Stress and Migraine

How to cope when one of your migraine triggers is stress

To say that dealing with the chronic pain of migraine is a challenge is an understatement. Those challenges are magnified when stress is one of your migraine triggers. Stress can cause migraine, chronic pain creates more stress—and so the cycle continues. And, to add insult to injury, if your body is accustomed to constant stress, a weekend off can result in a “let down” migraine when your stress abruptly lowers. Not exactly a win-win for those living with migraine.

“The migraine brain is vulnerable to change such as sleep and stress, and is therefore best kept stable,” says Peter Goadsby, M.D., Ph.D., who specializes in the treatment of headache disorders at UC San Francisco Medical Center.

In addition to finding a doctor, keeping a headache diary, and finding the proper medication, one of the most effective things you can do to control migraine is to reduce your stress, which sounds easy, right? Wrong. So, in our busy lives, how can we better manage the stress associated with migraine? Here are a few tips on how to do this.

Get Your Priorities Straight

Think about your priorities, and write them down as two lists, marked “Life” and “Now.” What are the most important things on your list? What can you eliminate? Remember what’s really important as you schedule your time and prioritize actions. Being always on the go, focused on tasks that don’t make you happy is not the best option for leading a low-stress life.

Protect Your Time

Learn to schedule yourself into your own life. Use your calendar defensively, and remember that your needs are important. Book yourself a half-hour during the day, and use it to get up and move your body. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, consider bringing in a sitter or an inexpensive mother’s helper to play with your children in your home during the day, giving yourself some breathing time. Sometimes the word “no” can be your best friend. Use it to turn down invitations that only add chaos to your life.

Make Time for Relationships and Personal Growth

Studies show that talking with other people relieves stress. Schedule “together time” with your partner, and deliberately get off the couch and do something fun. Reach out to your support network, and offer support to others. By increasing personal interaction and prioritizing the things that make you happy, stress will instantly be minimized.

Learn to be Assertive and Communicate

If you communicate in a passive fashion, chances are that you aren’t letting people know what you want out of life. Strong communication skills can help you gain self-confidence, be clear about your feelings, communicate without getting angry, and lower your stress level. MindTools offers a free Assertiveness Training Course that can help you learn how to communicate your wants and needs.

Get Enough Sleep

In a recent study of over two hundred people living with migraine, over 85% reported clinically significant poor sleep quality, which is associated with headache frequency, depression, and anxiety. In their article, titled “Sleep, Insomnia, and Migraine,” Drs. Halker, Vargas, and Dodick introduce a simple treatment plan for better sleep. Good sleep hygiene includes exercising every day, avoiding food or caffeine before bed, getting to bed at the same time every night, and avoiding screens for a half-hour to an hour before bedtime.

Managing the stress of migraine is enough, without having to deal with outside factors that can add even more to your plate. Taking the steps to reduce stress in your life may help to reduce other migraine symptoms. Start taking steps in the right direction today.