A woman is exiting a door in the middle of a shady forest, she dips one toe into the forest ground

Nature: Migraine Friend or Foe?

Being outside in nature has been a source of calm and renewal for my migraine brain, but I've also learned to take many precautions when I go outside due to the numerous migraine triggers in the great outdoors.

In this article, I’ll touch on some of the challenges and benefits of getting out in nature for migraine.  I’ll also share how climate change may affect migraine and how to safely increase your time outdoors without aggravating your migraine symptoms.

How can being in nature be challenging?

So many folks with migraine are understandably fearful of being exposed to the elements outdoors. Sun, heat, weather changes, pollen, and physical exertion can quickly result in a migraine attack, forcing you back indoors.

Last summer, I sadly had to leave a camping trip with extended family early because the nearly 100-degree heat aggravated my migraine symptoms to an intolerable point. It was totally disappointing and embarrassing to be the only person in a group of over twenty people who couldn’t “take the heat.” But sometimes, advocating for yourself and your health is uncomfortable.

How can being in nature be soothing?

Migraine has nudged me more indoors overall, but with the right conditions and sun protection, being outside has also been incredibly healing for me.

Although my most recent summer camping trip made my migraine symptoms worse, two years ago, my family and I took an idyllic camping trip near a lake that was wonderful.  Being outdoors and off screens was a much-needed reprieve from the rush of daily life, and my migraine symptoms actually improved.

Connecting to the natural world has the power to be deeply calming and soothing for people living with migraine who are steeped in an overstimulating screen-filled world.

In fact, green light therapy, which has shown promising results to reduce migraine attacks, was inspired by a researcher who observed that being outside in green nature decreased migraine symptoms.1

How does climate change affect migraine?

As an environmental studies major, I am keenly aware of humanity’s disconnection from nature in the modern world and how much our human activities have contributed to climate change on our planet.

Climate change also has the potential to make living with migraine more difficult by creating more extreme weather variations. I was blown away to hear neurologist Dr. Jelena Pavolic explain the potentially challenging aspects of climate change on people living with migraine in her talk at the 2022 Retreat Migraine.

Environmental issues are seldom discussed in the migraine community, and I was so encouraged to hear someone of her stature bring them up. Climate change affects us all, but I had never connected the effects of our warming planet to migraine before.

How can you increase your time outdoors without triggering migraine?

Nature can certainly be both a friend and a foe to migraine, but I think it’s important to increase our exposure to the outdoors so that we feel less limited by migraine.  Spending time in nature can settle our modern frenzied nervous systems and help calm our migraine brains.

I know that being outdoors can definitely be a migraine trigger for many of us. I encourage you to take baby steps towards expanding your window of tolerance outside. For some, that might mean simply taking five minutes to walk outside or sit in the fresh air. For others, that might mean taking a hike or bike ride. Without comparing yourself to others or what you used to be able to do, see if you can go a little bit out of your way to connect with the natural world in a way that feels nourishing and safe to you. You can start exploring outdoor areas nearby that are cool, shady, and easy to access. Gradually spend more time gazing at the stars than at your phone. Whether you start by taking a stroll at a nearby park or just around the block, grab your hat and shades and enjoy some fresh air!

Does spending time outside ease your migraine symptoms or aggravate them?  Maybe a bit of both?  What helps you feel safer outdoors in nature while living with migraine?

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