Ask the Advocates: Trigger Avoidance
Last updated: October 2022
We asked our migraine advocates to share their tips for avoiding common triggers. Here's what they had to say.
Foods and drinks
If you have frequent or chronic migraines, I think it’s worth the time to do an elimination diet. It can take between six weeks and two months (three weeks to eliminate suspected trigger foods such as dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, red meat) and then three to five more weeks to reintroduce those foods back into your diet to test for reactions. It’s an important process that can help inform you as to potential nutritional triggers.
Having a good pair of sunglasses handy is key if you are sensitive to light. Theraspecs can be worn indoors if you have sensitivity to fluorescent or other indoor lighting.
Keep a healthy snack, such as a granola bar, in your bag or in your car to avoid hunger, if that is a trigger for you.
I keep a pair of ear plugs in my purse. I love ones called Ear Peace because they only block out loud noise\ and still allow you to hear conversations.
If I’m heading into a stressful situation, I will try to go for a quick walk if I can. I find that doing so helps me to feel like I’m reconnected to my body and less caught up in my head. Talk to your migraine specialist if stress or anxiety are a major trigger or a constant presence in your life. If that’s the case, perhaps a preventative or rescue medication would be a good idea for you.
Lack of sleep
Getting plenty of sleep on a regular schedule is key to help prevent or lessen migraines. I take a long Epsom salt, baking soda, essential oil bath before bed. If I get up in the middle of the night, my migraine specialist has prescribed a medication to help me fall back to sleep.
My tips for avoiding common triggers are to do research and ask the community for advice. This site has a lot of info, so if for example, if your primary trigger is food, you can search for articles, post in the forums, and see how others do it. I would also say to avoid triggers as best as possible but also don't let it make you stop living. The next attack is probably inevitable, and though that may sound depressing, it can also be freeing. Control what you can, and have a plan in place for when it doesn't work.
Smells are a huge trigger for me. Because there’s no good (and inconspicuous) way to block odors, I felt stymied and trapped by odor triggers for many years. Rubbing essential oils below one’s nose works well for a lot of people, but ANY odor can be a trigger for me, even a pleasant one. After one too many migraine attacks triggered by cinnamon-scented pinecones at the grocery store, I finally gave in to wearing a face mask. The charcoal face mask made by 3M (model #8247) is by far my favorite and is available at hardware stores and online. The black mask is not pretty and garners quite a bit of attention (though only one adult has been impolite enough to stare outright), but it allows me to go wherever I want or need to go. I never get on a plane without one and was recently able to join a birthday at a fish restaurant without triggering a migraine attack. I keep one mask in my car and another in my purse. Wearing it in public was awkward at first, but the benefits quickly outweighed my self-consciousness.
Have others downplayed your migraine pain?