If you believe stress triggers your migraines, you are not alone. Four out of five people who suffer migraines report stress as a primary cause of migraine attacks.
Sometimes a migraine occurs during a period of relaxation after a period of high stress. In fact, a study in 2014 found that migraineurs who experienced stress reduction from one day to the next were significantly more likely to have a migraine the next day, which seems totally not fair!
Researchers believe changes in the level of certain brain chemicals, like serotonin, that regulate pain may cause migraines. Stress can cause those changes, creating the perfect storm for migraines.
It’s time to manage your stress and reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of your migraines.
Symptoms of Stress and Migraines
You might notice stress symptoms before you develop migraine symptoms, such as:
- Muscle aches
- An upset stomach
- Chest pain
- High blood pressure
- Feelings of sadness or depression
- Lack of interest in your usual activities
Some migraine symptoms also occur before the head pain hits during the prodrome phase. You might get food cravings or become moody. Maybe you yawn a lot, become sensitive to light, or your muscles feel tender.
Many migraine sufferers experience aura during the prodrome phase. You might see flashing lights, bright spots, or strange shapes. Your arms, legs, or face may tingle, or you might experience difficulty speaking. You may even suffer a temporary loss of vision.Symptoms throughout the headache phase can include:
- Increased sensitivity to smells or touch
- Nausea and vomiting
- Throbbing or pulsing head pain, often on one side
- Sensitivity to light
As the prodrome moves into the headache phase, your symptoms can last from a few hours to a few days. The severity varies between individuals.
Tips for Managing Stress
Lifestyle changes are the most crucial component of stress management. If you want to reduce stress migraines, take measures to reduce the stress in your life. Of course, there are some causes of stress in life that are entirely outside of your control. But, there are some factors you are able to change.
Simplify your schedule by listing and ranking your priorities. Determine what is the most important and what you can eliminate without worries. You may even realize that you are taking on unnecessary responsibilities.
Complete tasks that must be done first, followed by those with more flexible time limits. For some people, just feeling like they have an organized schedule can reduce stress. Especially when things felt out of control before!
Protect your time and schedule some "me-time" every day. Try to take at least 30 minutes daily and use it to get up and move around. If you are a stay-at-home parent, consider hiring a babysitter or asking a trusted loved one to play with your kids at your home during the day. If you work from home, try to get out for half an hour and walk outside.
An increase in personal interaction and prioritizing your happiness can minimize stress. Nurture your relationships and personal growth. Get together with friends, family, and loved ones often. When you feel stressed, reach out to a support network and offer support to others in turn.
It can be tough to communicate your needs effectively. Practice communicating your needs clearly with the people closest to you. If you really struggle managing stress in your life, consider meeting with a therapist or mental health resource to help you learn practical skills for life and stress management.
Sleep and Eat
Over 85% of migraineurs reported clinically significant poor sleep quality, which is associated with migraine frequency, depression, and anxiety. To combat stress migraines on the physical level, try to:
- Exercise daily
- Avoid food or caffeine right before bedtime
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Avoid screen time for 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed
A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains also goes a long way toward mitigating the effects of stress and making you feel better.
Medication Can Help
You can use over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin to relieve head pain. However, you should be aware of potential medication overuse that can cause rebound headaches.
If OTC drugs aren’t effective enough, see your healthcare provider for prescription options.
Triptans, like Imitrex (sumatriptan), Axert (almotriptan), and Maxalt (rizatriptan), are available by prescription. Ergots combining ergotamine and caffeine may help through prescription Cafergot or Migergot.
You are a candidate for preventatives if you need to use pain-relieving drugs three or more times a week for migraine pain without relief of pain.
Preventative medications include:
- Beta-blockers like propranolol
- Antidepressants like amitriptyline or venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- CGRO receptor agonists like Nurtec ODT or Qulipta
- Anti-seizure medications like Topomax
- Botox (R) injections in areas involved in migraine symptoms
If you are regularly missing social events or taking time off of work or school due to migraines, talk to a doctor or headache specialist about preventative medications.
Contact the Migraine Relief Center
Do you suffer from migraines, or do you believe you do? We can help diagnose and treat your migraines and help you develop a lifestyle that relieves stress. Our healthcare providers are available to help in any way you need.