Laboring Through Migraine

Laboring Through Migraine

I binge-watch TV, because it is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to distract myself from the pain associated with migraine. It provides a way to pass the long hours and gives me something to focus on, other than the pounding, squeezing, heat and excruciating discomfort. Many times I can’t actually watch the TV. I just have it running in the background and use it almost like a radio, with the light turned all the way down. Listening to the ongoing drama of someone else’s life serves to lift me out being trapped in the reality of my own ongoing saga.

Focal point

Many migraineurs seek ways to turn the channel in their brain away from the pain of an attack. Medication or other therapeutic approaches may be employed. Some use meditation, deep breathing exercises, music, or podcasts. It reminds me a bit of going through labor. Many birthing coaches encourage women to find a focal point in the room in which they are laboring. They may even bring something special from home to look at if they are laboring in the hospital. Whatever the case, the focal point serves as just that; something to focus upon while centering in on breathing exercises in order to move through the pain of each contraction. These tried and true strategies have been created to help women through the pain, find useful ways to pass the time until they are on the other side one of the most physically demanding experiences of their lives.

There are certain places in my bathroom that have become focal points for me at my lowest times. Places that I look toward and focus upon, trying to catch my breath and talk my way (literally) down from the pain in between heaving and vomiting, while also juggling extreme migraine pain. I tell myself I’ll be okay and that it will eventually pass.

Giving birth vs. a migraine attack

I’ve heard many migraineurs who’ve given birth say that the pain of migraine is either equal to or worse than the pain of childbirth. Indeed, there are times that the two last about the same amount of time. Many migraineurs labor through pain anywhere between 4 hours to two or more days. I’ve given birth twice and my opinion is that it’s impossible to choose which is more painful. The two experiences can be equal or worse than one another on the pain scale but are of course totally different in terms of sensation. One big difference is that you have nothing to show at the end of a migraine.  No bundle of joy, but thankfully, if coming off a major migraine attack, no noise-producing bundle either.

Preparing…

Whether preparing to give birth, or battle with a migraine, the question for each of us is how to best prepare ourselves. Just as expecting parents make elaborate birthing plans, migraineurs can benefit from thinking in advance about how to handle various bumps in the road. Who to call if an emergency room visit becomes necessary? Who will pick up the kids? What are the top five strategies that work for you to gain comfort or emotional support during the pain? Is there anything you can do in advance to be prepared before you are in pain? Who will you reach out to afterward or what activities will you resume to help restore your emotional balance? Taking time to make your own plan and/or perhaps simply having it in place will likely bring you some peace of mind.

What are some of your key strategies that help you get through severe migraine pain? Please share what works for you below so that others might learn from you.

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

View Comments (29)
  • Noomi
    1 year ago

    I also will binge-watch something on Netflix to take the focus away from the pain. I have occipital pain with my migraines most of the time, so the back of my neck can just be in agony. I have an ice pack that I’ll use. Lay on my stomach with my head on a pillow and my tablet in front of me, lay the ice pack on the back of my neck, and lose myself in a documentary or something. My wife doesn’t understand how I can watch a tablet screen with a migraine, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who does this!

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Noomi! You are definitely not alone! Also not alone with having intense occipital pain that competes for intensity with the pain in the head. I have three ice packs on constant rotation in my freezer to keep them as cold as possible. Glad you chimed in and are a part of our community. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Haze67
    1 year ago

    I do exactly the same thing. I have TV on in the background and sometimes it will send me to sleep

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    NIce to find a kindred spirit! Distraction can sometimes be key. Thanks for joining the conversation and glad you’re a part of our community. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • deanna
    1 year ago

    With most of my migraines any light from the TV is too much but audio books have been a life saver!
    A good narrator can be very soothing. I tend to re listen to the same books so when hopefully I fall asleep I won’t miss anything.
    Davina Porter is my favorite, she could read the phone book and make it interesting.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    HI deanna- funny you speak of relistening- I can’t count how many times I have re-listened to chapters of audiobooks and episodes of shows (without watching) during migraines. I work so hard at getting to the point that I can sleep as that’s the best way I can find relief (either during sleep or on the other side of it). I’ll have to look up Davina Porter. It can be hard to find a good narrator. Thanks for the suggestion! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    JA1978- I love the ideas the work for you. Shows on home improvement are wonderful to get lost in. No drama is helpful when we have enough drama in our own lives. I wonder if you’ve heard of TheraSpecs? One of the other contributors at migraine.com is one of the founders of that business- which created glasses (indoor and outdoor) specifically for migraine. You might check it out- I love mine. You are so right that our choices are limited which is why I’m grateful that you shared what works for you with the rest of us. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Haze67
    1 year ago

    I was interested in this article as I do exactly the same thing. I darken the room, lay on the bed and turn on the TV
    It is a total distraction from the pain. The TV is usually turned down very low and I do not look at it much

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Haze67, nice to hear that we are not alone! Thanks for connecting and glad you are a part of our community! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • rossbow13
    1 year ago

    Fifty years of mostly weekly migraine, each attack lasting three days, total disappearance of attacks during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy (who stupidly thought migraine attacks were psychosomatic?). In the “olden days” dark room and a bag of frozen vegetables (mostly peas) on my neck, a glass of iced water by the toilet to cleanse the mouth after vomiting. Then an ice face/head mask kept in the freezer (two of them as they defrost quite quickly). Always lying on the side of the pain. Definitely much worse prostration than childbirth which I managed quite easily without analgesics. Labour pains had slight moments of reprieve … migraine is an unrelenting, total body and mind experience … hour upon hour … night upon night … day upon day. At least there is a reason for the pain of childbirth … who has ever clearly defined a reason for such pain, nausea, sickness and prostration of a migraine attack? Definitely not TV, bright lights or any contact with the outside world. Now … a quietly read book, a soporific narrator from audible.co.uk I think of my painful brain as a blackboard covered in writing, small spaces between the words of my thoughts … slowly, slowly I change the audible words into shorthand, changing the writing into outlines, focusing on something other than the reality of what is happening to me. Imigran and Paramax taken at the earliest awareness of the attacks, topping up as necessary, although side effects of both also have to be contended with. A mental appraisal of such a mental torment … my thoughts and best wishes go out to you all. Life goes on.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    rossbow13- what a beautifully written comment. Such an eloquent description of both labor and migraine pain – what it’s like to move through them. I relate completely on the audible narrator (as a previous commentor also mentioned) – those voices sometimes for better or worse) become key to getting us through. Grateful you are a part of our community. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • LysaB
    1 year ago

    Well, for me the heating pad almost always works. My migraines almost always start in my neck and then creep into my ear and my eyes so I lay on the heating pad with it so I can get it on my bad ear ( most times my right but it switches on me ) and part of my neck. My ear will be the worst though. Also use a cool wet cloth over my eyes. I have a bed that I can elevate my head so that helps but sometimes I feel better in the recliner. I do like to have the tv on because it helps to distract if I am in the recliner but in the bed I have a sound machine and my husband couches me to practice my breathing like the labor for child birth. however, I have never given birth. I skipped kids I just have cats! LOL But, he is a big help I am glad for that cause they are a pain in the neck literally! But, They are better than 20 yrs ago when I was on the floor begging to die so I guess I’ve made progress but I sure would rather do without. So, I’ll just keep plugging away and getting tips from everyone here. good luck all.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    LysaB- that is fascinating that you actually utilize breathing exercises to get you through the worst pain. Also interesting how the extremes of temperatures work for some. It sounds like you have quite a support system between the cats and the husband who all play a role in getting you through your migraine attacks. Thank you for being a part of our community and I’m glad you are not only gaining tips, but sharing them as well! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • DinaMay
    1 year ago

    I like the comparison of migraine and going through labor and delivery. I once tried to use that comparison to explain to a skeptical doctor the severity of migraine pain. It just confused him. But then guys don’t have that experience, do they?!
    I don’t use TV as a distraction when I have a migraine because it’s a bright light and the volume goes up and down erratically. I go to bed in a dark room and listen to music — usually Bach or Mozart because in their day there wasn’t much variation in volume. I turn the volume way down too so the tones at the extremes tend to get lost. My ears kind of buzz in many cases. Interesting that a steady bass beat calms some folks. It’s a trigger for me so I really can’t listen to rock music. Unfortunate!
    I’ve tried heat and cold without success. If anything, either can act as a trigger. Best to just lie down with a,towel over my head to block light, listen to Bach (Goldberg variations especially) and go to that other world for awhile.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi DinaMay- the classical music choice sounds very calming. I’ll have to give that a try. Thank you for sharing that idea. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    JA1978- I love the ideas the work for you. Shows on home improvement are wonderful to get lost in. No drama is helpful when we have enough drama in our own lives. I wonder if you’ve heard of TheraSpecs? One of the other contributors at migraine.com is one of the founders of that business- which created glasses (indoor and outdoor) specifically for migraine. You might check it out- I love mine. You are so right that our choices are limited which is why I’m grateful that you shared what works for you with the rest of us. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Shaggy78
    1 year ago

    TV and movies are the tool I use to manage my constant pain (I have chronic migraines that rarely go away). Like you, it gives me something to focus on and takes me out of my head. It also helps channel my anxiety. Sometimes the pain is so bad that I have trouble focusing and I often wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the glare of the screen. When I can focus I’ll watch short programs like House Huntets which require no effort from the viewer to watch.

    I’ve had people ask me how I can watch so much TV and so many movies… I explain that it’s often the only thing I can do!

    Reading is often too straining on my eyes and aim often too sensitive to sound to listen to music. During summer the sun often prevents me from going outside and I frequently can’t sleep so my choices are limited.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    JA1978- I love the ideas the work for you. Shows on home improvement are wonderful to get lost in. No drama is helpful when we have enough drama in our own lives. I wonder if you’ve heard of TheraSpecs? One of the other contributors at migraine.com is one of the founders of that business- which created glasses (indoor and outdoor) specifically for migraine. You might check it out- I love mine. You are so right that our choices are limited which is why I’m grateful that you shared what works for you with the rest of us. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Shaggy78
    1 year ago

    Meant to say “When I CAN’T focus…”

  • leichelb
    1 year ago

    Holly, I do the exact same thing only I watch programming on my IPad. That way I can stay in bed and watch them. I use ear phones too instead of the tv volume. This is how I discovered Korean TV. I am a college professor and the kids binge watch them in the residence halls. One week where I had a two day migraine, I sought to see how they did it and why. Their tv programming is very different from the US. They only show a drama for 16 – 20 episodes usually and there are so many to choose from you never run out of options. Korean programming is very strict on content so they are incredibly wholesome. A great change from American TV. You can find them on Hulu, Viki and Dramafever. It takes me to another world. You just read the subtitles which I had never done before but it is no problem. Try it! Lisa

  • kateymac
    1 year ago

    I’m also interested in the topic of tone and frequencies that fairiefate brings up.
    I can’t watch a tv show where people are yelling, even if I turn the sound wayyyy down. Like the Larry David Show – very funny but they all talk in a yell, nearly always; and i can turn it way down but the tone is still impossible for my migraine ears.
    So weird! But not weird for migraine, I guess.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi GloriaPhillips- breathing oxygen sounds glorious. How do you access oxygen? I’ve heard of people using ice on the neck while using a heating pad on the base of the spine. Something about using extreme temperatures at the same time to confuse the pain. So glad you shared what works for you. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • GloriaPhillips
    1 year ago

    I breathe oxygen & use ice or a heating pad on my head. I lie down in a dark room with no noise. Then I will find a low stress program on tv to watch to distract me from the pain. Sometimes a warm shower & shampoo will help.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    GloriaPhillips- breathing oxygen sounds glorious. I’ve heard some folks talk about using ice on their neck and heating pad on the base of the spine – something about the combination seems to confuse the pain. I can only stand ice and unfortunately in my worst pain, I can’t shower for days. But the picture you paint sounds very calming. Thanks for sharing! Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi faeriefate – I am intrigued with the way you speak about tones and frequencies. It reminds me of ways people use music to enter into meditation. Thanks so much for joining the conversation! Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Testing… will delete.

  • faeriefate
    1 year ago

    I listen to music. High pitched frequencies often cause more problems, but low-pitched ones aren’t that bad as long as the pain is under an 8 (I end up on bedrest with a bucket by my bed after that). I listed to hard rock or metal music (low-pitched, obviously), and that helps distract me enough to get on with my day (in low-light settings whenever possible).

    I think best thing is to find out what we enjoy and can manage and use that to distract us. For me, I like reading, but my vision is too bad to be doing that with a migraine. TVs are bad because of inconsistent frequencies. A mind-numbing bass beat of metal or rock is enough to calm me and distract me, and the frequency is fairly consistent with the deep tones.

  • Karen Rudd
    1 year ago

    I read voraciously. With my iPad, I can set the background and brightness to suit my preferences. I realize how lucky I am that I am able to read until my most severe pain waves start, then I need to sleep in absolute dark, with zero noise. Hubby needs to be in a different room, so snoring has to be elsewhere. If I’m lucky, I can get 2 hours at a time, but my system is under serge with chronic intractable migraine, fibromyalgia and I have a history of multiple strokes. Also recovering from some bone fractures, but at least they have a steady state of pain reduction. I’ve been suffering from severe joint and muscular pain, awaiting a rhuemy appointment to be checked out for auto-immune syndromes. I also turn on the television, when reading is out of the question, I get lost in movies, in Netflix and other series.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Karen Rudd- It’s wonderful that you are able to read. Your attitude is amazing especially given all you are navigating with the complexities related to your health. Good luck with the impending appointment and thanks for sharing. Holly B. (migraine.com team).

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