How to use behavioral treatment to combat migraine and other diseases that cause severe head pain
One of the most challenging aspects of living with migraine is living with the pain. While there are many medications that have been shown to ease discomfort, there are additional lifestyle changes that can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine. From relaxation techniques and cognitive therapy, to yoga and meditation, understanding behavioral treatment options may be a step to finding long term relief.
3 Types of behavioral treatment
Relaxation training, biofeedback training, and stress-management have been used widely over the last two decades. These treatments are meant to prevent migraine, not necessarily ease symptoms if your migraine has already started. While it doesn’t work for everyone, 30-60% of all patients who use biofeedback, relaxation, or cognitive-behavioral therapy experience fewer headaches than before they started. It is especially effective for those living with anxiety, depression, or who would like to take less medication.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy and how it works in treating people with migraine
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a treatment option that aims to change the way you think about difficult situations, and therefore change the way you feel. It’s used not only for migraine, but also sleep issues, personal or work problems, and addiction. The short-term psychotherapy can be a great option for those averse to medication. CBT works to eliminate negative thoughts and turn them into something more productive, relieving anxiety, depression, and other things that can exacerbate head pain. PsychCentral says CBT “changes people’s attitudes and their behavior by focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that are held and how these processes relate to the way a person behaves, as a way of dealing with emotional problems.”
The role of depression and anxiety in behavioral migraine treatment
Behavioral treatments address issues like anxiety and depression, and thus may help ease migraine symptoms. CBT looks at your thought patterns. If you have a negative spiral of thought patterns, that can contribute to depression. If your thought patterns take you down the path of anxiety, that can manifest in a stress migraine. By looking at thought patterns and turning them into something more positive, CBT alleviates anxiety and depression, which can in turn reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
To explore behavioral treatment, consider making an appointment with a psychologist who specializes in headache who can determine the right course of action. While behavioral migraine treatment isn’t always the solution, it has helped a large percentage of migraine patients ease the frequency of their headaches.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.