It was a Sunday in February, and my boyfriend and I went for a walk in the woods. We had been dating for 6 beautiful, romantic weeks. On that day though, I realized he would see a side of me that I wish he didn’t. One that was in constant discomfort and brain fog; grumpy, withdrawn, and weak. After 6 weeks of new-relationship bliss, I found myself with a headache that Just. Wouldn’t. Stop.
The worst part was not knowing what was going on. I went from doctor to doctor, got all kinds of generic and futile diagnoses, and started turning increasingly desperate. It took over a year for the migraines to decrease to a manageable level and I finally stopped feeling them every single day. By then, my relationship had suffered greatly…I’m actually amazed that we didn’t break up sooner than we eventually did.
Migraines are no joke. They affect not only your own well-being, but also those around you, your loved ones, your career, your sense of purpose, your sense of self-worth…every part of your everyday life can go downhill when your head is constantly throbbing and you can’t focus on anything else. Not to mention the nausea, sensitivities towards bright lights and loud noises, the fatigue…
So today, I’m sitting here once again with a pounding fog in my head.
And as usual, a series of questions emanates from my hurting brain: Did I eat something wrong? Too many carbs yesterday? Was it the beer I had two nights ago? Am I ovulating? Is the air pressure changing? What did I do wrong? Certainly, I must have done something wrong to provoke this migraine…
There’s a hundred different possible triggers, and usually it’s not just one of them that actually brings on the thunderstorm in the head, but a combination of certain foods, ups and downs in your blood sugar levels, hormonal changes, stress, lack of sleep, irregular sleep, weather changes, strong scents, sensual overload, rebound headaches from prior medication, repressed emotions…
As you can imagine, criticizing and judging yourself for every little thing you did “wrong” that could have brought on the headache is not exactly helpful. Before I get into what you can do once a migraine has developed in full force, let me talk a little bit about prevention. Because prevention IS key in migraine management. But, nobody is perfect, nobody is 100% disciplined all the time, and sometimes life just gets in the way. So with prevention, don’t think perfect. Think conscious, aware and self-empowered.
In my own experience, migraine prevention builds on 3 big pillars:
- Diet. Namely, low carb, low sugar, enough high quality fat and protein, whole, unprocessed foods, little to no alcohol, and awareness of food sensitivities and allergies. Right – that’s a lot! (Here’s a great overview, and a great overall resource) It takes practice, discipline and awareness to hold up a migraine-friendly diet. However, I’ve gotten better at it over the years, and I’m planning on doing my first Whole30 cleanse starting January 30th. My top tip: Make sure you eat a breakfast rich in protein and fat and low in carbohydrates. This will set up your blood sugar and hormonal levels for a stable day!
- A lifestyle that fits your individual body type and preferences. Most migraineurs benefit from a set sleep and wake cycle and regulated schedule, meaning going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, working a job with regular hours, having a morning and bed time routine and eating regularly timed meals at the same time each day. Not getting enough sleep, irregular sleep times, missing a meal or having breakfast too late, as well as a hectic, all-over-the-place schedule are almost guaranteed to trigger a migraine.
- Stress management and emotional balance. Yoga has taught me to breathe properly and be in the moment. EFT or tapping has helped me to let go of limiting beliefs, fears and unhealthy thought patterns. Chakra work has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my emotions, where they reside in my body and how I can use the healing powers of colors, crystals and visualization. Grounding is a huge aspect of my everyday self-care and energetic hygiene. Connecting to my angels every day is helping me to feel supported, held and safe. No matter what your tools are for stress management and emotional balance – they are incredibly important. Many times I have triggered a migraine by not speaking up and holding something in that needed to be said – it takes courage, self-awareness, emotional tools and lots of practice to establish healthy emotional habits.
Even if I have done everything I can do prevent a migraine (which doesn’t always work perfectly well), I can still get a headache just because I am in a certain part of my cycle or the weather changes. The options are limited once a migraine hits other than wait it out (unless you want to take prescription medication, which can work well occasionally, but also easily lead to dependency and rebound headaches); but a couple tricks typically help ease the pain:
- If you can, lie down in a darkened quiet room, close your eyes and rest. The best thing you can do is give your senses a break and simply relax. Breathe deeply, give yourself a hug and try to get some sleep.
- Drink lots of water. Headaches are often a sign of dehydration, so make sure you get plenty to drink.
- Get some caffeine. As much as caffeine has a bad rep for being a potential migraine trigger, once the headache is on, it’s highly effective medicine. Sometimes all I need is a shot of espresso and I’m good for the biggest part of the day. The combination of an over-the-counter pain killer with caffeine is especially effective; that’s why many migraine and headache relief pills contain caffeine! I prefer to try coffee first, and add pain killers without added caffeine later only if I really need them.
- Cool down. For many people it helps to apply some cooling to their throbbing heads by drinking ice cold water, putting on an ice pack, letting cold water run over their head or even wearing a specifically for migraine suffererers designed Migra Cap.
- Breathe deeply. Breathe deeply into your belly for several minutes. Try making your exhale longer than your inhale, as that signals the body to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s relaxation mode. If you have some experience with breath practices, try the Yogic Shitali breath. If you feel up for it, sing along to your favorite music, which aids in oxygenizing your body and release some stagnant energies.
- Use your tools for emotional balance. Write in your journal, do some tapping, connect with your spirit guides, give yourself some Reiki…migraines typically come loaded with a heap of emotions that want to be processed and released. If you enjoy writing, painting, drawing, knitting or another form of calm creative expression, this might be a good time to give it a whirl – once you’re out of the I-just-want-to-curl-up-in-a-ball-and-take-a-nap phase 😉
- Watch a funny movie or read a funny book. Anything that makes you laugh, smile and chuckle and doesn’t require too much concentration is great here. My go-to migraine programs are The Simpsons and Snoopy comics.
I actually used many of these steps myself today: I had a cup of coffee in the morning, put on some quiet meditative music, got a little bit of fresh air, wore my grounding green aventurine bracelet, sang in the car on my way to work and wrote this article – and I do feel a lot better! 🙂 I’ll go to bed early tonight and sleep off the tiredness and fatigue that typically follows once the worst headache is over…take it easy tomorrow…and that way I’m sure I’ll get over this migraine attack quickly.
The most important thing for me is: I only get migraine attacks about once a month now. Dealing with this condition is still a work in progress, but this is a hell of a lot better than dealing with it every day! I don’t feel like a helpless victim in life anymore. I’ve learned to give myself lots of love and respect the fact that my body functions best when it is treated in a certain way. And I’ve learned not to mess up my loved ones’ day when I’m miserable, but to retreat, be patient and do what I need to do in a more graceful way.
Please share in the comments below: Do you or one of your loved ones suffer from migraines? What has been challenging? What has helped you/them?
Much love, compassion and gentle hugs to all you poor migraine brains out there!
Disclaimer: This is a very concise summary of how to deal with migraine headaches; it’s a different experience for everyone, and there’s enough to be said about these mysterious headaches to fill books! The aim of this article is simply to give a rough overview about migraines and possibilities to handle them without resorting to triptans and other prescription medications. This information is for educational purposes only does not substitute the advice of a professional health care provider such as a neurologist, naturopath, or alternative health care practitioner. Your doctor’s orders and recommendations always come first and may vary from case to case.