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Migraine is stressful.

Migraine is Stressful

In all the ways we talk about the relationship between stress and migraine, very little attention gets paid to a critical element: migraine itself is stressful. Individual migraine attacks are stressful, but so is just having migraine as an illness.

When a migraine attack comes on, everything on your to do list gets placed on hold, no matter how important it is. You may have to scramble to get someone to cover your work or pick your kids up from school or to get home before you’re too sick to make the trip. You know that you won’t be able to accomplish much (or anything) during the attack itself and still won’t be functioning fully in the hangover. You also feel like you’re letting people down and that they’ll have to make up for your absence.

Each migraine attacks brings the stress of trying to track down triggers and wondering if you did something to bring the migraine on. You worry that your meds won’t work or that you’re putting yourself at risk of medication overuse (rebound) headache. You fret over the pain that will worsen when you throw up or that you won’t be able to find a place to do so.

In addition, your body is under increased stress during a migraine attack. It’s in a heightened state, as if preparing to fight or to flee. Some health care providers believe that your body is in flight or fight through the duration of a migraine attack. That’s intended as a short-term protection; keeping it up for hours is exhausting. Whether or not you agree with that idea, migraine causes a hyper-reactivity in the brain. Everything that you’re exposed to causes a heightened response. How can that not be stressful?

Between attacks, there’s a different kind of stress, even if you only have a few attacks a year. You never know when one is going to come on, so you’re always on the lookout to be sure you catch it early. My husband has episodic migraine. Even when he was down to six attacks a year, he’d check for an aura several times a week. Every time he sees a floater or flashing light, he get a small adrenaline release. Whether you have a visual aura or not, your pre-migraine symptoms become a shadow. Every time you yawn excessively or get hyper or your feet get cold, you worry a migraine is coming on.

Managing triggers can also be stressful. Making sure you keep to a consistent sleep schedule can mean skipping out on gatherings with friends or rushing home before the party is over. Maintaining a routine of regular exercise and eating at specific times are a daily time crunch. If you have food triggers, you have to be vigilant about everything you eat, looking for hidden ingredients and probably avoiding some of your favorite foods.

Frequent or chronic migraine adds another layer of stress. You know your life will be disrupted on a regular basis, that you will make plans and probably have to cancel them. You know that you won’t be able to get to your to do list, maybe for a week or a month or even a year. There’s the stress of feeling like a burden to the people you love most. And the distress of feeling like you aren’t a productive member of society who can carry their own weight.

The next time you’re feeling at the end of your rope with migraine, remember that it’s an additional stressor in your life and, like Sarah recently recommended, try cutting yourself some slack. This won’t eliminate the stress of an attack entirely, of course. The body is still in turmoil, which causes stress. Changes in the brain affect our moods, emotional regulation, ability to be rational. Cognitive dysfunction makes it easier to fall into negative habits, thought patterns, or beliefs. That’s plenty of unavoidable stress without obsessing over what you might have done to bring the migraine attack on or everything you’re not getting done while you’re curled up in a dark room.

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.


  • DebinIndiana
    2 years ago

    My thought was also “amen to that!” It’s just nice to know we aren’t alone. Sometimes it’s all that keeps you going.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    2 years ago

    Knowing we are all in this together helps to provide a great deal of support! Thanks for being part of our community and keeping us all “going”! Take good care, Joanna ( Team)

  • Sandy
    4 years ago

    Heck ya. that was the majority of my stress when my migraines where becoming chronic. trying to work, having 4-5 day migraines 3-4 times per month. I needed 4 days off work and complete rest to recover. If I did not have enough time off work, or had family responsibilities, I had to work through the migraine, which made it worse. Been off work 6 months now due to my health. Had a nightmare 2 nights ago I had to go to work with migraine. Talk about stress. When your body is breaking down, it is trying to tell you something.

  • Tammy Rome
    4 years ago

    Thank you for this post! Your description of the stress is spot on. It’s so easy for us “veterans” to take it all for granted. We’ve lived this way for so long we forget that most people don’t live this way.

  • Natalie
    4 years ago

    Amen! Just postponed my daughter’s birthday party due to a migraine.

  • RobertCan
    4 years ago

    Living with chronic migraine is filled with stress. It consumes your entire life. From the moment you wake, you begin your day managing triggers and praying that today just might be a day free of pain. You tip toe through the day, in hopes of keeping the pain monster at bay. All the while, on edge that something will happen to push you over your threshold.

    Living with chronic migraine is incredible stressful. It impacts your entire life. When doctors advise us to manage our stress, thats easier said than done, given that the disease itself is filled with stress. We don’t discount that stress can be a contributing factor but there’s only so much we can do to mitigate the impact of stress on our lives.

    For me, it comes down to living in the moment and enjoying those times when I’m not fighting the pain monster. One day at a time.

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