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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:

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.

Comments

  • Virginia Tucker
    7 years ago

    Thank you. Makes one look at stress differently. I will try.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    You’re quite welcome, Virginia!

  • Regan Fitzgerald
    7 years ago

    I understand your POV, Teri, but I can pinpoint when I will get a migraine caused by stress–within 24 hours of the end of the stressful event. It’s like clockwork for me, no matter what other factors I purposefully avoid during the stressful event. After eliminating or limiting other triggers in my life (and I have had migraines since my early teens and am now in my thirties), stressful events are my primary trigger.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Regan, so your Migraines are AFTER the stressful period? That’s a bit different. That’s called let-down, and there have been some studies on that. Pretty interesting. What I was talking about is people who get Migraines during the stressful period. If identifying other factors that are triggers during the stressful period can help people avoid some Migraines, that’s a good thing, and that’s what I’m trying to get across. I’ll have to pull out some of the papers on let-down and Migraine after stressful periods and write about that too.

  • Susan Cleveland
    8 years ago

    I agree totally with your article, and have had to reassess my notion that stress is a trigger. However, when I am stressed, I get this furrow in my forehead. The knitted brows can lead to a migraine if I don’t consciously relax my forehead muscles.

  • Lexie Scholl
    8 years ago

    Teri, I have anxiety disorder so I am always somewhat stressed..but I never got a migraine till I started menopause about 10 years ago. I seem to always get one a few days before a storm or when the barometric pressure goes crazy…and I live in Pittsburgh where it storms all the time so I have migraines 3-4 times a week. I just got over a 13 day stretch of migraines because of the weather here…and unfortunetly I can’t change the weather. I wish I could find a prevenative without all the horrible side affects.

  • Janene Zielinski
    8 years ago

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is not the “stress” that causes the migraine for me, it is the actions that I take or don’t take during the “stressful time”. I lose my good habits, then I get a migraine – and yes, that is usually right after a time of stress – but the stress didn’t cause the migraine. I sound redundant here – you said it much better… but, I agree with you completely.

  • Teri Robert
    8 years ago

    Thanks, Janene. 🙂

  • Val Milo
    8 years ago

    This has given me a lot to think about….

  • Penny Davis
    8 years ago

    Time to move Val!

  • Maureen Baxter Douglas
    8 years ago

    Weather is the worst for me….we have had a system sitting over us since the 9th and I have been int he migraine cycle since then. I want to pull my eyeballs out but it would no thelp. Oh well. I get stressed from the migraines which make them worse. lol.

  • Maureen Baxter Douglas
    8 years ago

    I know what causes them….weather changes…I just can control them….and they are getting worse every day.

  • Shawna Moreno
    8 years ago

    I usually get at least a bad headache at worst a migraine if we are going to have a thunderstorm. Thank goodness I learned what cause mine!

  • Crystal Beattie
    8 years ago

    I think there’s too many damn triggers to keep up with…sheesh!

  • Louise M. Houle
    8 years ago

    I get what you mean Teri. So if I’m stressed about something, and this makes me anxious, and the anxiety makes me not sleep well – ultimately the lack of sleep triggers my migraine. Guess we just have to be vigilent about paying attention to how we are feeling and responding to our environment and events, to hopefully learn to manage our triggers well. Not an easy task, but thanks for the reminders!

  • Anna Hendrix Warren
    8 years ago

    I found that AFTER stress is a migraine trigger for me. I used to spend the first day of every vacation with a migraine and often get migraines on a Monday, which is often after weekend stress.

  • Louise M. Houle
    8 years ago

    I’ve heard that a lot from people in our migraine support group. Ironic though isn’t it? Makes you wonder if relaxing on the weekends is a bad idea – ha ha. Hmmm….

  • Anna Hendrix Warren
    8 years ago

    I’ve not found that coffee is a trigger for me. I don’t drink a lot of it and drink the same amount/time, etc on the weekends as I do during the week. What I’ve found is during vacation or weekend “stress,” I’m pushing myself to get things done, take care of details, etc. and when I “relax,” that’s when the migraine will hit. It’s certainly not my only trigger or even a frequent trigger, but after many years, I’ve found that my migraines are usually not triggered during stress but after stress.

  • Louise M. Houle
    8 years ago

    Do you drink coffee? Sometimes the famous “weekend headache” can be causes by changes in consumption of caffeine – different amounts, or change of time you take it. Just curious… 🙂

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