Migraines and Critical Thinking

I have a tendency to feel like my brain always needs to be productive or complete tasks or check things off a list. It’s exhausting, and it’s a mechanism of coping with stress and life that I’ve used for the last two decades. I constantly have a variety of "to-do," "to-go," "to connect with," and "to complete" lists running electronically and on paper. Sometimes the only way to quiet my mind is to ensure absolutely everything I’m thinking about is already written on paper or captured somewhere so it cannot be forgotten.

Migraine impacts my critical thinking

However, when a migraine hits, my ability to think critically becomes increasingly challenging.

Brainstorming, conceptualizing, problem-solving, reasoning, and logic use so much brainpower, and when my brain (my head) hurts, the physical pain of the migraine is amplified significantly by trying to continue thinking deeply and consistently.

Shutting down during an attack

Shutting down during a migraine isn’t just so I can navigate the presenting symptoms or keep my irritability and agitation to myself. It’s also because functioning means thinking, which causes additional pain - something I can’t afford to add to an already debilitating migraine situation. Where I get into trouble is when my migraine and I lie down to rest, but I cannot fall asleep. It feels nearly impossible to stop my mind, my running lists, and my desire to be productive, which only adds fuel to the pounding in my head and the ill feelings that I'm experiencing.

Cognitive dysfunction is disabling

As a neurologic problem, my migraines tend to challenge my executive functioning.

Beyond the pain intensity, the sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting, the challenges with cognitive dysfunction quickly become debilitating to me during a migraine. When I finally come out of a migraine attack, I’m always surprised at how much it feels like I’ve lost time, the days have blurred together, and I need to start over again with all new lists.

Writing down everything during an attack

I’ve thought a lot about how the hypervigilance of living with migraines has changed my everyday life so that I can prepare for these moments after a migraine. One of the truest statements I can share is that I write down every single thing during a migraine attack in a separate place from my already running lists. I usually keep a small notebook and a pen beside me where I can jot down a word or a phrase, even while lying in the dark. It ensures that I don’t forget anything that my brain doesn’t want me to. Sometimes I fill several pages with brief notes to myself to find in the days after a migraine when I am thinking clearly, and life doesn't feel like a painful fever dream.

Integrating my notes when I can think clearly

Then, when I’m back at full function, I take my migraine notes and integrate them into the already established "to-do," "to-go," "to connect with," and "to complete" lists. It ensures that I can essentially jump back into critical thinking without losing any progress I’d already made. For me, this strategy has been critical in not feeling sidelined and set back by every migraine. I wish I hadn't had to learn this tactic, but I'm grateful for the way it's positively impacted my life between migraines.

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