Stress, stress, stress.
Who doesn’t deal with stress? You wade through your stressful situation much easier if you do not have migraines. Unfortunately, stress itself triggers your migraines. Consequently, your migraines compound the difficulty in getting through a stressful situation.
Migraines create more stress, which leads to more intense headaches. How do you get out of this vicious feedback loop?
Many physical treatments help you to break out of the migraine cycle. You benefit if you have matching mental stress strategies to dovetail the physical techniques.
Are you Depressed?
People with migraines also have increased levels of depression. You likely know this already. Read about this topic in the book, “Wolff’s Headache and Other Head Pain, Eighth Edition.” Silberstein, Lipton and Dodick, Editors, page 169.
Would your depression ease if you did not have such debilitating migraine headaches? Which condition fuels the other? Let’s look at several treatment schools of thought to interrupt these damaging cycles and hopefully help your depression as well.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Use this therapy to develop coping strategies to change anxieties and negative feelings that may trigger your migraine and tension headaches. Psychological treatment helps you redirect your apprehension and anxiety over a stressful situation before it triggers your headache. Negative thoughts and emotions damage you both psychologically and physically.
Catastrophizing and Labelling
When you catastrophize, you amplify the severity of a situation out of proportion. Labelling means that you view situations as terrible or insurmountable. Consequently, these destructive ways of thinking are difficult to change and can escalate your headaches.
Physical Treatments Work Surprisingly Well, Until…
Many of my headache clients tell me how the physical treatments we utilize work great! They keep the headaches at bay. But then, a stressful argument occurs with someone who brings trouble into your life. Your migraine brain likes to keep life at an even keel. Angry, frustrated emotions upset your sense of internal stability.
Arguments occur and the mental stress brings on your headache anew. Even after the headache is over, your mind may churn the stressful argument over and over. As a result of this upset, the fight cycles over and over inside your head. Your headaches do not abate easily once this mental pattern gets locked in. Unfortunately, you relieved your headaches successfully until that person triggered your headache again!
The Behavioral Treatments Can Help Your Headaches
Several studies note a 35-50% relief from mind-body behavioral treatments. This degree mirrors the amount of relief from medication trials. Find these studies are in the Journal of Head and Face Pain. Check out the Wells and Loder 2012 study and the Penzien and Taylor 2014 study in this journal.
These behavioral treatments, combined with relaxation and biofeedback training, achieved a 33-49% reduction in migraines in one study when compared to only five percent of the patients who did not receive the cognitive treatments. Check this study out in pages 725-726 in the Wolff’s Headache book mentioned above.
Biofeedback uses an electrical feedback machine to help guide your relaxation process. Place electrodes onto muscles that are tight. As a result, audible beeping and visual indicators on a TV screen show the degree of muscle tension.
As you learn how to shut down muscle tension, the frequency of the audible beeping decreases and the visual indicators come down and flatten out. Think of biofeedback as a video game with your victory being the reduction of muscle tension along with your headache reduction!
Therefore, you learn to relax the headache muscles even after the machine is withdrawn. Biofeedback has proven to be a successful treatment option to reduce headaches.
Finally, a third member of the mental methods to fight back against headaches is relaxation. Abdominal breathing plays an important part of any relaxation program. Master this aspect of relaxation which has been discussed in the blog “Be a Better Belly Breather.”
Now you are ready for the next step. While different relaxation strategies are available, consider the following method I learned in a relaxation class I took while in physical therapy school.
Lie on your back, pillows under the knees, head comfortably positioned, perhaps with a towel behind the neck. Your neck will slightly tilt one way or the other. However, do not let your neck stay rigidly straight! If your neck is straight, you are using some neck muscles to keep it so. Now, support your arms on pillows or towels so they do not apply an awkward pull on your neck.
Relaxation Focus Method
Move on to the next step once you are comfortable. Focus on one area of your body and concentrate on each part to ensure it is relaxed before moving to the next area.
First of all, start with your legs. Proceed to clench and unclench your toes and ankles. Let these muscles release and stay relaxed as you move up the body to the thighs. Tighten and then relax your thighs. Imagine your thighs are very heavy, as if being weighed down by concrete.
Secondly, move on to your hips. Feel your legs rotate outwards as they relax. Then, work your way up to your trunk. Remember to continue with proper abdominal breathing. If you do, your trunk area should be well on its way to being relaxed already. Your back stores a great deal of tension. It starts to relax, feel heavy and sinks into the floor.
Next, let your mind proceed to your arms. Let your arms go limp. Muscles that go into the head and neck connect to your arms.
Finally, your mind now drifts to your head itself. Are you holding your jaw tight and clenched? Let your jaw relax and fall open. Is your brow furrowed with stress? Squeeze your eyes several times and let those muscles release as well. Allow your head to roll to one side or the other without being held back by tight neck muscles.
Relaxation is Not Sleep!
Do not fall asleep while doing your relaxation technique. Remember, your goal is not sleep. Not yet. Instead, your aim is for not just total body relaxation but a mental reset as well. As a result, your mind can turn on the relaxed state at will.
Use the relaxation methods to get to sleep if you want to. Restorative sleep is vital! However, remember to stay relaxed when you are awake as well!
Acquire Ability to Shift Mental Gears
None of us escape the stress life doles out. Regrettably, you may feel that with your migraines you have more than your fair share of stress. However, learn to automatically shift into a mental mindset which can interrupt the stress cycle. Your headaches will be the better for it. Try to incorporate elements of these three strategies into your headache management program!
-You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer.
-Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.