A Look at Stress & Migraines:
Stress is one of the most commonly reported triggers for migraines; in fact, the American Headache Society reports about 4 out of 5 people with migraine report stress as a trigger. Stress often acts as the catalyst that intensifies the frequency and severity of migraine episodes. In this blog post, we will explore the connection between stress and migraines, and provide five practical tips to help you manage stress and reduce the occurrence of migraines.
To begin with, let’s cover some stress triggers and their migraine manifestations. Some common stress triggers include work-related pressures, family conflicts, financial burdens, relationship issues, environmental and seasonal changes, lack of sleep, and irregular eating habits. While the manifestations of stress-induced migraines can vary, there are a few common symptoms that individuals may experience a day or two before the onset of their migraine attacks. These early warning signs may include an upset stomach, muscle aches, irritability, fatigue, chest pain, high blood pressure, feelings of sadness, and a lack of interest in usual activities. These symptoms often act as a gateway to the prodrome phase, where migraineurs may experience specific migraine-related symptoms, like fatigue, food cravings, mood changes, muscle tenderness, light sensitivity, and yawning, often catalyzed by stress.
Next, typical migraine symptoms follow, ranging from pounding headaches and nausea to light sensitivity and blurred vision. This interplay between stress and migraines can fuel a cycle of stress triggering migraines and migraines triggering stress. Below, you’ll find five tested tips to help you develop a targeted approach to alleviate both.
Tip #1: 10 Minutes of Meditation Per Day
Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Taking just 10 minutes out of your day to meditate can have a deep impact on your overall well-being and migraine management. Find a quiet space, sit comfortably, and focus on your breath or a calming mantra. Remember, it takes only a few weeks to build a habit, and once you have incorporated meditation into your routine, aim for two meditative sessions a day – one in the morning and another at night. There are numerous meditation apps available that can guide you through the process, such as Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer. Incorporating meditation into your daily routine can help break the cycle of stress-induced migraines.
Tip #2: Regular Exercise and Physical Activity
Engaging in regular (not vigorous) exercise is not only beneficial for physical health but also plays a significant role in stress reduction. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, the body's natural mood elevators, painkillers, and antidepressants, which can help combat stress and promote brain health. Activities like yoga, walking, swimming, or even dancing can be effective in managing stress and preventing migraines. Eventually, aim for at least 30 minutes of low-impact, moderate exercise a day for best stress and migraine reduction. Your goal should be to move more and sit less!
Tip #3: Prioritize Sleep and Rest
“Anything that gets you out of your normal routine can cause a headache, because the ‘migraine brain’ likes to be as steady and stable as possible.”
According to researchers, the relationship between migraine and sleep is bidirectional, meaning migraines can cause disturbances in sleep and sleep problems can trigger migraine attacks. Establishing a consistent, quality sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine can improve stress and migraine susceptibility. General tips include avoiding screens (phones, computers, or TV) at least an hour before bedtime and creating a calming environment that’s cool, dark, quiet, and distraction-free in your bedroom. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, additionally consider mindfulness techniques or relaxation exercises to ease your mind before bedtime.
Tip #4: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When stress starts to build, muscle relaxation techniques can target the physical manifestations of stress and help prevent migraines from escalating. The technique involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body. Start by focusing on your toes, clenching them tightly for a few seconds, then releasing to feel the tension melting away. Move up to your feet, calves, thighs, and continue through your body, working your way to your head and face. As you progressively relax each muscle group, you'll become more attuned to areas of tension you might not have noticed before, allowing you to consciously release areas of physical tension. This practice not only helps reduce stress but also enhances body awareness, which can be very beneficial for individuals who experience migraines triggered by muscle tension. These exercises can be done anywhere and at any time, making them ideal for managing stress on the go!
Tip #5: Assess and Eliminate Stressors
Take a proactive approach to stress management by identifying and eliminating stressors from your life. Make a list of situations, foods, and/or activities that contribute to your stress levels and brainstorm strategies to minimize their impact. This may involve setting boundaries, delegating tasks, seeking support, or making actionable diet and lifestyle changes. Remember, self-care is essential, and putting your well-being first can significantly reduce stress and mitigate migraine episodes.
Managing stress is a crucial aspect of effectively dealing with migraines. By incorporating meditation, exercise, quality sleep, relaxation techniques, and eliminating stressors, you can create a well-rounded stress management plan to help you take control of your migraines. Remember, it's essential to find what works best for you individually. By prioritizing your mental and physical well-being, you can experience relief from stress-induced migraines and lead a more balanced, migraine-free life.