Learning to Listen to Your Body
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Profile photo of Kerrie Smyres

Knowing your body’s signals can make a world of difference in your migraine treatment. Identifying if you have an impending migraine attack enables you to take abortive medication when it is most effective. Recognizing the severity of your symptoms during a migraine (and if they are worsening or not) can let you know whether you’ll be able to push through or if you need to get yourself out of a bad situation. Like getting yourself home from work or errands before it is unsafe to drive or finding someone to care for your kids before you’re too debilitated to do so.

Listening to your body can also help with managing triggers. If you know overdoing it and wearing yourself out is likely to bring on a migraine attack, you can slow down, take breaks, or take extra good care of yourself (drinking enough water, eating nutritious food, not skipping meals) when your body puts out warning signals.


The instructions for learning to listen to your body sound deceptively simple. The practice is not so easy, especially if, like many migraineurs, you have a long history of forging ahead no matter how bad you feel. That is, a long history of ignoring your body when it is telling you to slow down. However, the knowledge that comes from listening to your body is so powerful — and gives a sense of control that so many of us crave in the face of this illness — that the work is worthwhile.

Here’s a quick overview of a body scan, the method that taught me how to listen to my body. Begin the body scan while resting, maybe right after you get in bed at night. Do a mental scan of how you feel. Starting with your feet, work your way up. Try to avoid adding a good or bad label to any of the sensations, just notice what they feel like. Do any of your muscles feel tight, tense, tender, or fatigued? Heavy, pained, weak? Is your skin sensitive? What about your senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, taste — are they on high alert? How does your head feel? What is your mood like? Just notice what’s happening in your body. If you already know your migraine warning signs or primary symptoms, you can focus on those areas.

If you want further instructions or a spoken guide, search the internet or YouTube for “relaxation body scan” or purchase a CD or MP3. Listen first to be sure you find the speaker’s voice soothing — if you’re distracted or annoyed by someone’s accent or intonation, there’s little incentive to use the recording. I learned the technique from a class and CDs by Carolyn McManus, whose voice I find calming.

After you feel like you have a grasp on how the body scan works, practice it throughout the day. Even just a few minutes at a time will help you become more attuned to your body. You can do it whenever you’re at rest, when you’re driving, every time you sit at your desk…. Basically whenever you think of it. In time it will become so automatic you won’t even know you’re doing it.

Think of a body scan as gathering data for a vast database. You have to have many data points about different experiences in order to have a complete idea of what’s happening in your body. Once you’ve developed the database, you can easily query it when you notice a sensation, like fatigue or euphoria, and see if you need to take action to avoid or reduce the impact of a migraine attack.

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