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Emotions & Stress

Anxiety, stress, excitement, worry, anger and other emotions can spark a cascade of symptoms in most people. In those who suffer from migraines, these emotions can trigger a migraine attack.

Migraines and stress

Some sufferers consider stress the most common cause of migraines. Several studies place stress near the top of the list as the trigger most often named by migraine sufferers. Many studies show that 60 percent to 70 percent of those with migraines cite stress as a regular trigger.

Stress can come in many forms: pressure at work to complete a project, excitement about an upcoming wedding, a traffic jam making you late for an appointment or a family conflict. During stressful moments, the brain releases chemicals, including adrenaline, as the body goes into self-preservation mode. When the brain senses stress it prepares for “fight or flight.” These chemicals cause a range of changes in the brain and body, including muscle tension and dilation of blood vessels. These chemicals are activated in the brain when you have a migraine. For a person who suffers from migraines, these reactions to stress can trigger a painful migraine.

Stress can come in many forms, both negative and positive. Events that are taxing and worrisome, surprisingly have similar effects on some migraine sufferers as events that are happily stressful such as a big job promotion or anticipation of an exciting date. Stress can also make an existing migraine worse.

For some people who battle migraines, the attack doesn’t start during the stressful or emotional event. Instead, the migraine symptoms may start after the stressful event has passed, during what is called the “let-down period.” This occurs after a period of high stress or pressure ends and the individual relaxes. These migraines happen often on the weekend or at the beginning of vacations when everything has calmed down.


Managing emotions and migraines

Learning what causes changes in your emotional state can help you manage and perhaps even avoid setting off a migraine attack. Recording your feelings, experiences, events along with each case of migraine in your migraine journal will assist in determining what types of situations produce painful results.

Also, learning relaxation techniques may help in calming emotions and preventing migraines.

Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010
Alcohol and migraine: trigger factor, consumption, mechanisms A review, Panconesi J Headache Pain 2008