Last weekend, when I was recovering from a migraine, I checked my blood pressure and pulse:
My heart rate was up, for some reason (this was just after noontime), and my pulse seemed a little off. 100/59 might seem awesome, but it seemed a little low to me.
So, I did my breathing and checked again:
I was able to bring my heart rate down to 73, which felt better, and I raised my “bottom number” on my BP to 66, which actually felt better. I don’t want my blood pressure to get too low, and I can bring it up with my breathing.
So, I did.
I made the mistake of not checking my bp and pulse while the migraine was setting in. I’ll need to remember that later, so hopefully I can head it off at the pass… before the stabbing pain sets in. Who knows? Maybe I can head off the other symptoms at the pass: light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensory issues, balance, dizziness, etc.
In any case, this is probably a good thing to do on a daily basis, no matter how I’m feeling. It might save me a lot of hassle – and it’s definitely easier and cheaper than dealing with medication.
Summary: Controlled breathing seems to be helping me control my headaches, especially my migraines. After years and years of having constant headaches, I believe I’ve found a way to control them. This is good news, because constant headaches are no fun, and they kept me from really living my life.
I’m happy to report: My migraines have been under control – The headache part, anyway. Last week, I had a weird couple of days, where I was definitely altered… very strange feelings, colors brighter and higher contrast, everything feeling like it was moving in slow motion… I didn’t take any meds, because I didn’t have a headache, and I wasn’t actually sure if it was a migraine, or if it was just one of those things that comes up.
I will occasionally have bouts of dizziness (well, not occasionally… more often than that). And I will have my bouts of clumsiness and feeling spacey. Especially when I’m under pressure, feeling emotional, or I haven’t slept, it can be a problem, and with the last days of my current job winding down, all three of those boxes get checked off.
So, I just let it ride. And Saturday evening (after my nap, ironically), the headache set in.
But to be honest, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in the past. Certainly not as bad as when I was cutting back on my coffee and went through that miserable withdrawal that lasted for days. And I actually have been feeling pretty good, without the constant headache. I think I must be doing something right.
The thing that seems to have moved the needle, is that I’m actively working with controlling my heart rate and blood pressure with controlled breathing. I can bring my heart rate down from 93 to 73 in a minute, using my technique. And I practice this on a regular basis, sometimes because I need to, sometimes out of curiosity.
It seems to be helping my migraines.
Now, the thing to be careful of, is thinking that one thing leads to another, when there could be other issues happening, too. I have also drastically cut back on caffeine, which supposedly helps headaches. That’s ironic, because I always heard that caffeine will help a headache, and to be honest, the times when I have been really struggling with the pain, having some dark chocolate or a bit of strong coffee really seems to help. If nothing else, they make me feel human again. I’ve also been exercising more regularly — at the very least, riding the exercise bike for 15-20 minutes each morning, and usually lifting light weights to boot. That could certainly be helping.
The thing is, I couldn’t exercise regularly for a number of years, because the headaches were keeping me from it. Nowadays, I still do get little headaches when I exercise, now and then, but when I do my controlled breathing and relaxation, they go away. Pretty amazing, really.
This is how it goes for me, these days:
Exercise: I get on the exercise bike and ride. I set the resistance to about medium, because I don’t want to overdo it. I’ll bump up the resistance and push myself, now and then, but when I do, I will sometimes get a little headache… which in my experience can turn into a big one — and big problems for the day. I back off on the resistance and check my pulse on the handlebars (there’s a pulse monitor there). If it is really high, I will control my breathing and bring it down. And the headache goes away.
Emotional Upset: My spouse and I have always had a “fiery” relationship. Our discussions sound like all-out fights to people who don’t know us. Our actual disagreements literally make other people run away. It wasn’t a problem for me, when I was 15 years younger (we’ve been together nearly 25 years), but in the past years, I’ve been getting more upset by these kinds of exchanges, and I’ve noticed a connection between the upset I feel and screaming headaches that come on — especially migraines. Sometimes I get so upset, I get an 8-out-of-10 headache (complete with light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensory issues, balance problems, dizziness, and nausea) that lasts for days. So, I need to find a way to deal with it. Now, when I get upset and I feel something coming on, I immediately “disengage” and focus on controlling my breathing. Sometimes I will go to a dark room and block out all sensory input. I can usually feel my blood pressure and heart rate going way up… but after a little while (maybe 15-20 minutes) of slowing everything down, I can “rejoin the living” and have a logical conclusion to what was probably a silly argument, to begin with. And no headache to speak of.
It’s pretty cool.
And it’s a relief.
Because now I feel like I can live my life without being in constant fear of headaches and migraine symptoms, etc.
Of course, there’s the other host of symptoms that come with migraine. Like feeling like my left side is carved out of a block of wood. But that’s also diagnostic. It tells me I need to take better care of myself, rest, get something decent to eat, and take the pressure off.
Bottom line is, I figured out a way to manage my migraines, and I’m pretty happy about it.
Over the past years, I’ve had over 300,000 visitors come to this site, seeking…
They especially seek out information on how to slow down a racing heart.
And since I have a reliable technique I use to slow down my own heart rate when it’s racing a mile a minute, I shared it. People found it. Some of them had better results than others, but I’ve got over 30 people telling me directly that it works for them.
As it does for me.
Most of the time. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work at all. I’m human. My body has a mind of its own, now and again.
I was reading my PDF and thinking about parts that need to be changed, fixed, and otherwise updated, and it occurred to me that I really need a site for this. Especially because people are asking about heart rate monitors, so I can put a store up there, as well so people can just get their gear at the same time they’re reading, if they wish.
So, this is announcing my new site slowmyheartrate.com — for folks who just need a simple, free way to keep their heart from jumping out of their chest.*
* Provided they have no serious underlying medical condition, that is.
I had a pretty good weekend — no, I had a pretty phenomenal weekend. I had an exquisite balance between body, mind, heart, and spirit, that I haven’t felt in some time, and I actually felt like myself.
It’s been a long time, since I truly felt like myself. I was reading and studying again, doing some journaling. I did chores around the house and cleaned up outside. And I was out in the woods a whole lot, with naps in between.
I didn’t “accomplish” some of the goals I set out to do, but you know what? I don’t care. I feel really solid, and that matters more than any external goals I set for myself. On Fridays, my weekend goals seem so terribly important. But by Sunday morning, I’ve “rearranged the furniture of my interior life” and a whole new set of priorities come out, which are a lot more life-giving than the ones I identified on Friday last.
It has taken me a long, long time to get to this place. I have been “in the woods” in a not-so-good way for many years, and at last I’m at a really stable place, where I’m not all over the map for no good reason.
Now, in some ways, I still feel strange to myself. But that strangeness has actually become an integrated part of my life now. See, the thing is, I don’t just see myself as a person whose character is set in stone — and that’s it. I see myself now as more of a person whose character is constantly developing along certain lines that are “me” — it’s not the particular details of how I’m feeling and what I’m doing, that make “me” the person I am. It’s actually the process I go through to get where I’m going, that makes “me” the person I am.
For example, I am usually in pain of some kind or another. Either I have a pulled muscle or I have a headache or a backache or joint pain. I literally can’t remember the last time I did not have some kind of pain — and this goes back to my childhood, when I had a very rough-and-tumble kind of life and I was usually getting scuffed up or knocked around by someone or something or other. I was extremely sensitive as a kid, and a lot of times, if someone touched my arm or my back, it felt like I was being hit. It stung like fire ants or burned like fire or it felt like someone had me in a vice and was twisting. Being young, I couldn’t really explain it. That’s just how it was.
And when I was younger, because of that, I felt like I was always being punished. Because when you were really bad, you got hit or paddled or yanked around by an adult. And that hurt. But I wasn’t being constantly punished — I was just having that kind of experience without any connection with reality. My body didn’t realize it, and my mind couldn’t process that.
So, I’ve had this complex — pretty much my entire life — about being a bad person who needed to be punished.
Well, now that I know more about my situation, that’s not burdening me anymore. I know that my sensitivities are connected with how much tension I’m feeling — when I’m tired or stressed or upset — and they’re not about me being a bad person who should be punished. Pain is happening because I’m doing good things — not bad things. Pain is a sign that I am genuinely trying to do better and be better.
It’s like after a hard workout. Your body is absolutely wracked for days on end, while it recovers and gets used to the “new you”. It’s not a bad thing — it’s a by-product of a good thing, and it will totally be worth it in the long run.
So, I have a completely different view of my pain, these days. And I have a very different attitude towards my experience. Thinking of my pain as the result of me pushing harder to be better, makes the pain about me being driven to be better. That’s a far cry from the old way of thinking and feeling — which was all about me being bad and deserving to be punished.
It’s kind of a “no pain no gain” mentality — “pain is weakness leaving the body” and all that.
So, while I don’t feel physically peachy-keen, most of the time, which at times makes me feel really terrible about being in my own skin, the way I think about feeling crappy has actually restored some of my sense of self. Rather than the pain meaning that I’m deficient, it means that I’m genuinely trying to do better, that I’m motivated and really trying. Waking up today with a headache and fatigue means that yesterday I wanted to be better, and I did something about it.
It’s not about me being in an ideal state at any given point in time. It’s about me being in the middle of a process of improvement that is taking me towards a variety of ideals which I can experience at different points in time. Life isn’t always going to be perfect. Where would be the challenge in that? In fact, it seems to me that the more “yourself” you are, the most challenges you’re going to face, because life likes to keep us guessing — and so do we. I have seen so many people unconsciously create situations that get them in trouble, and I’ve seen so many “good” people dragged into complicated messes, that after close to 50 years of wondering “WHY?!” it’s all I can figure.
Being a good person doesn’t mean I’m going to have all good things happen in my life. It means I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to create more good in the lives of myself and everyone around me, no matter what the circumstances.
And that goes for TBI. Lemme tell you, it has been one tough motherf*cker, getting through this, and in a lot of ways, I feel like the “old me” is gone for good. But the “new me” — or maybe the “real me” that I never recognized before — is not so much about being a certain way in certain circumstances, thinking certain thoughts and having certain feelings about things. Maybe the “real me” is actually a dynamic personality who is constantly learning, constantly changing, constantly leaving the old behind.
I think that once upon a time, I knew this. I cleaned out my study, over the weekend and found some old journals from 20+ years ago. Back when I was still wet behind the ears, I had this amazing capacity for fluid adjustment. I think because everything around me was changing all the time, and the multiple TBIs messed with my head so much, I realized that it was pointless for me to try to hang onto anything for long. But then I “grew up” and got all adult-like and what-not, and for some reason, I had it in my head that “I” was a certain way, and that “I” wasn’t going to change.
It got worse after my 2004 injury — my thinking just got so rigid and fixed and brittle. And now that I think about it, that “self” that I felt I had lost… that “self” may have never even existed, because my thinking was so one-dimensional and fixed. I had this vision of myself in my head that was distorted and confused, and for some reason, I thought that was “me”.
It was like going into a funhouse and looking at all the mirrors, and then deciding that one image of myself I saw was THE REAL ME, and I invested all kinds of energy in hanging onto that distorted image of myself. Even though it was as far from “me” as you can get.
So, this weekend, it was all about the process. All about loosening up, all about cleaning out dusty spaces and getting things in order. My study is still in some disarray, but that will change. Gradually, I’ll work my way through — one shelf at a time. And by this time next year, there’s no reason to think that it won’t be in decent shape.
So, that’s the result of my great weekend. It felt so good to just let go of the Friday-fatigue-flavored expectations of last week and just let things flow. Letting things flow didn’t get me “off course” – if anything, it let me get some rest and more inspiration for the coming week. Now I’m coming back to my work week with a renewed energy and a better understanding — the machine of my life is just that: a machine. But it’s the ghost that does all the driving.
UPDATE: This post is by far the most popular one on this site, and it has helped a lot of people. (See the comments below to read what they’ve said.) So, I created a whole new site, called How I Slow My Heart Rate where I give more details on the technique. Visit the site
Someone mentioned recently how their heart just races at times — “off the charts” is how they put it. Many, many years ago, I actually learned how to slow my heart rate from pounding a mile a minute to a regular pace. Back in high school, when I was working out for track, after a particularly hard workout, my heart would feel like it was beating out of my chest. It was pretty disconcerting. I actually felt ill when it was happening. So I had to do something.
Here’s what I did:
First, I tried just slowing down my breathing, but my heart would still race, and my body would feel like it was starving for air. So, I’d have to start breathing heavier again, and my heart rate would stay fast.
Then I tried taking in a deep breath and holding it… but for some reason, that just made it beat even harder. Yikes! I think that is because inhalation is linked with the sympathetic nervous system, which is all about adrenaline and fight-flight-freeze responses. Taking a deep breath seemed to activate the very thing I was trying to calm down.
Then I tried exhaling completely, and holding my breath for a count of 3-5, or as long as I could hold it…. then slowly inhaling, and then exhaling and holding it for as long as I could count.
Somehow the exhalation is what worked for me. It may be because exhaling is linked with the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say exactly for sure why this works, but I’ve come across other people talking about it — like the folks at Coherence and the new science of breath (the pic below is theirs, and if you’re into the science, I recommend you check ’em out).
But all the mysterious science aside, based on my experience, focusing on exhalation is what helps me slow down my heart rate. I actually have a little bit of a heart murmur (no big deal, according to my doctor), so that makes managing my heart rate even more important to me.
To recap, here’s what I do:
Hold the breath and count to 3 or 5 or as long as I can go…
Then slowly inhale and then exhale again… and
Repeat the process.
If I keep doing that, I can slow my heart rate from pounding a mile a minute, to a regular thump-thump-thump. I have slowed it from over 100 bpm to around 70. Sometimes I’ve done it in the space of a few minutes. It’s pretty cool when that happens. It feels a little strange and unexpected, and feeling like I’m suffocating is no fun, but it’s reassuring when the technique works.
I can’t guarantee this will work for everyone, and please don’t take chances with your health and safety if you have cardiac/respiratory issues, but I did want to share that. It just might help.