My Two Week Migraine Reduction Plan
Migraines are hard to diagnose and difficult to treat. It is thought that sixty percent of migraine sufferers are not even aware that they have them. In class (when I was doing my Masters in Pain Management) it was explained to us that an initial diagnosis of migraine is only made for forty percent of women and thirty percent of men. So. If you are a migraine sufferer then well done for getting this far.
There are a whole lot of medical treatment options for migraine - including Botox, nerve blocks and anti-CGRP mAb injections. If you’d prefer to follow this management route then I recommend contacting the National Migraine Centre or asking for a referral to a headache clinic near you. If you want to start on a more conservative footing then stick with me.
The nervous system of a person with migraines loves stability. In all things: sleep, exercise, nutrition, hydration and stress levels all matter. I’m not saying that one late night will trigger a migraine. It usually takes a few things at once or a series of things building up over time until a limit is reached and then the migraine hits. Missing a meal, travelling long haul and getting dehydrated combined with a period of stress are examples of the perfect set up for a migraine. What I ask of you is to keep a routine for the next two weeks. It is centred around the house model of health. Sleep is the floor, purpose is the roof, the four walls are nutrition, hobbies, social connection and movement. Stress is the termite that eats at the house and nature is an added bonus that improves the house. I’ll briefly run through these from the angle of migraine prevention.
Sleep - experiment with going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time for two weeks for me. That means no weekend sleep ins. Apologies. You know all the rules about sleep hygiene so I won’t put them here.
Purpose - what three things are most important to you? What does living your values look like? This may seem weird but the goal is to calm the nervous system, not living according to your principles will be causing low grade stress which in turn will contribute to inflammation. For the next two weeks think about connecting with what is important to you every day.
Nutrition - neurotransmitters are made in the gut, the healthier your gut is the healthier your nervous system is. This means that fibre, unprocessed foods and fermented foods are great. Omega threes are really essential for brain health. Meals and snacks need to be regular to prevent spikes in blood sugar. Please keep track of your hydration and for the next two weeks abstain from alcohol as it is a neuro-toxin. Supplement with nervous system supporting magnesium, zinc and B vitamins.
Hobbies are how we downshift and calm our nervous system. Some people can meditate or pray three times a week but that doesn’t work for everyone. What is your alternative? Do you like jigsaw puzzles? Do you sew, knit or craft? Are you an artist? Find something that calms you and do it as often as you can. If you could get a massage in this time that would be a bonus.
Social connection is another way to produce happiness chemicals to offset stress. Ideally you will connect with friends or family (text counts) every day. Make sure that you have an interesting conversation with someone - even the postie - every day too.
Movement is anti inflammatory and great for the nervous system. I ask you to walk half an hour a day; choose to walk up and down escalators; and take the stairs instead of the lift. If you train at the gym don’t increase your intensity for the next two weeks - just keep it to your accustomed level. Remember we want stability. Movements that help prevent migraines are gentle nose circles in both directions and backwards arm circles.
Stress is physical, emotional and hormonal. I mention hormones because oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate through a woman’s cycle. Some women get migraines at the low oestrogen start of their cycle, some get them after the oestrogen dip post ovulation. Tracking your cycle may help understand when you need to be very proactive in keeping all other parts of your life balanced.
Emotional stress may be easy to manage and just require techniques such as using coping statements; through meditation; seeing friends; and living your values. It may be that you need a system at work such as the Eisenhower Matrix, where you categorise your tasks by time and priority. They will be marked as things that need to be done, need to be scheduled, to be delegated or deleted. It might be that you need to use the services of a therapist or life coach to help give you some more tools to cope with overwhelm. The next two weeks are a chance to reflect on what you need to do to best manage your stress.
Physical stress as in discomfort and pain can be managed with a TENS machine, self massage, deep heat, heat patches, capsaicin patches, deep breathing, imagery and pain relief medication. If you can use a TENS machine on your upper neck every day for two weeks you may find marvellous results. The theory behind nerve stimulation is complicated but it has very good results on the majority of people who try it. It has no side effects and it’s worth a go.
Finally, if you can get into some good nature twice in a fortnight, you will be impressed at how calming it is for you. Please try it
I tried to keep this short - but as you know migraines are tricky and managing them takes a multi pronged approach.