women
Q: How can avoiding emotional stress help me prevent migraine attacks?
A: Reducing emotional stress is an important part of a comprehensive treatment program for treating migraine. Emotional stress causes increased levels of epinephrine, which speeds up brain activity, and is balanced by serotonin, which quiets brain activity. In people with migraine, serotonin activity is abnormal and brain cells become overexcited due to the effect of epinephrine. Think of each stressful situation as using your serotonin; you don’t have enough to waste.
Q: What role does serotonin play in my emotions?
A: Serotonin, a natural brain chemical, balances the activity of epinephrine, which is released during the stress response. Serotonin is the major neurotransmitter responsible for normal function of the limbic system, the part of the brain that creates our emotions. Without the right serotonin levels, the brain cannot function normally. Serotonin raises your mood, motivates you, and enables you to deal with problems. Without it, you may feel depressed, anxious, uninterested in life, and unable to concentrate.
Q: How do I go about reducing the emotional stress in my life?
A: Reducing emotional stress is important both for the treatment of migraine and for your general health and well-being. To get started on a stress-reduction program, it is important to focus on 2 equally important approaches: stress prevention and stress management. Eliminating all stress in your life is an impossible goal since life is inherently stressful. You cannot predict every possible stressful situation, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can prepare you to deal with unexpected stressors.
Q: What is the difference between stress prevention and stress management?
A: Stress prevention is about establishing a biological, psychological, and spiritual program that helps you gain an optimal level of well-being that can prepare you to deal with future stressful situations when they occur. Stress management is your tool to help you solve a problem or deal with current emotional stress.
Q: How do I get started with stress prevention and stress management?
A: The first step is to understand the connection between your biological response to stress (such as migraine) and the emotional situations. The biological response, called the stress, or “fight-or-flight,” response causes an increase in epinephrine levels. If the level of epinephrine in your body stays raised for a period of time, it can cause harm to the body. Migraine is just one of many diseases that are adversely affected by stress. By maintaining good health with a healthy diet and regular exercise, you can prepare your body for this type of biological response. The next step is to learn more about how your emotions and behavior respond to stress and how, at times, they might add more to stress.
Q: How do I learn more about my emotional and behavioral health?
A: There are many experts who can help you learn how to deal with emotional and behavioral issues. We all need to be aware of our emotional and psychological health; no one is born with an instruction manual on this. Understanding how we can change the way we think and behave can reduce the epinephrine levels and increase the serotonin levels in the brain. You may wish to seek professional help in the form of a counselor or therapist, and there are also many self-help books available. Ask your doctor if you are not sure where to get the best advice.
Q: How can I prevent stress as a part of migraine treatment?
A: A comprehensive migraine treatment program must include a routine for relaxation and stress management. For best results, make this a daily routine. Giving yourself at least 30 minutes a day for a relaxation routine will help quiet your thoughts and reduce anxiety and epinephrine levels. Choose whatever works best for you: biofeedback, meditation, listening to music, reading, and so on. The important thing is to keep your concerns and the world outside at a distance for a while.
Q: What if I am too busy to spend time on a relaxation program?
A: If that is your situation, it should give you a clue to why you are suffering from frequent migraine attacks. The most common reason for frequent migraine attacks from stress is an overcommitted schedule. People who are perfectionists or have problems delegating are often sufferers. There is also a tendency to try and make up for the lost time caused by attacks by overworking afterwards. Take a look at your schedule and reduce some of your commitments. It is important that you take care of yourself. A balanced life is the key; if stress in your life is generating too much epinephrine, it will adversely affect your migraine control.
Q: How do I keep from feeling guilty for taking time for myself?
A: It is not uncommon for those with migraine to feel guilty for taking time off for exercise and relaxation because they think they have lost too much time to their migraine attacks already. However, you are actually making a time investment. When you take the time for stress management and exercise to prevent migraine attacks, you save the time you would otherwise have lost to a migraine attack. In addition, your stress management and exercise routine will boost your productivity so that you require less time to do the things you need to do.
Q: How does being too busy trigger migraine attacks?
A: Migraine attacks can be triggered by anything that increases epinephrine release by brain cells, which are then overstimulated and require extra serotonin to calm down. Migraine is a “low-serotonin” disease; you cannot waste serotonin on hectic days and poor time management. You need to simplify your life to keep your epinephrine levels down and help you stop wasting serotonin.
Q: How do I know what I need to do for stress management?
A: Determine the areas of your life that are causing you stress and try to resolve the problems you have identified. There may be areas of your life that cannot be “solved” and require you to accept the situation and unload resentment. You may need the help of a counselor or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Try to focus on the things that are most important and learn to let things go.

Myth or truth?

Myth

“Frequent headaches, are a sign that you must be unhappy or stressed out”

Truth

Too many people have seen well-meaning healthcare professionals for their headaches, only to be told, on the basis of a normal brain scan, that “nothing is wrong; you only have migraine.” The migraine sufferer is treated as though he or she is neurotic and needs to handle stress better. The truth is that migraine can be made worse by stress, but it is not caused by stress. Dismissing migraine headaches as a product of stress alone can cause sufferers to neglect the underlying triggers that cause their condition.

First steps in reducing stress

To start reducing stress in your life, you first need to identify stressful areas. Using the list of potential stress areas given , write down all the issues that are causing you concern, anxiety, or fear. You can then make an effort to address each of these areas with the appropriate person or method. The important thing to remember is that nothing changes overnight, and that there will always be new challenges ahead.

Potential stress areas:

  • Work/school

  • Relationship issues

  • Financial

  • Health

  • Community/national

  • Others

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