We hear a lot about migraine triggers, and one of the first tasks a doctor will often give a patient is to keep a headache diary to identify them. I’ve had migraines since I was a kid and I always knew there were certain things that would lead to my “headaches.” Once diagnosed, I tried an elimination diet, kept a migraine diary, and educated myself on common triggers and solutions. Below, I share my top 5 triggers and strategies for avoiding them while still being able to live life.
Sunlight, computers, and florescent lights are problematic for me. I can’t go outside for more than a minute in bright sun before I feel the beginnings of a migraine. In this video I did on how I deal with light sensitivity, I go on an in-depth show-and-tell for how I deal with light sensitivity, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot of glasses switching. I wear indoor TheraSpecs to filter out the blue light that can trigger when I’m using a computer or under florescent lights (they’re everywhere!). These glasses help me regain control over where I can go and what I can do—I don’t have to ask to turn down the lights. TheraSpecs also has darker polarized lenses for outdoors, and these allow me to take walks, spend time on the beach, and drive without being triggered. If I’m exposed for too long or hit a few other triggers, I may still get a migraine, but light is much less of an issue than it used to be.
Too much sleep, too little sleep, interrupted sleep, a change in sleep schedule—all are known triggers. For me, too little sleep is the biggest trigger. I tend to require 8 to 9 hours of time in bed at night to get an adequate amount of sleep. How do I achieve this? One of the biggest strategies was to keep my phone in the kitchen. About an hour bed, I plug it in and keep it on silent. I don’t check email, texts, or social media. Turning off the outside chatter (as well as not looking at a screen) really helps aid in winding down. For this reason, I actually have a house phone (yes, that’s so 1995, I know—my friends make fun of me) in case a family member needs to call with an emergency. Of course, life happens, including the occasional insomnia and alas the 8 hour minimum isn’t met, but habits help.
It’s worth mentioning that I’m an artist and art-restorer by trade and often have to stand in weird positions or do repetitive motions. That being said, for whatever reason I’ve had frequent neck pain since I was a young girl, and if the tension builds up the head pain often follows. I’ve seen several physical therapists and chiropractors but what works for me at the moment is once-a-month chiropractic adjustments, self-massage (I put two lacrosse balls in a sock and roll them up and down my neck against a wall), and this free yoga video. I also use a standing desk called Varidesk for computer work, as standing helps me keep good posture.
Not eating on time
I like to think of myself as a foodie, in fact I’ve done some food writing and restaurant reviews. That said, there’s another reason why you often seeing me stuffing something down my face. If I get too hungry, I get a migraine. The most recent notable example was when I was doing one of the restaurant reviews and they forgot my order. It was already later than when I normally eat dinner and the migraine started before the food finally arrived. So if I am going somewhere I always bring a snack. Even a banana or some clementines are fine. I don’t skip meals, especially not breakfast. I’ve tried some different diets which profess to help reduce hunger between meals but none work for me. I am simply someone who needs to snack between meals and eat my meals on time.
It isn’t that I think I still have some major trigger I haven’t identified (though I suppose it’s possible despite my efforts); sometimes the migraine just comes on a whim. Mystery triggers, or maybe a migraine attack “just because” can’t realistically be avoided. The way I see it is, I’m going to live my life, and sometimes that includes getting an attack. What’s the best way I deal with this? I focus on generally being good to my body: exercising, eating my veggies like mom always says, and finding time to relax. At least if I’m treating my body well I’m not making the situation worse. In addition, I keep my medicine with me at all times, so I can treat the attack when it comes.
Those are some of the things that help me. What are your top triggers and what helps you avoid them when possible? Do you have any mystery triggers?