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Can stress trigger migraine headaches? Let’s find out

Published on:20 April 2021, 15:59pm IST
Stress levels play a crucial role in managing migraine headaches, serving as one of the most common migraine causes.
Grace Bains
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Learn how high stress levels and migraine are related. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Migraine is a medical condition that usually causes intense headaches, marked by throbbing pain on one or sometimes, on both sides of the head. It can also cause nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to bright light, and a high decibel sound. What’s worse is that the symptoms of migraine can happen at any time of the day, lasting anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours. It could prove to be a hindrance in our day-to-day life.

Stress-induced migraine attacks

Stress is one the most common migraine causes, and is present as a trigger in several individuals who complain of headaches. As per a research published by the National Library of Medicine, high levels of stress are reported in migraine patients, particularly in those suffering from chronic daily migraine. 

Stress can really be hard on your head. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The factors for stress that lead to migraine could be endogenous (e.g. hormones), exogenous (e.g. physical stressors such as bright light) or even psychological stressors (e.g. nearing a submission deadline at work). Additionally, stressors could also be of physiological origin such as the menstrual cycle in women. Essentially, when the frequency or severity of these stress-inducing factors escalate, the protective adaptive responses (allostatic responses) that maintain a stable state for the brain become overused and dysregulated. Hence, this ‘overuse’ of the brain may alter brain networks both functionally and structurally, causing migraine attacks.

Managing stress to reduce the risk of having migraine attacks

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, you could incorporate effective stress management practices to avoid the risk of suffering from excruciating symptoms, induced by migraines.

These strategies include:
  • Getting enough sleep, which will increase energy levels and make you feel less irritable and overwhelmed. 
  • Listening to music is also helpful, as it slows the pulse and heart rate, thereby lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones. 

    Yes, music can calm you down! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
  • Other techniques include exercising and as per Harvard Health Publishing, “Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”
  • A healthy diet can reduce stress levels, especially if one incorporates leafy vegetables that can provide necessary vitamins, like vitamin K which helps protect your arteries and promotes proper blood clotting. It also has dietary nitrates, known to reduce blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness and improve the function of cells lining the blood vessels. 

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  • Meditation is another technique to manage stress, as it’s known to help individuals sleep better and cope with a few symptoms, associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

Therefore, stress management will help you fight migraine, improve overall health, and mental functionality.

Grace Bains Grace Bains

Grace is someone who likes writing enough to make a living out of it. When she isn’t writing, you will find her having chai and reading a book.