What If It Really Is Stress That’s Making You Sick?
Last updated: March 2023
Migraines are debilitating.
They hold me captive in a dark room until the pain and vomiting pass – sometimes hours and sometimes days later. For others, it can be weeks, and in severe cases, it feels like they never pass.
What is triggering my migraine?
There is no question that migraines are real and debilitating. And if you’re like me, you want a very real and concrete reason as to WHY they’re happening in your body. What is happening on a cellular level that triggers a migraine?
Ask any migraineur and they will tell you it feels like the monster from your childhood closet is hiding inside your body and just popping up at unexpected times to wreak havoc. So, when you go to the doctor for some answers, it’s frustrating and, quite honestly insulting, when they suggest that it could be “just stress.”
What are my thoughts?
My first thought is that this doctor clearly never experienced a migraine firsthand. He is speaking exclusively on the textbook – not real-life - experience. Can I talk with someone who has medical experience and actually “gets it?”
My second thought that runs through my mind is, “Is it really possible that stress could cause my body to revolt in such a big way?” This part is humbling. I do carry a lot of stress – some controlled and some uncontrolled – but a lot of stress, nonetheless. If this is true, then I need to figure out how I can reduce the stress that is within my control and better manage the stress that is out of my control.
What stress is in my control?
First, let’s talk about the stress that is within our control.
This is things like the stress of an overbooked schedule. I’ve been the queen of trying to “get it all done” in a day. This leads me to get frustrated and stressed when I’m running out of time in the day and when I’m late to get out the door for an appointment.
Our schedule is within our control. As a working mom managing three chronic illnesses and raising a 1-year-old baby, there are countless times that I would disagree with this statement.
I have deadlines for work and a home to maintain. I have to feed, change, bathe, and bond with my baby and I of course have all the responsibilities of managing my health. Truth be told, I really do enjoy every one of these responsibilities. I try to remind myself daily that I “get” to do these things. But when the hustle kicks in because I try to do too much at once, the stress escalates, and so does my risk of triggering a migraine.
How do I manage it?
So, I must adjust my expectations for the day. What can I eliminate, delegate or simplify? This is an ongoing process but it’s in these moments that I force myself to see the control that I do have in easing the stress.
What stress can't I control?
The second half of this is managing uncontrolled stress. The example that always comes to mind in this sense is when I was a caregiver to my mom while she was in hospice. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do physically, mentally, and emotionally. There wasn’t anything I could do to stop the fact that she was dying. Talk about stress.
So, in these moments, I had to allow myself the space to acknowledge that there was stress in my life and that meant that I wasn’t going to be able to show up in other areas of my life to the highest capacity. This was not the time that I was chasing the next step in my career.
This was the time when I didn’t fold laundry, I didn’t always have a clean kitchen and I didn’t make every commitment outside of the home that typically meant a lot to me. This was a different season in life, and I had to account for that.
How do I manage it?
For you, maybe it’s a season when you’ve been in an inescapable cycle of migraines, or maybe you’re moving, or maybe you’re postpartum with your first baby. Stress can come for all reasons – good and bad – but allow yourself to make space for it. And above all else remind yourself to breathe out those moments of stress. Three deep breaths with long slow exhales. The more you practice, the more comfort it brings.
What helps you manage stress? Post below so we can learn from you too!
How important is migraine awareness to you?
Join the conversation