Your Worst Migraine Triggers – Stress. Really?
Recently, we asked Migraine.com community members, “In a word, your worst Migraine trigger: ___________.” You can see the results in Weather: Your worst migraine trigger.
Weather was your most commonly reported worst trigger, followed closely by stress. I’d like to explore the topic of stress as a Migraine trigger with you. There’s still some controversy as to whether stress itself is a Migraine trigger.
In the grand scheme of things, it might seem that questioning whether stress is a trigger or not is pointless. That’s where I must disagree. For many years, I thought stress was one of my primary triggers. I worked on stress reduction, but the fact remains that we can’t eliminate all stress from our lives. We really wouldn’t want to, especially when you look at stress a bit more closely and realize that there are two forms of stress.
Stress is defined by Dictionary.com as “liability or exposure to pain, suffering, trouble, etc.” This is negative stress – stress related to problems and the like. Then there’s EUStress. Dictionary.com defines eustress as “stress that is deemed healthful or giving one the feeling of fulfillment.” This is the stress of positive things in our lives such as fun family events, the birth of a child, a promotion or raise at work, and so on. I doubt that any of us want to give up those positive events or the eustress that accompanies them.
Along my path toward better Migraine management, a friend and colleague challenged my belief that stress was a Migraine trigger. He challenged me to keep a more detailed Migraine diary during stressful times and look for other triggers, modifiable and avoidable triggers. Deciding I had nothing to lose, I accepted the challenge.
Lo and behold, I discovered other triggers during those stressful times – things I did or didn’t do when stressed that were triggers for me. These included:
- not drinking enough fluids and becoming dehydrated;
- drinking too many caffeinated beverages;
- skipping meals or having meals at irregular times;
- not sleeping enough, not sleeping well, or sleeping on an irregular schedule;
- crying; and
- sitting with my shoulders tensed or hunched up, causing a tension-type headache (Tension-type headaches can trigger Migraines.).
Every one of those triggers is modifiable or avoidable if I pay attention during stressful times. The most difficult of them is probably the tension-type headache (TTH). Still, if I get a TTH, I can keep it from triggering a Migraine if I’m aware enough to catch and treat it early.
I’m grateful to the person who challenged me and glad I accepted the challenge. It has resulted in far fewer Migraines for me during stressful times. I used to accept that it was pretty much inevitable that I’d get a Migraine when stressed, and that there was nothing I could do about it except try to reduce stress. Not only did that mean more Migraines, it left me feeling even more helpless and vulnerable to Migraine disease. It was stressful for stress to be a trigger because it left me dreading even good times that might create stress.
There are still times when I get a Migraine during a stressful time, but I can truthfully tell you that I can always identify a trigger other than stress. For me, it’s usually messed up sleep.
Do you feel stress is a Migraine trigger for you? If so, I challenge you to keep a detailed diary during stressful times to see if you can identify other triggers. I’m not doing this to start a debate. There are no sides to take on the issue; we’re all on the same side. The only reason it matters to me whether stress is truly a trigger or not is because I want to see all of us have as few Migraines as possible. So, if you feel stress is a trigger for you, please keep that detailed diary during stressful times for a while, then let me know what you discover.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.