Why self-care is super important for easing headaches…
Feeling the warm, sunlit glow of spring all around you is normally a pretty awesome thing—unless you suffer from migraines, in which case any sliver of light can feel like a form of torture. Surprisingly, one billion people suffer from migraines globally, and many are females—women outpace men at a 3:1 ratio, says Carolyn Bernstein, M.D., the associate neurologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. Why are we prone to these skull-crushing headaches? Researchers aren’t exactly sure, but it’s likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors, says Dawn Buse, M.D., Director of Behavioral Medicine at the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City. If one parent gets migraines, there’s a 50 percent chance you will, too. And if both parents suffer, your risk goes up to 75 percent. Other culprits can bring on an attack, too, beyond your DNA: stress, hormonal fluctuations, messed up sleep patterns, being hungry or dehydrated, and changes in your climate or time zone can set the stage for a killer migraine.
Besides curling up in a ball in a dark room, what can you do? Unfortunately, there’s no cure for migraines. While you can reach for meds (including over-the-counter ibuprofen, acetaminophen), they’re not always the best—or only—option. “These medications can actually increase the frequency of a headache if taken too often and can lead to medication-overuse-headache or rebound headaches,” says Dr. Buse.
Another promising route to find relief is with alternative therapies. Everything from to biofeedback to self-care habits can have a powerful impact on treating and, in some cases, preventing migraines from setting in. Here, the experts offer seven pointers and tips to keep your headspace clear, calm and resilient against migraines.
Identify a Migraine
There’s a difference between a really, really bad headache and a true migraine. The latter is usually marked by intense, throbbing pain that’s concentrated on one side of your head, and often comes with nausea and sound and light sensitivity that can last anywhere from four to 72 (extremely excruciating) hours. The frequency can vary but having more than 15 migraines a month is considered chronic.
Be Mindful of (a different) Aura
You might have some neurological symptoms—known as the aura stage—before your head starts to hurt, such as seeing flickering lights, spots or lines, losing part of your vision field, numbness (e.g. a pins-and-needles sensation), and general confusion, dizziness or weakness. ‘This aura stage may last five to 60 minutes just before the headache begins,” says Dr. Buse, adding that about one out of five migraineurs experiences aura (but not with every attack).
Track Your Symptoms
Every migraine is unique—and your triggers can be very different than someone else’s. Dr. Bernstein has patients who are sensitive to everything from tomatoes to “new carpet smell.” To avoid or at least anticipate a possible migraine so you’re prepared, track your symptoms—via a journal or an app like Migraine Buddy. Do it for three months to get a “good snapshot of triggers, including some that may occur less frequently, such as seasonal variables,” says Dr. Buse.
Tap Into Your Mind to Heal Your Body
“Several behavioral treatments have been demonstrated to be as effective as the most effective preventative pharmacologic therapy,” says Dr. Buse. The most promising and well-researched options that can help lessen the severity of a migraine include: biofeedback (monitoring your breathing, blood pressure, skin temperature, muscle activity to calm your body), relaxation training (using a variety of techniques, like guided imagery or hypnosis, to reduce pain, anxiety) and cognitive behavioral therapy (the goal of which is to change patterns of thinking or behaviors so you feel less stressed on a daily basis).
Prioritize Your Self-Care Goals
Staying migraine-free is truly a lifestyle—and it’s centered around wellness. The most important habits include: maintaining a consistent sleep and wake schedule (so pulling all-nighters and then staying in a bed the next day: not good), eating healthy (small portions of well-sourced, whole foods), staying hydrated (2 liters a day; get a cool water bottle to make it fun), not smoking (duh) and keeping your caffeine intake in a moderate zone (no more than two cups of coffee a day; but if you need to cut back, do so gradually). “These actions can raise your threshold for attacks,” says Dr. Buse, so you’re stronger and tougher to fend off migraines.
If One Thing Doesn’t Work, Try Another
“Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, guided visual imagery, yoga or other ways to quiet the mind can also have beneficial effects,” says Dr. Buse. While the data on it might be limited, acupuncture can bring relief. “Try four sessions to see if there is a difference,” says Dr. Bernstein, adding that you might want to do a combination of holistic therapies to manage your migraines. “I recommend many integrative treatments for patients.” Aromatherapy is another option. “Some people like mint smells,” notes Dr. Bernstein (try massaging this immunity essential oil on your temples).
Take Action, Take Control
Dealing with migraines can be seriously debilitating, and impact all areas of your life. What’s important is not to suffer in silence or brush aside reoccurring symptoms. “The majority of people with migraines have never been diagnosed or treated,” points out Dr. Buse. So be proactive: talk to your doctor and come up with a treatment plan that works for you (whether that means self-care, medications or a combination of both). Do all this and you’ll be back to a “healthy, happy and productive life,” says Dr. Buse, which sounds the best kind of bright spot.
+ Now tell us: How do you prevent migraines from messing with your life?