Stress Reduction & Processing Techniques to Manage Migraine

Stress is a migraine trigger for nearly 70% of people living with migraine and disorders that cause severe head pain. Simple mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques can help alleviate stress, increase calmness and, in some cases, prevent a migraine attack. Shirley Kessel, Executive Director of Miles for Migraine, lives with migraine and regularly employs mindfulness exercises to manage her symptoms. In a Facebook Live hosted by the American Migraine Foundation, Kessel spoke about the benefits of mindfulness and shared meditative exercises that viewers can add to their daily routine.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is defined as “paying attention in the present moment without judgment,” Kessel says. This is important because the mind often dwells on the past and focuses on the future, giving little time to acknowledge the present. Mindfulness helps people slow down and pay attention to what is happening around them.

Meditation is an essential component of mindfulness. Contrary to what many people believe about mindfulness meditation, the practice is not about clearing your mind. Rather, it’s about watching and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings without casting judgment.

The C.A.R.E. Process

C.A.R.E. is Kessel’s method and acronym for practicing mindfulness.


This step starts by asking yourself the following question: “What’s here now?” Think about your current state of mind and how you are feeling at this particular moment. Answer honestly.

You can also begin to focus your breathing in response to the present, and note how your body moves with every inhales and exhales. This will allow you to take inventory of your current state of mind and consider how you are feeling. It is human instinct to not want to focus on the present when you’re experiencing pain, Kessel says, so taking the time to acknowledge your thoughts is essential.


At this step of the process, Kessel encourages people to allow the moment to be as it is. It can be difficult to practice this when you’re experiencing painful symptoms and you want your current state to be different. You don’t want to have to miss social events, take time off work or give up things you love to accommodate your migraine. Put this step into practice when meditating by watching your mind with as little judgment as possible.


Next, ask yourself “What’s needed now?” and “What can I do in the present moment?” Consider your responses, which could range from making a life change to noticing the breaths you’re taking at present. For example, if you’re experiencing increased stress, consider delegating more tasks to your team or try to alleviate those feelings with slow breathing.


The final step of the C.A.R.E. process focuses on the question “How much is enough?” As you begin to check in with their thoughts and feelings throughout the day, you may begin to embody mindfulness. For Kessel, a long-time practitioner, this is an automatic reflex. “I don’t even have to do the acronym anymore,” Kessel said, “I’m just constantly aware of what’s happening for myself moment to moment.”

Applying C.A.R.E. to Daily Life

Mindfulness can be practiced in all facets of life. From stressful situations at work or home to hurtful migraine misconceptions, mindfulness allows you to take a deep breath, process your thoughts and diffuse the situation. For example, checking in with your present state when you begin to experience a migraine attack could help you identify triggers or work through the stress of the attack.

Mindfulness is a simple, effective method for managing migraines and reducing potential triggers. Peruse our doctor-verified resource library to learn more about living with migraine, or join our Move Against Migraine support group to learn from other people’s experiences.