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The Shoulds, Woulds, and Coulds of Migraine Attacks

“All you have to do for the next few minutes is just be.” A yoga teacher I sometimes take classes with gives this instruction as we settle in to meditate at the end of every class. I’d taken dozens of classes with her before the instruction really clicked with me. The moment it did was revelatory. I felt such a release that I began to wonder if I could apply her advice to a migraine attack.

Just being during a migraine attack? That seemed absurd the first time I pondered it, so I shoved the thought aside. It kept resurfacing. After weeks of nagging at me, the idea of just being during a migraine attack began to feel less like an impossibility and more like an interesting challenge.

Usually, I spend every migraine attack thinking about everything I should be doing or would be doing if I weren’t in an attack. What if I instead let having a migraine attack be what I’m doing in that moment? If I were attending a yoga class or out with friends, my to-do list wouldn’t be plaguing me. Why can’t I do the same during a migraine attack? A major difference is that exercising and socializing are fun, while migraine is not. Fun or not, if a migraine attack is where I am, I can’t wish it away. Maybe just being with it would make it seem like less of an enemy.

So I tried it. It worked.

The change wasn’t immediate or magical. It took time and practice, but I eventually got there. Each time I’d find my mind churning on shoulds, woulds, and coulds, I gently reminded myself that I wasn’t thinking about those things right now. Distracting myself with something enjoyable so that I was also doing something pleasant during the attack made it easier to stay with the attack.

I’m now able to just be during a migraine attack, but don’t think I’ve developed a fondness for them. I don’t revel in them or ever want them to happen. But I don’t spend the majority of each attack obsessing over everything it is preventing me from doing. That’s been a huge improvement to my quality of life.

To answer my own question, Yes, I can just be during migraine attacks. Doing so means I no longer beat myself up for letting responsibilities slide or dwell on what I’m missing out on. These thoughts still come from time to time, but they are rare. Migraine attacks are still miserable, but they’re so much more bearable without the added burden of shoulds, woulds, and coulds.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Jess
    3 years ago

    This really is great advice. I have to try hard to do this but with a little help from my golden retriever, I can bc I can be there for him. It’s a start.

  • Lisa A
    3 years ago

    Staying with or just being are both helpful in mind and body during an attack. Shutting down our overreactive and sometimes negative chattering brain can give some ease to the attack. When I focus on my breath and try and calm down, my pain sometimes goes down a notch or two. “Shoulds” lead to guilt which is NOT helpful. I also try and think about the fun thing I am going to do when I come out of the attack. That helps me focus on a positive thought. “And this too shall pass…”

  • Maureen
    3 years ago

    I think my “just being” runs into my “narrator” sometimes. The Narrator helps me work out what is going on, but she sometimes gets carried away with what is NOT going on (POOR MAUREEN is missing out on…, she can’t even…, you get the picture). But usually, I think the Narrator helps me “be.”

    “Now Maureen is self-comforting. She feels like she might be going crazy, but she KNOWS she’s not. She wonders if she is making sounds out loud, but doesn’t actually care, because it makes her feel better to moan/hum to herself and grab the sheet to her neck/chest. Now she is sitting and realizing that she is feeling better. She wonders if she could put laundry in, or if her head would explode if she stands up. Right, good idea, Maureen! Try rolling over first. See how a small change in position feels first. DO NOT GET CARRIED AWAY! Just sit. You’re just sitting. This is a migraine. This is not a drill!” Thanks, Narrator.

    Thanks, Kerrie!

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Maureen! Thanks for sharing your inner dialog so openly. It sounds a lot like mine and it’s always awesome feeling less alone.

    We’re glad you’re here! -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • SilverPhoenix13
    3 years ago

    I’m working on similar. I’ve started doing that when my migraines require me to miss work. Having FMLA helps me not to worry about that and just focus on tending to my health. It’s school and social events that I still need to work on. Currently missing my day’s classes AGAIN because I can feel the pressure in my head building.

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