The prospect of making any lifestyle changes dismays many people. We get used to doing certain things at certain times and in particular ways. Everyone has their own routine that becomes ingrained, and changing habits is so hard. Yet for migraine sufferers, it’s often a vital part of managing the condition. Sometimes, an action taken unconsciously is what triggers the problem, so working with yourself to alter that behavior can lead to more pain-free days and a healthier outlook on life.
What kind of lifestyle changes might you be looking at? Migraine triggers include too much sugar, too much or too little sleep, poor diet or particular types of food along with alcohol. It can be hard to know where to start, so here are some tips that could help you identify where your lifestyle might be causing headaches, and suggestions on how to introduce beneficial changes.
Keep Your Migraine Diary
A detailed migraine diary or journal is the key to unlocking what’s going on in your life that could be triggering your migraine headaches.
Getting to know, deep down and personal, exactly what you’re doing (and when) really can help you tackle areas in your lifestyle that are hampering your wellbeing. We think we know ourselves, but many of our actions are performed unconsciously, simply because that’s what we’ve always done. An example might be the amount of salt you add to dishes while cooking, or that fizzy drink you always have in the middle of a hot afternoon.
Keeping a detailed migraine diary that includes sleep patterns, exercise, diet details, situations, circumstances and stress levels, along with pain severity and frequency can help you identify links and connections you would never otherwise make.
If, after a month or so of keeping a detailed migraine diary you are able to identify stress as a contributing factor, you may at first feel there’s nothing you can do about it, especially if your job or some other part of your life is stressful. However, finding ways to manage and cope with your stress could change the way your body reacts to it. You could try meditation, yoga, simple breathing exercises or stretching.
Know Your Diet and When to Make Changes
Food triggers are common, but it takes a bit of detective work to pin them down, especially if nothing jumps out as an immediate trigger. You might, for instance, find you can eat cheese on most days but if you eat it on Tuesdays you get a migraine. It could be that cheese by itself isn’t necessarily a trigger, but becomes one when mixed with something else. Are Tuesdays especially stressful days for you? Do you perhaps work more with computers on Tuesdays, take more exercise, go somewhere that’s noisier than your normal surroundings?
When you’re having trouble identifying food triggers, scour your diary for coincidences. You may find that drinking wine on a rainy day sets off your migraine, far fetched as it sounds. Once you’ve identified triggers or patterns, figure out ways to work around them by either altering venues or food types to see if it makes a difference. There’s some trial and error involved but, if it means reduced pain levels, it’s well worth it to make the effort.
Monitor Sleep Patterns
Do you get too much sleep? For most of us that sounds like a nice problem to have, but sleeping too much can be as detrimental as not sleeping enough. We’re creatures of habit, and our bodies like knowing what’s coming next, so for migraine sufferers it’s important to keep a regular sleep habit.
While it’s lovely to look forward to a lie-in at the weekend, the extra hours in the land of nod might be what provokes your normal weekend migraine. Ideally, we need 7 - 8 hours sleep each night, and we need them during the same or similar hours. Try to keep to a regular retiring and rising routine, including weekends.
Another thing to think about is the change in diet that sleeping in causes. If your body is used to a caffeine shot at 7am during the week, making it wait until 10am on the weekend could provoke a caffeine withdrawal headache. Again, your migraine diary will help you identify where your routine changes and how that might be affecting your migraine patterns.
Everyone is different. It helps to read about the experiences of others, and doctors who understand migraine can help you identify courses of action that could help reduce your migraine frequency or severity without additional medication. In the end, however, no one has more understanding of your condition than you, and every small action you can take to master your migraines helps you move towards a healthier, fuller lifestyle.