Many people think migraine is just like ‘any other’ pain. No, it is not.
A friend of mine compared migraine pain with heating up an iron rod. Just like the temperature of the metal rises gradually to reach its peak and takes an equally long time to cool down, such is the intensity of migraines. This notorious pain can drain out all your energies, often leaving you confused and upset.
I don’t remember clearly but these waves of strange, unexpected pain started troubling me when I had barely entered my teenage years. At such a tender age, it was hard to explain what migraine felt like. Often, I was so scared of my headache that I thought I had some terrible health issues.
Sadly, the frequency and intensity of headaches kept increasing – interfering with my day to day life. By the time I entered college, my migraine intensity had reached its peak. My friends would often get upset when I backed out of plans the last minute – and the professors assumed that I skipped classes out of plain laziness.
Honestly, for a long time I felt ashamed of these unwelcome painful episodes that would often leave me in tears (literally). I longed to live a normal, pain-free life, just like everyone around me.
However, gradually I realized that detesting the pain and making comparisons will do no good. I accepted migraines as a part of my life and started being more vigilant of headache patterns. That’s when my life began changing. Instead of worrying over things beyond control, I directed my efforts to embrace a positive lifestyle.
Living with migraines is not easy, but a few simple tips would immensely help survive this painful medical condition.
What is Migraine?
Migraine is a medical condition characterized by severe, recurring headaches that can last for several days. Typically, it affects only one half of the head and usually occurs in stages.
According to a report by the National Institute of Health, migraine is the 3rd most prevalent and 7th leading cause of disability worldwide. It is also believed that migraine is the most common neurological condition and is more prevalent than asthma, epilepsy, and diabetes combined.
Common Migraine Symptoms
Before the actual headache begins, migraine patients often experience sensory changes known as an aura. While migraine symptoms may vary from person to person, here are a few common ones.
- Severe throbbing pain (usually on one side of the head)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- Visual disturbances
- Disturbed speech
- Neck stiffness
- Food cravings
- Extreme mood changes
Easy Tips to Manage Migraine
There are several studies and researches conducted on managing migraine pain. However, I feel there is no common cure for all. Honestly, I had tried everything – from medication to keeping a food diary. But nothing worked as much as trusting my own instincts and respecting my body. For a very long time, I wondered why I couldn’t lead a pain-free, normal life like others. This invisible lingering pain was always traveling with me when everyone else was busy doing something “meaningful”.
I would be lying if I say that I am no more bothered with my inability to function normally during migraine attacks. However, the feeling is now far less pressing. Over these years, in an attempt to “manage migraine” I realized that there is no way I can manage it unless I accept it as a part of my physiology and my life. It’s no use fretting over and worrying about it. Once you find that magic pill of “ACCEPTANCE”, things will become better. Trust me.
After two long decades of struggling with a severe migraine, here are the few tips to relieve migraine pain that worked really well for me. I hope these simple natural remedies and lifestyle changes will help you ease the pain and lead a happier life.
Have a daily timetable
We all know the importance of time management and discipline in our lives – but it can also help to keep migraine under control. Sounds funny, right? Hear me out before you jump to a conclusion.
As I started observing my life better, I realized that the probability of my headache was higher on days when my schedule went haywire or I felt tired in general. It was far less when I followed my set routine. Setting a routine may not directly work on your migraine but it can prevent you from creating stress over the daily chores. Your timetable will help you regain control of your day and keep stress in check.
Get adequate sleep
Let’s be clear. Adequate does not mean oversleeping. According to The Migraine Trust, migraine attacks are more likely to occur between 4 am and 9 am. Sleeping too little or too much can trigger migraines.
So how much should you sleep? The National Sleep Foundation suggests that an adult should sleep anywhere between 7 to 9 hours a day. However, that’s a bit of generic advice and may vary from person to person. It is important to discover how much sleep works best for you.
Listen to your body closely and you’ll understand how much sleep works well for you. For me, it is 7 hours of sound sleep in the night. Unless I am over-exhausted or get too greedy with my afternoon nap, the seven-hour duration works just perfectly well for me.
Once you start paying attention to your sleep pattern, and how your body responds you will get to understand what is your adequate sleep quota.
Hydrate your body
Not only for migraine, hydrating your body is the easiest solution for several other ailments. After all, up to 70% of the human body is made up of water!
Remember, dehydration is the biggest enemy for people prone to migraine attacks. A study published in the medical journal Headache found that 34 out of 95 people considered dehydration a migraine trigger.
Make sure you drink water every 2 to 3 hours but sip it slowly. Drinking too fast could induce vomiting and put unwanted pressure on your stomach. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “chew your water and drink your food”.
Understand your triggers
For a long time, I had stopped eating cheese because I had read somewhere that cheese can trigger migraines (I am glad I was wrong because I love cheese!). On the contrary (and to my surprise) what worked as a possible trigger in my case was chilled food. For several people, ice-cream brings a soothing effect to people suffering from terrible headaches – but in my case, it worked the opposite.
Migraine triggers could vary from person to person. For some, it is the change in weather while for others even chocolates might create a nuisance. Strong odors are yet another well-known migraine trigger.
Therefore, it comes back to being observant and careful about your lifestyle. The more vigilant you are about your day-to-day affairs; it will be easier to manage migraines.
Now, I am a huge fan of yoga. I firmly believe that yoga is not just practicing asanas and kriyas but embracing a new lifestyle. While I can go on and on about the benefits of yoga in my life, the practice has been particularly helpful in improving my ability to deal with stress and reduce the intensity of migraine attacks. Research published in The National Center for Biotechnology Information has also shown the positive impact of yoga therapy on migraine patients.
Regular practice of yoga can bring a remarkable change at physical and emotional levels. Simple exercises such as Balasana (child pose), Shavasana (corpse pose), and breathing techniques such as Anuloma Viloma work wonders in managing migraines.
If you are new to yoga, it is always advisable to start your practice under the supervision of a trained instructor. Also, remember that Yoga is not a substitute for medicine. So, if you are under medication for migraines or some other health conditions, please don’t forget to consult your doctor.
Stress is one of the leading causes of migraines and several other headaches. Studies suggest that stress disturbs the balance of certain molecules and hormones in the body that can trigger migraines. This is where mindfulness comes to the rescue which can be strengthened through regular meditation practice.
Meditation is a well-known technique to reduce stress and enhance mindfulness. It is hard to explain in words but people who meditate regularly experience a significant drop in their anxiety levels. I am just a beginner on this path; however, a mere 10-minutes of daily mindful practice has reduced my headaches and anxiety in general.
Yes, initially it seems quite difficult to sit still even for half a minute but I would suggest ‘Keep Practicing’. I was just like you a few months back, but today I can sit in silence for 15 minutes straight. Hooray!
Try herbal teas and soups
Chamomile tea works great for me when I am suspecting a migraine episode. Soothing herbs work well on calming your nerves without irritating your gut. Some people recommend peppermint and ginger tea too. Try and see what works for you, but definitely avoid adding milk as it can be difficult to digest and therefore increase uneasiness.
Hot broth and soup are other great items to add to your diet, especially when the pain strikes. Staying empty stomach could add to the severity of migraine pain, so do for a light diet. Try lemon coriander soup (my favourite) or carrot and ginger soup for balancing your nutrient intake. Whatever you eat, keep it simple and preferably homemade.
Chew less, talk lesser
I have lost count of the number of times my parents asked me to chew my food properly. Well, it is the right thing to do after all. However, chewing less during migraine attacks is the best thing you can do. Chewing puts pressure on our temporomandibular joint (TMJ) which connects our jaw to the skull. The tightening of jaw muscles increases stress on several places in our skull, amplifying the pain. That’s the reason people who chew gum experience frequent headaches.
While migraine pain naturally reduces our ability to speak comfortably, talking also creates similar stress on TMJ as chewing. Hence, it’s better to talk less if you’re at the onset of a migraine episode. This will help conserve your energy and also help to reduce your stress level.
The good thing is, our body starts sending signals before migraine pain hits us. Bloating, dizziness, and sometimes an aura or blurred vision are a few such hints. Preparing yourself in advance can help you manage the episode well.
Go easy on alcohol
Alcohol is one of the major reasons for headaches. An article published in Harvard Health Publishing mentions about one-third of migraine patients noting alcohol as a trigger. Alcohol components and byproducts have been linked to cluster headaches and migraines. Sometimes, even small amounts can cause severe headaches to people who are sensitive to it.
While some specific drinks and spirits are said to cause frequent pains, it’s not clear what type of alcohol leads to more frequent episodes. Quality and quantity of alcoholic beverages do play a role but its impact varies from person to person.
Avoid drinking on empty stomach and keep your intake in check. After all, moderation is the key.
Take out time for your hobbies
Migraine and anxiety feed off each other. We all know that anxiety can prompt migraines, but we also develop anxiety worrying about the next attack. This happens because migraine is so unpredictable and can happen almost any time and anywhere. This is why it’s important to break the anxiety-headache cycle by spending time pursuing hobbies.
It is an established fact that pursuing hobbies bring a positive effect on mental health and can significantly lower stress levels. Our bodies release happy hormones when we spend time on things we love. This reduces anxiety that helps to break the vicious link of migraine and anxiety. Sure, we all lead extremely busy lives but it’s always possible to steal some time to pursue the activities that you love.
Join your favourite cooking club, write poetry, run a marathon, or learn embroidery. Do whatever you enjoy the most and you’ll experience an amazing difference. I have experienced its positive impact in my life too. On days when I finish a story or poem or spend a couple of hours practicing yoga, I don’t suffer a headache. If at all migraine strikes, it’s relatively easy to manage.
Connect and Share
Being a migraine patient, I know how frustrating it is when people don’t understand what you’re going through. I am often bombarded with questions like this.
“A headache? But you were just fine half an hour back!”
Or something like this…
“Oh, but I thought you had a migraine yesterday. Why do you look so dull even today?”
Well, I don’t really blame them, but it’s annoying to explain that migraine is not a simple headache and doesn’t disappear overnight by popping pills. It’s so uncertain and sporadic, that even medical science could not find a surest cure for the problem.
That’s why it’s important to connect with people who have experienced these dreadful episodes. Sharing your story and listening to similar ones gives a lot of comfort. It feels nice when you realize you are not alone in this and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.
Migraine is much more damaging than a headache and also linked to depression and anxiety. People with migraines are about five times likely to develop depression than someone without a migraine.
The good news is – migraine can be managed with simple lifestyle changes and a support system. There is a greater need to create awareness about this widespread health issue not only among migraine patients but their family and friends too.
Migraine is an invisible disease and hence does not garner enough attention. People need to be more understanding and sensitive to migraine patients.
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