Once you have the right specialized care, you and your doctor can create a game plan for not only treating your migraines but also preventing them. The way to treat a stress migraine is the same as a migraine attack that is triggered by anything else.
For prevention, your doctor might prescribe a beta-blocker, antidepressant, or anticonvulsant. These medications can reduce migraine frequency by at least 50%. But what about the other half of the time when you feel like your head is about to split open? For those moments, it’s important to have rescue medications on hand to use once you feel a migraine attack is at the point of no return. Those can include pain relievers and triptans. If those don’t help, there are other options to try, but your doctor will likely start with these.
Another key component of migraine relief is taking a look at your lifestyle and working to eliminate triggers—it’s not as easy as it sounds, but there are still things you can do. According to the American Migraine Foundation, these lifestyle changes are as simple as paying attention to your SEEDS: sleep, exercise, eating, diary, and stress. By making changes in each of these five areas, you can reduce your exposure to migraine triggers and hopefully reduce their frequency.
Now on to the big one: managing stress. We’ve all heard it over and over again, but there are activities that can help calm you when you feel yourself amping up. Things like yoga, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, spending time in nature, the list goes on. Even if you can’t commit to bigger activities, sometimes just taking a moment to mindfully reduce your stress in small ways can make a big difference.
How to relieve stress when the world is, well, really stressful right now
When stress migraines become a part of your life, it’s important to learn how to manage and reduce those feelings whenever possible. “We counsel our patients that stress is unavoidable, so it is very important to find effective coping strategies,” says Dr. Zhang.
And while there are many ways that you can manage stress in your everyday life, here are a few expert-backed tips to help get you started:
1. Move your body regularly.
We know you’ve heard this one before, but that’s because it really is effective for so many people. “We let people know how important exercise can be because exercise can reduce stress, and actually it can be helpful with preventing migraines from happening,” explains Dr. Csere.
Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise like jogging or cycling,5 is one of the most beneficial stress-reducing activities you can do—especially in those who experience stress-induced migraines.2
2. Practice relaxation techniques.
When it comes to stress relief, relaxation techniques are an effective way to diffuse stress and calm the body and mind. Even something as simple as taking a mindful nature walk can be a relaxation technique, but there are plenty of activities to choose from, including meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, says Dr. Zhang. (If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips for how to do grounding techniques.)
3. Connect with friends and family.
Human beings are social creatures and one of the ways we enjoy winding down is by connecting with the people around us. Sometimes this can look like meeting a friend for coffee to vent about a new job change that’s stressing you out. Other times, it can be something more fun, like de-stressing during a game night with your classmates. Surround yourself with people who lift you up emotionally.
4. Spend quality time with yourself.
As important as it is for us to fill our social bar, it’s equally as important to spend quality time with ourselves. When we spend time alone, it’s easier to lean in and find enjoyment in the activities that make us the happiest. And if you’re feeling guilty about not being productive during your alone time, just remember that rest is one of the best ways to de-stress. So just say yes to an hours-long snuggle with your pup on the couch.
5. Set personal and professional boundaries.
When it comes to boundaries, just the simple act of standing up for yourself and setting a boundary can be stress-inducing. If there are things in your life that are causing you excess stress, sometimes setting that boundary can help.
In your personal life, this might look something like asking friends to give you at least a week’s notice for any social plans (introverts unite!). Or, if you’re someone who experiences a lot of workplace stress, maybe this looks like asking for certain accommodations. For a lot of people, though, working from home is actually one pandemic perk. “Interestingly, I have a lot of patients who, with the pandemic, are working from home,” says Dr. Csere, “and a lot of their migraines end up doing better.”
- BMC Neurology, Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Migraine Management in the United States: Insights From Migraine Tracking App Users
- American Psychological Association, Stress and decision-making during the pandemic
- Journal of Headache and Pain, Perceived Stress in Patients with Migraine: A Case-Control Study
- American Psychological Association, APA: U.S. Adults Report Highest Stress Level Since Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic
- The Journal of Headache and Pain, The Effect of Aerobic Exercise on the Number of Migraine Days, Duration and Pain Intensity in Migraine