We’ve all experienced a headache at some point in our lives — but for those who struggle with debilitating headaches, like migraine headaches, showing up for work and the people we care about can become a lofty task.
“Although we think of migraine as a ‘headache’ problem, it is actually a condition that is far-reaching in its effect on the body,” Ronald Andiman, M.D., the director of the Headache Clinic in the Cedars-Sinai department of neurology, tells Thrive. “Patients may feel psychologically altered in the 24 hours before migraine onset,” and even after the headache has passed, you’re likely to experience “hangover-like” symptoms for up to 24 hours or more, he says.
So what’s one to do if headaches are becoming a norm, rather than the exception? Those who are experiencing frequent and/or severe headaches may need medical evaluation or treatment with medication, Andiman explains, so making an appointment with your doctor should be high on your to-do list. But it’s also worth examining your routine to pinpoint habits that could trigger headaches.
Here, some common triggers behind your headaches and strategies that can help you find relief:
You’re under a lot of stress
“Stress and anxiety are major factors for headache disorders like migraine,” Deena E. Kuruvilla, M.D., the medical director of the Westport Headache Institute based in Connecticut, tells Thrive.
If stress has been weighing on you more than usual (we are in a pandemic!), you may want to consider behavioral interventions like meditation and mindfulness techniques, Kuruvilla says. Think taking a body scan, bringing your attention to your breath, or doing a full-on guided meditation session.
You aren’t fueling your body properly
Take some time to think this through: What are you putting in your body? How much time are you taking (or not taking) to rest? Do you move your body throughout the day? Your answers can shed some light on why you might be coping with more frequent headaches. Caffeine can also be a trigger, as well as two treats you might find hard to give up: chocolate and red wine.
“Patients who are able to normalize sleep patterns, eat a healthy diet at regular mealtimes, and exercise regularly will reduce their vulnerability to migraine,” Andiman says.
You’re spending too much time in front of screens
If your daytime is full of Zoom meetings and prolonged screen time, your evenings may feature ibuprofen and a pounding head, Kuruvilla says. Though it may be impossible to completely stay off your devices, you can schedule screen-free breaks throughout the day that will give your eyes (and your head) much-needed rest. At a very minimum, try looking away from your screens for at least one minute every hour.
What to keep in mind
At the end of the day, migraine is a disease, just like diabetes, asthma, or arthritis, Kuruvilla says. And that means many triggers can play a role in your headaches, from inherited traits to environmental factors to hormones. “Many patients become disappointed after they’ve gone through much trouble to find all their specific triggers and follow special migraine diets and they still have migraines,” Kuruvilla says. The truth is that migraine-sufferers need to shift their mindset to focus on managing their headaches rather than curing them. And by gaining awareness of triggers and consulting a trusted medical professional, you’ll be well on your way to managing — and thriving through — your headaches.