Living with Chronic Migraine is not easy. They limit our ability to work and concentrate, they affect our social life, and the pain can be almost as acute as that of real physical injury. Almost one-third of all Migraine sufferers experience moderate to severe disability as the headache and other symptoms make it almost impossible to function normally when a Migraine attack is underway.
Although a complete cure of Migraine has not yet been discovered, it can be treated and prevented with proper medication. However, medication is just one facet of the treatment. There are several non-medical remedies, daily habits, and lifestyle choices that you can incorporate to bring down the frequency and intensity of your Migraine attacks.
ADOPTING A MIGRAINE LIFESTYLE
A Migraine lifestyle isn’t that much different from a normal healthy lifestyle. Indeed, many of the known triggers of Migraine attacks are things that are inherently unhealthy; like not sleeping enough, or drinking less water. Having a healthy lifestyle and trigger management system in place along with medication has been proven to contain Migraine much better than simply relying on medication.
Here are some steps you can introduce in your everyday life to that end.
TRACK YOUR MIGRAINE ATTACKS
When you have chronic Migraine, keeping a track of your headaches and attacks can be extremely useful. It helps you to identify your triggers better, helps your doctor to make a correct diagnosis of what kind of Migraine you might be having, and it also helps in understanding the effects of prescribed treatment and medication. Honestly, the first rule of living well with Chronic Migraine is getting accustomed to recording and analyzing your everyday life in detail.
There is a host of information you can track to better understand Migraine. Things that are generally helpful to track are:
- When the headaches started
- How many times do they occur in a week/month
- Location of the pain (which side of the head)
- Description of the pain (throbbing, pulsing, hammering etc)
- The intensity of the pain: Devise a pain scale on which you can track this. Determining the intensity of a Migraine pain often becomes crucial if the patient is experiencing severe pain and needs medical intervention. Although pain scales can vary wildly due to subjective reporting, it is still a very useful pointer in terms of interventions required. The most widely-used scale range is 1-10, based on your awareness of pain, ability to perform tasks, and the presence of other symptoms. Painscale.com offers a helpful format that can be downloaded here.
- If there are other symptoms and what they are (vomiting, nausea, sensory disturbances etc)
- Whether there is aura or not
- Duration of the attack
- What medications you are taking
- How effective they are
Additionally, a deeper tracking of individual attacks is also helpful, especially in identifying and managing triggers. This record can include:
- The timing and content of your meals (note any delay or skipped meals)
- How much sleep have you had
- Social and professional activities
- Medications you are taking for Migraine as well as other conditions
- Any smell or sight that disturbed you
- Exercise or physical activities
- Weather conditions of the day
- Phases of your menstrual cycle
The more amount of information pertaining to your daily life you record, the better you will stand to identify your triggers and management strategies. The Migraine Trust provide a helpful Migraine tracker template on their website that you can download and use. Or, just make one for your own based on the information here.
STICK TO A ROUTINE
Having a routine lifestyle is always easy on your health, but with Migraine, this makes a crucial difference.
Our brains have their own system of alerting us to potential danger through neurotransmitters like Cortisol, a spike in which can lead to pain. When you have Migraine, your brain becomes sensitive to minute changes, both internal and external. That is why environmental factors like weather changes or bright light/sound/smell can trigger attacks, as well as hormonal changes. These changes can lead to unwarranted Cortisol spike, and trigger a headache.
When you stick to a routine your brain is less likely to be surprised and triggering an alarm-like response.
What to do:
- Go to sleep and wake up at designated times
- specify the number of meals and take them at the same time each day
- plan your activities for the day and don’t tax your body beyond the daily limit you set yourself
- exercise or indulge in physical activities at designated times
Sleep is essential for the wellbeing of your body and mind. A host of very important bodily functions take place when you sleep, and insufficient or poor sleep can lead to myriad health problems. It is also one of the biggest triggers of a Migraine attack. When you are diagnosed with Migraine, then, ensuring sound sleep should be a priority.
Fix sleep hours: Most healthy adults need 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, but the exact length for a complete restful sleep session can vary person to person. There are signs throughout the day to determine whether you are getting the optimal amount of sleep; like if you are tiring easily, how much caffeine you are instinctively reaching for etc. When you find out, try not to deviate from it.
Reduce nap time: Many of us are in the habit of taking naps during the day, as it often helps with occupational stress and workload. But spending too much time in naps can eat into your night’s uninterrupted sleep hours. Try limiting nap durations to 20-30 minutes.
Many of us are in the habit of taking naps during the day, as it often helps with occupational stress and workload. But spending too much time in naps can eat into your night’s uninterrupted sleep hours. Try limiting nap durations to 20-30 minutes.
Eliminate distractions: Make sure your sleeping place is dark and noise-free. Use dark and heavy curtains and window sealers if necessary. Don’t watch television in or do office work in the bedroom.
Prepare for sleep: With our busy lives, it is often difficult to let go of the stress before going to bed, and that interferes with sleep. Before going to bed, take some time to unwind. Read a book, listen to soothing music, do meditation or breathing exercises. Do not stare at the phone or laptop screens. If you had a heavy supper, wait at least an hour before going to sleep.
Don’t try to sleep: If you can’t sleep, do not stress about it. The more you think about it and try, the less you are going to be able to fall asleep. Keep doing light activities like reading or meditation, push your mind elsewhere. After a while, you will naturally tire out.
REGULATE EATING HABITS
When it comes to Migraine, when to eat is as important as what to eat. Several types of foods and beverages have been known to trigger attacks, as well as disrupted timing of meals. Here are a few ground rules to follow:
When to eat:
- Try to take your meals at the same time every day.
- Do not skip meals or leave too much of a gap between two.
What to eat:
- Avoid foods that can induce triggers. These include: processed/packaged food, aged cheese, cured meat, food additives like MSG and sugar.
- Some type of foods can trigger Migraine in some and have no effect on others. Foods that have been known to trigger Migraine are: eggs, tomatoes, onion, milk and dairy products, wheat-based products like bread and pasta, citrus fruits, chocolates and nuts.
- Some experts advise avoiding all these and focus on a pain-safe diet. These foods rarely act as triggers for headaches or any kind of conditions, including Migraine. Some examples of pain-safe food are: rice (especially brown rice); yellow, green, and orange vegetables like spinach, sweet potato, carrot, squash, kale etc; dried non-citrus fruits like cranberries and dates; natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.
- Keep a diary
How to understand food triggers:
Incorporate the details of your meal intake in your Migraine tracker. Record the frequency, content, and gaps between each meal you take. It would make it easier for you to identify if you have any food triggers and take necessary steps.
EXERCISE WITH MODERATION
Exercise is a tricky subject when it comes to Migraines. Many Migraine sufferers have reported that exercising triggers headache in them. Yet, on the other hand, there is ample evidence that a regular exercise regime actually helps in bringing down the frequency and intensity of Migraine attacks, and may even prevent Migraine from developing in the first place. So what should you do?
Why do exercises trigger Migraine?
In the majority of cases, it has observed that exercising itself doesn’t trigger Migraine. The triggering factor is usually the conditions in which the exercise is undertaken. You may find yourself beset with a headache after an exercise session if:
- You have not drunk enough fluid before and during exercise and has become dehydrated.
- You started an intense regime without proper planning or warm-up and your body is lacking oxygen from the unexpected rigour.
- You’re exercising in an empty stomach or with very little food.
- You started a strenuous exercise regime along with a new diet plan that involved abstinence from certain foods your body was used to taking in.
- You are irregular with your exercise regime and sometimes do intense workouts to make up for lost time.
- You receive a head or neck injury while exercising.
Except for the accidental injury, every other factor can actually be corrected or manipulated without compromising on the benefits of exercises.
How exercises help with Migraine?
There is no doubt that having a regular exercise regime is greatly beneficial to your health. And, the better your overall health and fitness level is, the less you are likely to get Migraine. Also, some of the benefits of exercise have a direct impact on the intensity and triggers of your Migraine.
- Exercise releases chemicals like Enkephalins and Dopamine in the bloodstream that help allay Anxiety and Depression. Both of these has been linked to onset and higher severity of Migraine attacks.
- Exercise also stimulates pain-controlling chemicals like endorphins and adrenaline, and they significantly bring down the chance of experiencing new pain.
- It helps controls many chronic illnesses that have been linked to Migraine Onset like Obesity and high blood sugar.
The trick here is exercising with moderation and proper planning.
- Choose your diet and exercise plan in consultation with your doctor.
- Stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise.
- Eat a full meal at least 1.5 hours before exercising.
- Don’t start with too strenuous a regime; start slowly, with easier exercises, and ease your body into the regime.
Stress is an unavoidable part of our current lifestyle, and also one of the most frequently reported triggers of a Migraine attack. Stress affects Migraine sufferers in broadly two ways:
- Sustained stress and anxiety can lead to Migraine onset and trigger attacks.
- The difficulties of living with Chronic Migraine can lead to mental stress and Depression, which worsens the symptoms of attacks.
Now, stress is something we cannot simply wish away, but there are ways to manage and minimize it. Here are a few tips that you can incorporate into your lifestyle.
- Do not multi-task: Shuttling between multiple projects and to-do lists is not a good way of getting things done, and only helps to increase stress. Make sure your work schedule is comfortable and doable.
- Take vacations: In an increasingly connected world, we take our work everywhere we go. Unfortunately, so does stress and Migraine. Make sure to have enough time off from work so that your mind can take proper rest.
- Meditate: Meditation is an effective and scientifically-proven technique for managing stress. There are many resources online where you can find basic meditation tutorials, or you can undergo training from a professional. It is a technique worth investing in.
Excruciating pain, sickness, loss of opportunities and productivity, not mention social life — all of these are part and parcel of living with Chronic Migraine. But modifying your lifestyle according to your needs and triggers, in addition to medications, can get you a long way in living a relatively pain-free life.
Contact us today if you are experiencing chronic headaches and need consultation.