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Triggers and Causes

Post stress as cause?

  • By Savta45

    Just wondering if others have experienced or if there is documentation of migraine being a result of severe stress, but only sometime after the worst of the stress is over? The reason I’m askibg is that I’m currently in one of the worst stretches of migraine in 2years, currently on my 6th day straight. And about 1-2 weeks ago, I was going through a MAJOR family stress. It’s still not 100% resolved, but, the main issue is much lessened in severity. It’s still upsetting me, however. I want to be clear that during the worst of it, I wasn’t impaired by migraine like I am now. Thanks for any input.

  • By Nancy Harris Bonk Moderator

    Hi Naomisdtr18,

    Thank you for your question. YES! Emotional stress can trigger a migraine attack for some of us. And many of us will have a migraine attack AFTER stressful periods of time, even if the stress is positive. We have a lot of articles on this you can find here;

    One school of thought is that it may not be the stress that triggers a migraine attack, rather the things we do or don’t do during stressful times. For example, we may not drink enough water, nor keep a regular sleep schedule and/or skip meals. If we’re able to avoid our triggers, stay hydrated and keep a regular sleep schedule during stressful time, we may be able to reduce our migraine attacks. I know the things I mentioned can be strong triggers for me and keeping a regular schedule during stressful time is important for me.

    You may want to get in touch with your doctor and see if he/she can help break this current migraine cycle you’re in. We don’t like to see migraine attacks last longer than 72 hours as this can increase our risk of status migrainous and stroke. Take a look at this link for more information;

    I hope that helps and you are feeling better soon!

  • By virgothinks

    I suffer with migraines and sickness pretty often. It really gets me down and in turn that makes it worse. Filling up with painkillers becuse the doctors dont take it seriously. Stress is a trigger for me and I get so wound up its obvious its my emotions and stress. I get migraines without stress too. Seems to be a constant cycle no matter what is happening in my life. Not 100% sure what kind of headaches/migraines theu are. All I know is they male me want to cry in desperation. It really does sucks

  • By Nancy Harris Bonk Moderator

    Hi virgothinks,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am sorry you are having a rough time at the moment.

    It sounds like its time to see a doctor who will take you seriously. Living with constant pain is debilitating, exhausting, and frustrating. Neurologists may be fine doctors, but have a hard time being experts in one area because they treat so many different conditions such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s and others. A true migraine/headache expert is a doctor (doesn’t have to be a neurologist) who is board certified in headache medicine, which is different from being certified in neurology. These articles and links will help explain how these doctor are different and how to find one; and This link has a list of all the doctor who are board certified in headache medicine in the US;

    Please let me know if I can do anything else to help~!

  • By Nancy Harris Bonk Moderator

    Oh virtothinks. I forgot to mention stress. Sometimes it may be the things we do or don’t do during stressful times that trigger a migraine attack. For example, we may skip meals, have irregular sleep patterns, and/or become dehydrated during a stressful time. And many of us get a migraine attack after stressful times, whether it’s good stress or bad; These articles have more on this topic; and

    Now I’m done!!

  • By andrewjpovey

    Hi all.

    I’m not a headache specialist, but I am a provisional psychologist with experience working through the aetiology of problems.

    Either way, take this only as a guide.

    My partner suffers from what you would call ‘post stress migraines’.

    She will be fine for weeks if not months when she is working and constantly engaged. By engaged I mean she is experiencing a certain level of stress in relation to going to work, worrying about various things etc.

    When she is engaged like this, she doesn’t experience migraines, but as soon as she has a day off to herself, she will wake up and have a headache, which will turn into a migraine in a couple of hours.

    This will happen almost every time she has a day off, and we have been trying to find ways to prevent this from happening as it is quite predictable and makes her days off undesirable.

    From this, I want to explain what I think is happening.

    Here’s the example – my partner has been working quite solidly for the last 2 weeks. Yesterday she had a day off and stayed at home sewing. She told me that she felt ‘down’ and unmotivated. Her mood changed quite a lot from normal, so she pretty much just stayed at home, watched tv and did some sewing.

    Now when you are stressed your body counteracts this by releasing cortisol to bring you back down. Endorphins are also released which provide your body with relief from pain. Long term activation and release of cortisol is related to a host of problems, but in regard to post stress migraines it seems that the release of endorphins might play a much larger role.

    Essentially when she is stressed, endorphins are being released which counteract the pain she might otherwise feel, and when she relaxes, the endorphins stop being released and cause her to get headaches.


    The above link talks about lack of cortisol release and migraines, and whilst this may be the case instead of endorphins, it still outlines pretty much the same mechanism.

    With my partner, the duration and intensity of the migraine is normally related to when the last one occurred. As in, if she had a migraine 2 weeks ago, this one won’t be that bad. But if it’s been 2 months, she’ll be in bed for ages needing me to bring her water, wet towels and be super quiet for a lot longer.

    The take away from all this is that:

    1). Once you understand your own pattern, you may be able to anticipate when the migraine will occur,

    2). The extent to which it will be, may depend on how long it’s been since you’ve had your last one,

    3). But more so, these type of migraines occur because you are experiencing stress through your daily life, this slowly builds up over time, and then when you relax, the migraine occurs.

    So what can you do to prevent these?

    We haven’t got there yet, but possibly, attending to and recognising the stress you feel on a daily basis through breathing exercises, meditation, massages, not working as much may allow you to reduce the intensity of the migraine.

    There is also a neurophysiological component to this in terms of your brain responding to this lack of stress with pain. Is this in part an attempt by your brain to tell you to ‘slow down’, or stop pushing yourself too hard? Remember, pain is there to tell you something is wrong. It’s an evolutionary warning signal. If you are the type of person to experience ‘post stress migraines’, maybe you are wired (in a neurological sense) to push yourself harder than others, and maybe ignore the resulting stress until your brain says ‘I’ve been trying to warn you (through feeling stress) that you need to slow down, and because it’s been ignored for this long, I’ll force you to stop by giving you this migraine?”.

    Lastly, this is the advice I give anyone and everyone, life is hard, it’s full of pain, disappointment and fear mixed with bursts of joy and happiness. This all builds up over time. You can offset this in part by being proactive! Sleep well, eat well, make good friendships and relationships, and lastly find a good therapist (even though it’s expensive) and explore your issues with them in order to understand yourself and reduce your stress!!

    I know this was long, but hopefully something in there may help you, because as I’m writing this, my partner is asleep in our bed, after having another shitty migraine.

    Good luck!

    • By Nancy Harris Bonk Moderator

      Hi andrewjpovey,

      Thank you for sharing that detailed information with us. Your partner is lucky to have such a caring person in their corner.

      Many people with migraine disease experience “let down” migraine attacks, commonly on the weekends. One school of thought is it may be what we do and/or don’t due during stressful times that trigger a migraine attack. For example, we may skip meals, become dehydrated, and not maintain a consistent sleeping pattern resulting in a migraine attack. It’s important for people with migraine disease, who have easily overstimulated brains, to eat on a regular schedule, stay hydrated, and keep a regular sleep schedule to help reduce migraine attacks. These articles have more information on let down migraines;

      I hope that helps!