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Trigger UNhappy-when worrying about migraine triggers impacts the way you live

I’ve spent nearly two-thirds of my life keeping an eye out for migraine triggers. When I was a young teenager, I didn’t know that my debilitating headaches had anything to do with migraine disease, but I did know to avoid sweeteners like aspartame like the plague.  In the years of living with migraine before my diagnosis in 2001, I may not have had a name for what I was going through, but I could sometimes look back and realize what I’d done to become so ill.

After I was diagnosed with migraine at age 21, it became easier to begin figuring out what I could do to be healthier and have more migraine-free days.  In addition to getting a prescription for a triptan (a pill that aborted my migraine attacks altogether most of the time), I started reading the few migraine-specific materials I could get my hands on. I learned that I wasn’t alone in feeling crappy after a couple of glasses of red wine:  many of us migraineurs have found that to be a major trigger.  I gasped when I read about some common triggers, hoping that some of my favorite foods and drinks (aged cheese, beer, bananas, onions, and more) weren’t going to prove to be triggers for me (I ended up having to mostly avoid only half of those things).

As time has gone on, I’ve had several periods of my life during which my migraines got really frequent and really severe.  These periods have risen and fallen much in the same way as autoimmune disease flares (something that will resonate with lots of you here).  During an upswing when I feel good, I don’t tend to worry too much about triggers both potential and surefire, but when I’m feeling crappy I start to get a little bit nervous.

Sometimes, instead of just keeping a good distance from triggers, I get a little paranoid in my attempts to avoid them.  Even things that only sometimes trigger migraine attacks get crossed off my list of possibilities.  If I’ve been feeling great, t hen sure—I’ll go out to see Jim play a show (he’s a musician) and not worry too much about my late bedtime. But if I’m in a migraine flare, I will not only skip the show (thereby avoiding loud music, bright lights, a crowd, etc.) but also go way out of my way to stick to a strict sleep schedule to avoid any interruption in my sleep.

I can feel myself getting anxious about every little thing when I am having a rough migraine week (or month).  I am nervous to sit under fluorescent lights for even a minute.  While driving at sunset, the sunlight flashing rapidly through the winter trees makes me convinced I’ll get a migraine for sure. I’ll try a bite of a friend’s dessert and instantly become paranoid that maybe the cook baked with Splenda (a trigger) instead of cane sugar.  My cat will start meowing at 3am and I’ll become convinced that I’ll never get back to sleep and that the interrupted sleep will trigger a migraine. And on and on.

Of course all of this worry is another name for anxiety, which is also known to exacerbate migraines.

What to do? Do you ever feel as if you’re going overboard in your trigger worries?  Do you live less fully not because you have a migraine but because you fear one?

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.


  • Amylove
    5 years ago

    I can so relate! I feel so paranoid when I fear I’ve been exposed to a trigger. Did I inhale a new cleaning product? Did the food in the restaurant have msg even though the chef assured me it’s not used? I just drank a few sips of my son’s smoothie not realizing it has orange juice in it! Will the stress at work today somehow result in tomorrow’s migraine? We all have these fears! The anxiety, rather than the possible exposure to a trigger can certainly result in a migraine. It often feels like a no win situation!

  • Derek
    5 years ago

    I can totally relate to this article. My primary trigger is bright sunlight and fluorescents and I find myself worried about leaving the house on sunny days, which is very frustrating. My wife and daughter have taken to calling me a vampire, and I only go out on bright days with a pair of very dark sunglasses (I recently bought a pair of theraspecs). But, like the last poster, I end up getting a migraine anyways sometimes.

  • sally
    5 years ago

    Oh I can relate to that I am afraid to go out to dinner in case I get a migraine. If I go shopping the large shopping centers the lighting is deadly.Did you know that watermelon is a trigger just found that one out and I am 60 yrs and been getting then since I was 40.Have to hold my breathe near the perfume counter.Isnt it awful not to be able to wear lovely peafume, but better than 3or4 days in bed

  • Laurie Vincent
    5 years ago

    I work as a specialty store manager at a women’s apparel store. One of the worst Migraine triggers for me is strong perfume. I have to keep some Origins brand ‘On the Spot’ peppermint lotion handy to rub under my nose, chin and neck. Plus I have to take medicine to abort the Migraine as soon as possible so I can work the rest of the eight hour day. Other than that I’m able to stay away from the other triggers as much as possible, with the help of a Migraine Prevention medicine.

  • Curlybutterfly40
    5 years ago

    Wow! I could so relate to your article and to the anxiety of the trigger worries. I find myself constantly averting triggers, and only getting disappointed when I get a migraine anyway. So lately, I try to not worry so much about the triggers, take one day at a time, enjoy each migraine-free day as a blessing and to the fullest,and just keep the meds/drugs nearby for when I need them, which unfortunately is more than not.

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