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10 Tips for Managing Chronic Stress and Migraine

Stress is one of the most common migraine triggers.[i] An intense period of stress can spark a migraine attack, and so can the letdown effect — the release once stress ends.

But what about stress that never seems to end? That’s how many people are feeling right now. Ongoing anxiety about COVID-19, combined with the uncertainty around returning to work and school, is contributing to chronic stress. Chronic stress is “a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long period of time,” Yale Medicine explains. “Chronic stress slowly drains a person’s psychological resources and damages their brains and bodies.”[ii]

If you live with migraine, that’s the last thing you need. What can you do about chronic stress when so many of its causes are beyond your control?

1. Give yourself “worry windows.”

If anxiety is creeping into every hour of your life, contain it by setting aside certain times to focus on your concerns.

“By doing this, not only will you contain all that negative energy to confined periods (rather than being dispersed throughout the day) but you’ll also reduce the potential short-term threat to your health that comes with long periods of worrying, such as increased heart rate or blood pressure,” stress researchers advise.[iii]

2. Develop — and stick to — a migraine treatment plan.

Too many people struggle through migraine attacks with nothing more than ice packs and OTC medication. Are you one of them? It’s time to take your migraines head-on. Start using a preventive treatment, such as the CEFALY PREVENT program. You don’t need a prescription for CEFALY; you can order it right now. You can even try CEFALY before you buy with a free, five-day trial through a partnership with nok.

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3. Practice 4-7-8 breathing for in-the-moment stress relief.

Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale (with a whoosh) for 8 seconds.

This breathing exercise, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, can help you relax when done properly. Your posture and other details matter, so read a full description of the technique first before practicing it yourself.

Many long-time CEFALY users find that the low-frequency PREVENT setting soothes and relaxes them.

The PREVENT program, which is used for 20 minutes daily, desensitizes the trigeminal nerve over time to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. Set aside your 20-minute session as “me time”: listen to music or a podcast, reflect on your day, or just veg out.

5. Keep a migraine journal to better understand how you react to stress.

What does stress feel like to you? What are the most effective ways to reduce it? And how does it affect your migraines?

A migraine diary can help you answer these questions. Use CeCe, the free, personalized migraine-tracking app from CEFALY Technology, to keep it simple. Record your stressors, your symptoms and every time stress triggers an attack. Over time, you’ll see your unique patterns emerge.

6. List stressors you can control and those you can’t.

Free yourself from the stress of taking on the world’s problems. Worrying about huge, immovable problems is like fighting a riptide: You exert all your energy only to feel defeated, hopeless and exhausted. Step sideways instead. It can help to make two big lists of the things that stress you out: things within your power, and things that are out of your hands. Now, focus only on what you can control.

7. Repeat a stress-relief mantra.

This can be any phrase that helps ground you when stress feels overwhelming. Your personal mantra can be as simple as, “Out of my hands” or “Let it go.” It could be the classic “This too shall pass,” or the also-classic “Serenity now!” All you need is a verbal or mental cue to stop a stress spiral before it begins.

8. Connect with a supportive community.

Migraine can make you feel isolated and disconnected. Remember: You’re not alone. There are millions of other people who are sharing your experience. Find your migraine friends — in an online community or in your local area — and discover how good it feels to chat, vent and swap tips with people who understand.

9. Start a migraine-friendly exercise routine.

A low-impact workout can reduce stress, help you sleep better and provide other benefits. Take it slow, stay hydrated, and try different activities until you find one that works well for you. Walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, Pilates and tai chi all are popular activities for many people with migraine.

Read more: How Exercise Helps Migraine, and How to Start Your Routine

10. Proactively address life’s stressors.

Identify small things you can do to ease your daily worries. You may find unexpected comfort and relief in taking actions that make life easier. For example: Sign up for grocery delivery Say “no” to the next five favors people ask Automate all your bill payments Turn off all non-essential phone notifications Get a subscription for your CEFALY electrodes and other essentials

You may find unexpected comfort and relief in taking actions that make life easier. For example:

  1. Sign up for grocery delivery
  2. Say “no” to the next five favors people ask
  3. Automate all your bill payments
  4. Turn off all non-essential phone notifications

[i] Kelman L. The triggers or precipitants of the acute migraine attack. Cephalalgia. 2007;27(5):394-402. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2982.2007.01303.x

[ii] https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder

[iii] https://psyche.co/ideas/heres-how-to-take-back-your-life-from-long-term-worrying

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