Dealing With Anxiety and Migraines
Counselor Eric Patterson and migraineur Sarah share their thoughts on anxiety and migraines.
Eric's Tips for Living With Migraines, Anxiety, and Isolation
Migraines hurt. Sometimes, though, the fear of the next migraine hurts even worse. As a migraine sufferer, you worry about your migraine triggers, where you will be and what you will be doing when the next one hits.
You stress over the potential for embarrassment and other perceived risks. What if I am in a restaurant with friends and I become nauseous and vomit? What if I am driving and I lose control of the car? Over time, the anxiety in you builds. The reasonable concerns develop into distorted views of yourself, your illness, and the world around you.
Anxiety and migraines frequently go hand in hand. Studies show that as many as half of all people with migraines also have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders usually involve irrational or excessive fears and worry. People fear embarrassment, physical injury, or death. Anxiety is a tricky opponent — it tries to convince you that worrying makes things better and that staying safe is the most important thing. People with high levels of anxiety will isolate because being alone in their house is the only way to feel safe.
How to Beat Anxiety
Of course, being confined to your home only increases anxiety. When you isolate you cut yourself off from your supports and your comfort zone gets smaller. Don’t let anxiety push you to isolation. Here are some tips to manage anxiety:
- Prevent – You cannot control migraines — you can only manage them. With anxiety, prevention is possible. It begins with you taking an honest look at your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If you notice you are worrying more, feeling anxious more or to a higher degree and leaving the house less, take action. Anxiety does not stay the same — it always gets worse unless you take steps to challenge it.
- Positivity – Anxiety works by emphasizing the risks of the situation and downplaying the positives. It will be your job to uncover the positives of the situation or event. Anxiety builds with “what if?” questions, so answer back with the realistic likelihood of that happening — or a simple “so what?”
- Plan – The best way to challenge anxiety is by making behavioral changes. Go and do things even if they make you feel anxious. You know migraines are unpredictable, so make back-up plans as well. This way, if you cannot make the Friday night movie with your friend, plan for a Sunday lunch.
- Prepare – If the time of your outing is approaching, take an inventory of how you feel. Doing some deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or autogenic training will reduce your stress and anxiety and you will be more likely to combat the anxiety that is trying to keep you at home. Find routines and rituals that make getting out the door easier.
- Persist – You will have difficulties, but if you continue working towards your goal you can find success. If you surrender to anxiety, isolation becomes a real risk. Stay the course and realize that what you are fighting for is extremely valuable.
If migraines lead to anxiety and anxiety leads to isolation, working hard to notice and contest anxiety in its early stages is crucial. Remember the five Ps listed above. If you cannot find success on your own, consider the sixth P: psychotherapy. A therapist is trained to help you reduce stress and anxiety, ensuring that the best you is available to be seen and appreciated by others.
Sarah's Experience With Anxiety and Migraines
For me, the worse my anxiety is, the worse my migraines are. This perpetuates a cycle and is difficult to treat. However, recognizing that anxiety is a trigger allows me to try to slow or stop it in hopes of slowing or stopping a migraine attack.
Recognizing anxiety as a trigger allows me to try to avoid or address it as it rises. When I feel my anxiety rising, I control my breathing, meditate and remove myself from any anxiety-filled situation.
I visualize my heart slowing down, focus on slowing my breathing and focus only on what I can control. Quality sleep, a clean diet, and lowered stress help in prevention.
Knowing that my anxiety triggers a migraine actually raises my anxiety. The anxiety of getting a migraine causes me to become more anxious, causing more migraines, perpetuating a cycle. Addressing the anxiety before and immediately is important in avoiding the cycle.