As someone who is a Registered Nurse, I've helped many with migraines, but more importantly, as someone who was diagnosed at just the age of 8 (that's almost 40 years of my life), I know a thing or 2 about migraines. Migraines are a common known form of headaches these days that 12% of Americans suffer from causing it to be the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world (Migraine Research Foundation)! What?!? The good news is that many migraines (not all) can be prevented and/or decreased with lifestyle management. In addition, there are many tips to help you get through a migraine once you're in it. I'll start by discussing my best tips on how to manage it while you're in the migraine, then move on to prevention.
Having migraines at such a young age, I began to notice a trend in that when I cried or was tense in my body, that the pain was worse. Before I had ever heard of mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation exercises, I had taught myself to breathe more slowly, close my eyes and to focus on any tension anywhere in my body and to let it go. It wasn't until my 20's that I started to learn to meditate and practice various relaxation techniques. If you don't already practice meditation, I suggest you do this daily to help alleviate daily stressors and to learn to live in a more peaceful state and to let the stressors that come to not affect you as much (Easier said than done, more on that in a future blog). One technique that I teach all of my clients is known as Vagus Nerve Breathing. The Vagus Nerve is the main nerve that activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When you're overly stressed or in danger, you activate your sympathetic nervous system as a means of survival to get you through that situation. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated you are in a "fight or flight" state and your heart rate, blood pressure, pain etc. are all increased. To help, we want to activate the parasympathetic nervous system through the vagus nerve to decrease your heart rate, blood pressure and pain (Frontiers in Human Neuroscience). We can do this through a simple breathing technique! My favorite way to teach this is what's knows as "box breathing". You're going to choose a number to count and use that same number throughout the breathing exercise (most people like 3 or 4). You're going to inhale for 4 (imagine drawing a line up for a box), hold your breath for 4, (draw your line across) exhale for the count of 4 (draw your line down) and hold for 4 (complete the box by drawing your line back to where you started). You keep repeating this pattern for a few minutes and notice how your body naturally relaxes. This is also great when you have insomnia or when you're out and about and annoyed such as with an asshole driver that cut you off, or in the line at the grocery store with someone asking about all the sales prices as they're rung up. You can do this without anyone ever noticing you're doing it.
In addition to relaxation techniques there are a number of medications out on the market. Pills (both over the counter and prescription), topicals, ice packs etc. Medications have changed over the decades. Migraines can become completely debilitating! What works for one doesn't always work for another. Some medications come with side effects that can be too much for someone whereas it's the perfect medication for others. This is best to be discussed with your Primary Care Provider to see what medications or combination of are best for you. I like to take a multiple facet approach to managing my migraines with using over the counters if I catch it early on enough and move up to prescription if needed. At the first onset, I use aromatherapy. I have created a blend of many migraine helping essential oils that work best for me, including camphor, menthol, peppermint, wintermint, lavender, copaiba, turmeric, arnica and more. Experiment and see what's right for you. Some like the effects of it directly on the skin whereas others cannot tolerate it. I personally love it the stronger it is. It helps numb the feeling of the deep inner pain going on. A dark and quiet room is always a necessity as well when in the deep depths of a migraine along with an ice pack usually on my forehead, back of neck, or temples depending on where the majority of my pain is. When I cannot get over the migraine despite all of the above, I'll make my way to the bathtub along with epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) and my ice packs. The combination of the warm water on my ankles and wrists (where blood flow is closest to your skin) along with the ice on my head gives great relief. I'll often take a glass of some kind of electrolyte powder (that includes Magnesium) drink to the tub with me to drink while relaxing in the tub.
Ok..... So you got through that migraine, now let's see if you can prevent some future ones! We learned meditation and other relaxation or mindfulness practices are great for preventing. What else? Finding ways to decrease stress in your life and then there's nutrition! Everything that goes into our bodies either give us the nutrients we need to run our bodies efficiently, or it hinders that. Migraine sufferers are susceptible to many food and drink triggers including, but not limited to: caffeine, alcohol, dairy, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, chocolate and more. A Plant-Based diet has been shown to significantly reduce migraines in researched individuals (National Headache Foundation). Having had migraines at least once a month for most of my life, I am proud to say that I am in my longest stretch yet of not having a migraine for over 6 months now. It is a fact that what we eat affects how we feel in our bodies. Changing your diet is more difficult than just knowing the facts about a particular diet or lifestyle. We produce habits and patterns throughout our lives from experiences and the relationships that we have created around food. Working with a coach that is knowledgeable and experienced is a great way to look into the deeper issues to help heal and create new patterns and mindsets around the choices we make with what we eat and drink. As always, feel free to contact me if you wish to explore more behind how to make the changes you want and need to be a healthier, happier and migraine-free (or less) person.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, (2018, Oct. 9). Breath of Life. The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6189422/
Migraine Research Foundation (2021), Migraine is an extraordinarily prevalent neurological disease, affection 39 million men, women and children in the U.S. and 1 billion worldwide https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/
National Headache Foundation (2021), Plant-Based Diet Shows Some Promise for People Living With Migraine https://headaches.org/2015/01/22/plant-based-diet-shows-some-promise-for-migraineurs/