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Exercise Anxiety

I grew up an athlete – a competitive swimmer, captain of my high school swim team, then to aerobics, hiking, yoga and boxing. I took pride in pushing myself to my limits. I loved always being in shape and having toned arms 🙂 Though I’ve had migraines since I was twelve, in the past eight years they’ve really ramped up in frequency and intensity.

One of my triggers is exercise. While I used to be the only one climbing the stairs, I now take the escalator. “What if I trigger a migraine?” “how does my head feel?” And, just like that, I’ve spooked myself.

I used to enjoy hiking – I lived on a huge hill and would take the loop at least every other day. Now I look at the trail and think “what if I’m halfway up and I get a migraine?” I’m getting up early for yoga and I feel dizziness – “what if today’s a migraine day?”

For two years, migraines left me too exhausted and in pain to do anything other than go to work and come home and crash. I even started taking the subway in case I was too weak to drive. But, now that I finally have an awesome new neurologist and am starting to see some relief, I can’t shake the fear. I’ve lost my toned arms and my stamina. I want to go back to the way I was – excited to exert myself, but I am afraid. What if I go back to chronic migraine?

Thank you for listening. I think even just putting it out there will help me to heal. I am thinking about going to a therapist to discuss this fear.

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.


  • Caitlyn
    2 years ago

    I’m struggling with this very thing. I was overweight in my youth but I picked up running in my early 20’s and by 25 I was running 4 days a week, competed in H2C relay, and a half marathon. Two years ago my migraine occurrences and severity increased. It is rare that I have a fully pain free day, and at this point a 2 mile walk flares up a mild migraine to something more severe. It’s a huge blow to my self esteem as 6 mile runs had become my normal. I am currently 5 sizes larger than I used to be and missing my toned body I had worked so hard for. I feel so trapped.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Anne,
    Thank you greatly for taking the time to share your story. The notion of staying away from exercise and physical activity due to the fear of triggering a migraine can be a common concern in this migraine community. Consider yourself NOT ALONE! Mentally for you, I’m sure it must be especially challenging as you were so heavily submersed and your life sounded as though it revolved around staying active. Your standards and the bar is set likely very high in your mind for what you may consider as how you need to get out there and getting active. Baby steps…especially now you mention starting to experience some relief after seeing your new neurologist. You’ll get there when you are ready! I have some great articles I’d like to share, that may encourage you a bit as you mention that exercise is a trigger for you:,, and

    I hope you find some of this information helpful, but please feel free to reach out if you have any other questions. We appreciate you being part of our community and let us know how things go!

    Joanna ( Team)

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Anne,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I too went from chronic to episodic and it can be a scary journey because we never want to be chronic again. I want to share an article with you that I wrote about that transition, in case it’s helpful:
    Keep in mind for me exercise isn’t a trigger, however (though overdoing exercise can cause a fibromyalgia flare for me). But I have noticed that the longer I am episodic, the things that were triggers (like fluorescent lights) and LESS AND LESS TRIGGERS. And a big part of healing for me was trusting in my body again. Migraines had taken away that trust for years, and it can take awhile to build it back. Working with a therapist would be a great idea in my opinion. I did that as well. Hope this helps give you some perspective. Feel free to reach out or continue the dialog.
    Be well,

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