The month of June is headache and migraine awareness month. While headaches and migraines can be considered to be quite common, frequent headaches can be a signal that something is seriously wrong. Migraines, in contrast to a regular headache, are neurological disorders and carry the same disruptive sensation a headache would bring, but can bring along unwanted symptoms.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, migraines can manifest themselves as an intense throbbing on both sides of the head and can even last up to 72 hours in some cases. They can also be accompanied by nausea, light, smell, and sound, sensitivity, and even vomiting.
You may or may not have experienced a stress-induced migraine, which cannot receive an official diagnosis. Typical migraines can be brought on by genetic, environmental, or even lifestyle factors, whereas stress-induced migraines can be brought on by the everyday stress we experience in our lives.
“For a long time, people would say that stress is causing the migraine, but we know that’s not the case. These people have migraines genetically independent of stress—though it is a contributor,” explains Chaouki K. Khoury, MD, a neurologist with Panda Neurology & Atlanta Headache Specialists.
Mary O’Neal, MD, director of the women’s neurology program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says that when the stress hormone known as cortisol activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, it can affect the chemical serotonin, which is a leading cause in developing migraines.
Dr. O’Neal additionally attests that in general, most people who exhibit frequent migraines tend to be successful people, as there “must be some reason why they can continue to be successful despite having a debilitating disease”. They can even erupt after a long stressful week, or if there have been significant changes in sleep routines and eating schedules, which can cause the body a lot of stress, one theory explains.
Here are the symptoms to look out for if you feel you are having a stress-related migraine:
This symptom is perhaps one of the most distinguishing features of a migraine in contrast to a typical headache: the physical effects. Tension can form in your neck or shoulders. These can usually be treated with ibuprofen (Advil), or in worse circumstances, with a doctor’s prescription for frequent migraines. Exercise is also a good way to not only treat muscle tension but to prevent these migraines by regulating stress. Aerobic exercise, according to a 2020 review published in Current Pain and Headache Reports, can significantly reduce migraine frequency, intensity, and duration.
Intense head pain
Tension headaches and migraines can carry the same levels of pain and can make it hard to determine which one you are experiencing. They are both characterized by mild to moderate pain, but only a migraine can be truly debilitating to your everyday activities, as it can carry a throbbing or even pounding sensation.
A shift in mood
If you feel an immediate mood change after your headache begins, chances are you are experiencing a migraine. Known colloquially as the “migraine hangover”, you may express feelings of depression or irritability.
Stress and anxiety can be the causes of a migraine, but can also be the after effects of an intense migraine as well. It can become a “forward-feeding loop, You can’t get out of the cycle and start spiraling,” according to Dr. Chaouki K. Khoury, MD, a neurologist with Panda Neurology & Atlanta Headache Specialists. This consistent cycle can even lead to chronic migraine, which includes having headaches up to 15 times a month.
Experiencing the aforementioned symptoms of a migraine like: nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to your surroundings, muscle weakness, light-headedness can easily be the first indicator that you are having a stress-related migraine.
Being a perfectionist
Like Dr. O’Neal had mentioned, the most successful people tend to exhibit regular migraines. If you are a particular perfectionist, chances are you stress more on a regular basis which can lead to migraines.
It is recommended that you speak to your doctor if you feel you are experiencing frequent stress-related migraines, as treatment and tips can be provided to you. While managing stress is not always easy, and migraines are not entirely preventable, making an effort to regulate your stress can significantly impact the frequency of migraines.
Meditation, yoga, massages, reading, journaling, or other de-stressing factors that can help distract from the stress can make you more resilient against stress-induced migraines. Additionally, doctors recommend sticking to regular sleep and eating schedules, as both sleep deprivation and inconsistent eating habits are common triggers,
For immediate relief, most people find that sleeping in a cool dark room and over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol, aspirin, and ibuprofen, can greatly reduce their symptoms. Of course, it is always advised to read the instructions on the prescription packaging and follow the dosage recommendations before taking any medication.