The Challenge and Importance of Regaining Balance in the Wake of a Migraine Attack (HINT: self-compassion is key)
When emerging from a migraine attack, there is often a desperation to regain our life balance because we don't know how long-lasting our well-window might be. To that end, we may try to embrace healthy sleeping, eating, and exercise goals in hopes of decreasing the likelihood of another flare up. However, if we choose to do so, it’s important to be kind, self-compassionate, and gentle, and to pace ourselves as overdoing may trigger a new attack.
Here are some ways we might try to carefully reestablish our balance when emerging from a flare up.
A pain in the neck
When it comes to the body, it’s important to acknowledge what it’s just been through. Perhaps violent vomiting, hours spent in bed or on the couch in the fetal position as we labor through intense pain, lost sleep, etc. Whatever your particular combination of symptoms, there’s no doubt that migraine puts the physical body through the wringer. We emerge with knots in our musculature and although we have perhaps done nothing but writhe around, we may feel as though we just ran a marathon.
While it’s key not to overdo during this delicate period of recovery, gentle stretching and movement can serve to oxygenate and untie our tight muscles. Doing so may lower the likelihood of a new attack being triggered by sore musculature or a lack of motion. Only do what feels right to you.
Waking up exhausted
Migraine disease is exhausting and sleep is hard to come by when we are under attack. Our migraine specialists tell us that one of the primary keys to managing migraine is to sleep the same amount, at the same time, each night. Lovely idea but attaining this goal flies out the window during a flare up. Medication and pain contribute to disrupted sleeping patterns. Resuming a normal schedule takes a concerted effort, and for some, doing so is simply impossible.
Still, it's an important goal to strive for in those well days/moments. Each night presents a new opportunity to try again. I tend to believe that attaining a good night’s sleep is like waiting for water to boil- it doesn’t happen if you are anxiously focusing on the task at hand. So, if/when we can’t achieve it, it’s essential to let ourselves off the hook and remember that we are doing the best we can.
Skipping meals and food as comfort
Migraine attacks have a major impact on what and when we eat. Like sleep, maintaining a regular schedule that involves a healthy diet can help decrease the chances of a flare up. However, when we are battling nausea and vomiting, we might end up skipping meals or following cravings as a means to comfort our way through pain. Such understandable choices. Unfortunately some of those behaviors (skipping meals and eating certain foods) may inadvertently trigger more attacks. Some would say, who cares? We all do what we must to get through an attack. We can’t make ourselves eat through nausea, and if sugary or greasy foods helps take the edge off the pain, so be it.
However, if you are interested in becoming knowledgeable about the role diet plays in relation to migraine in hopes of decreasing flare ups related to food, it’s a deep topic to explore (food as fuel vs. food as comfort, which foods are prodrome cravings, which are triggers, etc). Doing so can clarify the cause and effect of our actions and may help us become more conscious about our choices.
When under attack, many of us withdraw from loved ones and friends because we are incapable of talking or listening. A new normal can quickly emerge that involves isolation. This understandable pattern (more so for those of us who struggle with depression) can have a negative impact on our emotional balance. In an effort to reconnect, it may help to put in place of plan of action with someone on whom you can count to check in with you regularly (by phone, email, or text). Perhaps put in place a realistic, regular meeting time for you to see a favorite friend. Whether it be once a week or month, by skype, phone, or in person, this might help turn the corner if you are feeling down.
When not wrestling with a migraine attack, take some time to think of additional ways to shore up your social network (online, in-person support groups, therapy, time with friends, etc). Again, remind yourself that you are doing the best you can to manage migraine.
Don’t underestimate the challenge, or your resilience
It is not without enormous concerted effort that we work to reestablish our life balance after a migraine attack before the next one hits. It’s incredibly hard to do. Indeed, it can’t be understated that the effort involved in recalibrating after each attack is yet another demanding aspect of migraine disease. That said, there’s no doubt that migraineurs are some of the most resilient people I’ve ever met. Because the disease demands us to be. For although we are knocked down repeatedly, we keep striving to find our footing so that we can get back up again and again.
In what ways does migraine throw you off balance? How do you get back into the swing of things?
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?