If you are someone who suffers from migraines, you may have noticed over the past six weeks, they’ve been worse than ever. Many migraine sufferers feel that the stress from the coronavirus pandemic is causing them to have more headaches than normal.
Is this the case? It is likely that stress is a big trigger for migraines, and understanding the relationship between stress and migraines may help you reduce how often you have an attack.
It’s estimated that almost one in four households in the U.S. have someone who struggles with migraines.
Right now, the daily stress of life is compounded by the additional stress that comes from the pandemic. For example, many people are worried about their jobs and businesses and are trying to work from home while also homeschooling their children.
Anytime you’re facing an overwhelming amount of stress, it can impact your brain’s functionality, and this can include an increase in the likelihood of developing migraines.
The following are some things to know about migraines and stress.
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Why Does Stress Increase Migraines?
When you’re experiencing stress, it can cause certain chemicals in your brain to be released. These are part of your natural fight or flight response.
When these chemicals are released, it can cause changes in your blood vessels, which may contribute to the development of migraines.
If you have a lot of emotions going on at one time, including anxiety as well as fatigue and even excitement, it can cause an increase in muscle tension. That can then make your blood vessels dilate even more, which then makes a migraine worse.
While migraines aren’t entirely understood, researchers do believe that serotonin helps regulate pain, so understanding that mechanisms could potentially help treat stress-related migraines.
However, even if you relax after a period of stress, which is known as a letdown period, this can also trigger a migraine.
Letdown migraines are sometimes also called weekend headaches. This means that following a stressful work week, for example, as you’re relaxing going into the weekend, it can cause a headache.
What Can You Do?
Once a stress-related migraine starts, it’s difficult to stop it. For many people with migraines, medicines don’t help once they already have a migraine, and their only option becomes waiting it out.
It’s better to think about prevention if you struggle with migraines.
There are relaxation techniques you might want to start using on a regular basis to help your stress-related migraines.
For example, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and tai chi can all be helpful.
There may also be specific triggers that cause you stress that you identify and work to alleviate from your life.
Keeping a headache diary can help you narrow down the things that are causing you stress.
Other Ways to Reduce Stress
Beyond learning ongoing relaxation techniques and identifying specific sources of stress, the following are some of the other things you can do to help reduce the likelihood of developing stress-related migraines, including during a difficult time like what we’re facing right now.
- Find ways to simplify your life. Right now, many of us are trying to do many things all at once, including homeschooling our kids, working, and keeping up with household duties. Try to do only the most important things and if there are things that can wait, let them.
- Exercise regularly. Even just a bit of moderate exercise can help reduce the likelihood of getting a migraine. Be careful to warm up before exercising, and don’t push yourself too hard. Sudden and intense exercise can themselves trigger migraines.
- Eat a diet comprised mostly of whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Make getting enough sleep a priority. When you’re stressed and worried, it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep but if you aren’t sleeping enough, it can trigger your body to release stress hormones.
- Find social support. If you’re dealing with the covid-19 pandemic physically alone, this can be extremely mentally and physically difficult. Try to reach out to friends and loved ones, even if it’s virtual, to ensure you have social support. If you share a home with a partner, tell them how you feel when you’re stressed or overwhelmed.
- Let go of things you can’t control. This is a tough one but it can not only help your migraines but your entire life.
Right now is a time taking its toll on most of us physically and emotionally but use this as a way to work on reducing your stress and identifying better-coping skills to reduce your migraines even once we’re out of the pandemic.