“I think I’m getting a migraine!!!”
Many of us know the scenario all too well. The day seems to be going ok, or at least feels normal. You’re going about your daily tasks and normal chores when all of a sudden you have trouble focusing one or both of your eyes. The lights seem to be bothering you and you know you have approximately 5 minutes before a Hiroshima sized headache hits. You panic, especially if you’re not home, or are at work, or driving a car. You hope you don’t end up stumbling around temporarily blind, muttering to yourself, “Please God, don’t let me throw up!” In a moment of clarity you ask of no one in particular, “Anybody got a couple of Advils?”
Why does this happen? Why are these so different from other types of headaches? And what can you do to prevent them? Susan Broner, medical director of the Manhattan Headache Center in New York City says that, “People with a genetic predisposition have a reduced threshold for activation of the brain’s “pain centers” and become hypersensitive to stimuli that causes pain.” It is among the most severe and painful types of headaches. Headaches are one of the most common conditions that brings people to their primary care physician, are one of the most common causes of emergency rooms visits for premenopausal women, and are one of the most common symptoms and indicators of anxiety disorders. Recent research also implies that it could be a factor in depressive disorders as well. A 2009 headache study found that over 11% of the participants had migraines as well as other mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, substance abuse disorders. Other studies have found that 40% of people who suffer from frequent migraines also suffer from major depression. If an individual has two or more migraine headaches per month, then they meet the diagnosis of chronic migraine headache disorder.
If you are fortunate enough to not know the symptoms of migraines, then congratulations. And, the symptoms are nausea, sensitivity to light, and vomiting. Headache pain from migraines tends to be a throbbing sensation or a piercing feeling, with pain on either one side or both sides of the head. Pain can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. A classic migraine causes an aura, or visual symptoms such as flashing lights 10 to 30 minutes before an attack or loss of vision. A common migraine may cause nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms, but no aura.
Most people who have migraines accept the problem as something out of their control. Because migraines come on so suddenly, it does create the feeling that there’s nothing that one can do about them. There is, however, a lot of research that indicates that there are ways to prevent migraines from occurring. Here are a few things that have been proven to work:
⦁ Stress management training methods of any type have been proven to reduce migraine symptoms from 32 to 49%.
⦁ Cognitive therapies significantly aid in prevention. Learning to identify what your triggers are is the most important cognitive skill needed to prevent migraines. Writing out what was going on prior to a migraine’s onset, where you were, what you were doing, and what the conditions, lighting, temperature, and other factors can help you identify some of the things that can trigger a migraine. A solid program of cognitive behavioral therapy can also help you to put life into perspective and help you manage stress better, significantly lowering susceptibility to migraines.
⦁ Progressive relaxation training, where one learns to control the level of muscular tension that their body holds, can lower the general level of body tension that one carries. This helps create an ability to relax, lessening tension that can lead to migraines and other more common types of headaches.
⦁ Monitoring your consumption of alcohol. If you get a “hangover” after one or two drinks, you may actually be experiencing a migraine. If you must imbibe, then pay attention to how different types of alcohol effect you. With careful monitoring you may find that some types of alcohol, for example vodka but not beer, cause headaches. Headaches triggered by alcohol tend to be very specific to certain types of drinks.
⦁ Your diet also plays a role. Many people find that they are adversely affected by foods containing caffeine. In addition to coffee, caffeine is found in other forms such as candy and chocolate. Cutting out caffeine from your diet to quickly can result in caffeine withdrawal, which is characterized by splitting, migraine style, headaches. If you use a lot of caffeine now, cut down gradually. Excess consumption of caffeine can increase your body’s susceptibility to stress.
⦁ Monitor and track your sleep patterns. Improper amounts of and quality of sleep can make the body susceptible to migraines. Keeping a regular sleep-wake cycle is one of the most important things you can do for your body’s physical and emotional well being.
⦁ Meditation has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to de-stress the mind and body and create the relaxation response. There are numerous ways that one can meditate. It’s more important to engage in a meditative practice regularly, rather than to agonize over which style or method of meditation you use.
⦁ Exercise! This is perhaps the most overlooked and ignored solution to most physical and mental health problems. It’s common sense, the body is the vehicle that carries you through life. Keeping it healthy and functioning well will improve all aspects of your life, including your ability to manage the stressors that create migraines and all types of headaches.
⦁ Learn to breathe correctly. Deep, diaphragmatic breaths, taken multiple times a day increases blood flow to the brain, improves brain functioning, and increases energy, making your body more resistant to migraines and headaches of all types.
⦁ Stay hydrated. Adequate intake of pure water prevents headaches, fatigue, and energy loss, all factors in the development of migraines.
In addition to these suggestions, I’d also suggest you check out the Categories section and use the search box to the right of this post for more suggestions of how to cope with the stress that produces migraines. Learn what sets these brain busters off and learn your own, unique ways to prevent them. It’s also not a bad idea to keep those two Advils handy just in case, but try to keep them as plan B in your fight against migraines. Track when they occur in see if you can decrease their number and severity. You’ll find that there is a lot you can do to gain control, in the positive benefits of doing so will filter over into other areas of your life as well.
P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.