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The Emotional Side of Migraines

Posted by Migraine Relief Center on Jul 6, 2016 11:00:00 AM


If only migraine symptoms were limited to the pain of a bad headache!

Unfortunately, migraine is much more complicated than that with symptoms that extent far beyond mere pain. This is why people who don’t get migraine don’t understand.

A migraine attack can’t be measured by the onset and relief of pain.

Some of the factors others generally don’t take into consideration are the emotional side effects, which can put migraine sufferers on a downward spiral of interlinked negative feelings.


Fear of the pain itself is common, but there are also fears associated to how others will react if their migraine condition becomes known. This can cause all kinds of difficulties with family, friends, employers and colleagues. Migraineurs fear losing their jobs if employers find out about their condition, and this prevents them requesting accommodations that could help them avoid pain. Even receiving help from employers can provoke fear of causing resentment in colleagues, who may see such help as unwarranted special treatment.

On top of all this is a fear of the pain itself. Migraine is one of the four most disabling diseases in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Taking control of medication, understanding personal triggers, and being willing to discuss needs can help bring support and reduce fears.


Cognitive disturbance is often part of a migraine variant called hemiplegic migraine, but it can also affect others. Sufferers often find they can’t concentrate or form thoughts properly. These symptoms can make fear worse, as they’re often confused with stroke symptoms.


The debilitating nature of migraine often means that sufferers are unable to cope with the dual demands of work and home, which puts extra pressure on partners and spouses who shoulder the burden of responsibility for childcare and household chores. Even when this burden is gracefully accepted, feelings of guilt can be crushing. Migraine sufferers find themselves constantly apologizing, which leads to other emotional disturbances since it makes them feel they are always in the wrong and to blame for their condition.

Repeated apology can provoke marital difficulties, as partners become irritated by the constant need to give reassurance. The result is a vicious cycle that is hard to break and sufferers need to find a way to stop blaming themselves. Speaking with doctors and therapists can help teach the whole family how to live with migraine.

Frustration and Anger

Chronic migraine limits lives. It cuts short careers, prevents enjoyment of a social life or hobby, causes missed family milestones such as children’s birthdays or important school events, all of which can lead to intense frustration and anger. Migraine sufferers often feel there is no point in making plans or accepting social invitations.

Constantly feeling frustrated and angry piles on the stress that, of course, increases the frequency and severity of migraine attacks, which in turn increases frustration and anger. Learning coping strategies that allow for planning and a more normal lifestyle can help reduce negative feelings. These could include arriving or leaving social event early, and finding ways to avoid personal triggers in noisy or crowded situations.


Resentment can come at migraine sufferers from all angles. They resent the pain, resent the ways in which it limits their lives, and even find themselves resenting the good health of family members or close friends. Deep resentment leads to anger and frustration, irritability and mood swings. It breaks friendships, ruins relationships and makes feelings of guilt run deeper.


Medically, depression and migraine share common ground. The same neurotransmitter abnormalities are found in both migraine sufferers and those with clinical depression. Studies have found that people with migraine are 3.2 times more likely to suffer from depression, which leads to many other symptoms such as lack of self confidence, low self esteem and weight gain. Similar drugs used to treat depression are often prescribed for migraine, such as Sumatriptan or beta blockers. Speaking with care providers can help reduce feelings of depression and break the downward spiral.


Stress comes from many different directions, including happy events such as weddings and birthday parties, even though we tend to think of stress as caused only by worrying situations.

All stress causes a similar reaction in the brain, which leads to dilation of blood vessels and muscle tension as the body prepares for flight or fight. Migraine pain can strike either during stress or afterwards in the letdown period. Stress management and relaxation techniques can help patients stay calm during stressful times, reducing the physical effects that often lead to pain.

Cognitive therapy that helps migraine sufferers cope with emotional side effects is often recommended over more medication. Sometimes called talk therapy, studies have shown it has a positive effect on emotions, teaching skills that empower migraineurs to manage their emotional responses. 

If you’re struggling to cope with mood swings or other negative emotions due to migraine, don’t suffer in silence. Helping you to deal with those should be part of your migraine treatment.

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Topics: Migraine

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