your daily routine. Share with me if you find the benefits useful and helpful.
*Featured image courtesy: Shutterstock