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Migraine and Anxiety: A Multi-Faceted Relationship

May is Mental Health Month. It’s also a month when, almost without fail, my anxiety starts to skyrocket to levels rarely seen outside of the summer months. Now, then, is as good a time as any to discuss the numerous links between the two.

Many of us are aware that anxiety is one of the most recognized migraine comorbidities. With 50-60% of migraineurs experiencing an anxiety disorder at some point, it’s also one of the most common. (This is compared to about 30% of the non-migraine population.) Like almost all comorbidities, however, researchers aren’t quite sure how the two are related.

Some people experience anxiety well before their first migraine attack. Others develop an anxiety disorder after migraine disease makes itself known or transforms from episodic to chronic. (Easy to understand when you consider how many of us fight the fear of future attacks.) For some, the two appear to develop almost simultaneously. Recently, however, I’ve discovered an additional facet of the relationship between the two.

Anxiety is, for me, a migraine trigger. And it’s a big one. A powerful one. The kind that launches one of those rapid-onset attacks I hate that takes me from fantastic to completely debilitated in fewer than five minutes.

When I get a panic attack, a migraine attack almost always follows. Generally within minutes. Even if I don’t get a panic attack, even if what I’m experiencing is a milder form of my anxiety disorder, the kind that makes me feel more and more worried and anxious over the course of an hour or an afternoon, these escalating anxiety levels also trigger a migraine attack – nearly 50% of the time.

With a relationship like that, you’d think I would have recognized the trigger for what it was a long time ago. Surprisingly, I didn’t. Surprisingly, it took years of experiencing both to tease apart the time line of increasing anxiety levels and/or the onset of a panic attack and the onset of a migraine attack.

Recognizing and understanding this relationship, however, has helped me stave off a fair number of migraine attacks in recent months – a reality I hope will continue to help me as I move through what is, for me, the worst part of the year for anxiety. If I can recognize the increase in anxiety and offset it early enough, with meditation or medication, I can reduce the likelihood of a migraine attack.

As with any migraine trigger, this doesn’t work all of the time. My migraine attacks are – like all of yours – triggered by any number of things and often a combination of several. Simply managing one trigger isn’t going to ward off all of my attacks. Migraine disease doesn’t work that way. Fighting the anxiety, however, is another trick in my bag, and I’m continually thankful for how frequently it works.

If you’re one of the many migraineurs struggling to manage anxiety disorder along with migraine, please know you aren’t alone. Also know there are ways to combat the disorder or lessen the symptoms. To learn more, read:

How to Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Overcome Stress, Anxiety, and Cognitive Distortions

Relaxation and Mindfulness for Migraine Patients Living with Depression and Anxiety

In my experience, the more we know about our personal relationship with any disease or disorder, the better prepared we are to manage it. Hopefully, you’ll find something in the above articles that helps you.

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.


  • CharWeis
    1 year ago

    This was extremely helpful. I will take my anxiety meds more regularly. But do have other triggers – stress, strong odors like certain perfumes and aftershaves, etc. Nice to have a place to talk about it.

  • BethBlue
    4 years ago

    My depression is actually getting much worse. I’m in therapy now, but I feel like it’s not helping. My medication has been increased (it has been a month and half now), but my family is impatient and doesn’t want to wait for results. Also, the psychiatrist is resisting my requests for anxiety medication — she only gave me eight Klonopin tablets, and will not give me more, saying that she “doesn’t like to give that kind of medication.” (I’ve only taken one.) Seriously? Isn’t that her job? I believe I’m in a crisis situation, and when fights ensue in my household, the migraines become much, much worse. I don’t know what to do — I can’t afford to switch doctors.

  • CharWeis
    1 year ago

    That’s supposed to be Klonopin not opinion in my comment to you. Darned auto-correct.

  • CharWeis
    1 year ago

    Opinion has been a godsend for me. If I take it in a regular basis, not only does it stabilize my mood but also does lessen the intensity of my migraines.

  • Brooke H moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi BethBlue, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through a crisis period right now and not feeling supported by your psychiatrist and family. Thank you for taking the time and courage to reach out here. Living with migraine as well as anxiety and depression can be very difficult – to say the least! In addition to waiting for the medication to kick in – some people find it helpful to see a therapist to work on behavioral techniques to target anxiety, depression and migraine. This article explaining therapy further (including the variety of types) may be of interest to you – If you are in need of referral to a provider, here is a locater tool: Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Local support search –> Please keep reaching out here – thank you for being part of the community! Warmly, Brooke ( team)

  • grogers70426
    4 years ago

    I usually have a migraine after a panic attack. The sad thing is that I have panic attacks quite often, I also have PTSD, MDD, n social anxiety, so the panic attacks are very common. Not just having migraines after panic attacks, I have that pressure at the bottom of the skull every day. The pressure is due to having herniated discs in my neck pressing against nerve roots. For a long part of my life, my migraines would come in cycles even tho some don’t think that it should be called a migraine since it doesn’t recur every month. But others call it cyclic migraine syndrome, but I’ve noticed that since my traumatic event that I’ve had more migraines but I never thought about it being caused by stress. But it does make sense, because stress causes your neck muscles to tighten up & then the panic attacks feel like I’m having a heart attack, so now it makes a lot more sense

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