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Even informal mindfulness practice can help migraineurs

While I and many of you rely on abortive meds to kick a migraine to the curb once it shows up, daily care even when a migraine is not threatening to show up is of the utmost importance as well.

There are also things we can do to feel a little better in the long term.  I’m talking about gentle exercise, yoga, eating well, staying hydrated, getting regular sleep (and enough of it), and the like.  While these measures don’t necessarily help you feel better once a migraine is already here, they can certainly improve your quality of life as well as the attitude you have toward your migraine attacks.

I’m not one to preach about lifestyle changes: I adopt something new, become a disciple, and then drop it without resuming it again for awhile.  But I can say that my relationship with migraine changed for the better once I started taking care of my mental and physical health more proactively.  One of the best things I ever learned? Mindfulness meditation (which is not religiously affiliated in any way, meaning if you are an atheist or a devout believer in your religion of choice or somewhere in between, it won’t conflict with your values).

Here’s the cool thing about mindfulness meditation: it can be with you all the time, no materials or money required.  While formal practice will deepen your skill and lower your stress levels more consistently, even infrequent dips into mindfulness can help you out.  Are you at a stoplight or stuck in traffic? Concentrate on your breathing and see how many three-part breaths you can complete before you can get moving again.  Tired of sitting in your work chair, feeling achy in your neck and back?  Close your office door, close your eyes, sit up straight, and concentrate on one body part at a time.

This is just a cursory description of mindfulness—I encourage you to read my colleague Diana’s piece on mindfulness, one of my favorite posts. Once you read her piece and learn a little bit more about basic mindfulness techniques, you’ll find that you can use what you’ve learned every single day.  Checking in with yourself can not only keep your stress at manageable levels but also make you more aware of how you are doing that day.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who “suddenly” got a migraine only to realize, in retrospect, that the signs were there earlier in the day—they were just ignored. If you use mindfulness to check in with yourself from time to time, you’ll be able to sense even small changes in your body—sometimes you may even be able to to detect an approaching migraine so early you can nip it in the bud before it becomes serious.

Have you ever tried mindfulness? How has it been for you? Do you, like me, find that using it in small doses can help you stay in tune with your body and keep your anxiety lower?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • youkayn00b
    5 years ago

    i get frustrated by this kind of advice because it’s usually offered in a one-size-fits-all package. i’ve done extensive mindfulness training, learnt to meditate effectively, tengage in lots of exercise including pilates, drink only water throughout the day (and lots of it), have treated my sleep issues and so on. i also learnt to do some of these things as a potential treatment for intractible anxiety.

    but after several months (and/or years) of adopting these practices i had absolutely no relief. in the end even trying to do the things for the purposes of preventing migraines and anxiety was extremely depressing because it made me feel even more powerless and hopeless.

    so now i still do some of the things because they make me feel healthier in certain ways, but for the sake of my mental health i don’t hope for any improvement in migraines or anxiety.

  • ddnben
    5 years ago

    I think what’s difficult for me is when I’m thrown into a difficult or stressful situation at work or with family as happened yesterday. I tried to do exactly what is stated here: Focus on something positive, deep breaths, prayer, etc. But I still ended up with a migraine. It’s hard when something happens that I can’t control and I haven’t learned in all these years to respond better. Still working on it.

  • bluebird
    5 years ago

    Focussing on any object- a body part,especially the skin, the breath, a flower, Sound, Taste, a mountain a toothpick. Any source of grounding in the Present Moment, works for me.
    For me, the breath, is my best ally. Always there to remind me of the gift of life. Accepting that this is how I am in any moment without outrage at being subject to disease feels liberating… and seems to require practice.
    Even if it is only for a breath or two.
    Embracing pain and brain fog from this place remains a challenge-sometimes I am too busy aching or feeling outrage or helpless.

    Not Judging but Accepting what is and having gratitude for life and what is going well helps. I like to thank each of my organs – liver, intestines, bladder kidneys etc for the quiet gifts of keeping me alive & human. Mindfulness practice only asks for awareness.

    It also allows me to feel less lonely-connected by compassion to others who are doing what they can to survive suffering of all sorts. At times when I feel most despairing, Mindfulness Practice and a Loving Kindness meditation offers a way out. Softening into what is.

  • Kelly (Miss Migraine)
    5 years ago

    I have also found meditation to be a great help in managing stress and helping me to breathe better more constantly. I recently learned of something called Email Apnea or Screen Apnea — basically when we are on a computer we take shallow breaths or forget to breath at all for short periods of time. (Here’s an article about it: Shallow breathing increases stress levels, so I’ve been trying to use meditation to teach myself how to breathe again and try to be mindful of my breathing when I’m in front of a computer — which is all day because of my job (like most other people!).

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