Guide For Fighting Stress-Induced Migraines

The coronavirus pandemic has increased stress in many people’s lives. The stress from the pandemic has also impacted people who experience migraines. Social isolation, information overload and financial worries are significant factors that can worsen migraines for some. Because the pandemic has caused more anxiety and isolation, people might have found more trouble managing their migraines during this time.

While serenity might feel distant for all of us right now, you can take steps to identify and successfully manage your stress to help prevent and treat migraines. Discover stress headache treatment and symptoms below.

Symptoms of Stress and Stress Migraines

You’re more likely to notice stress in your body before you notice the symptoms of a migraine. Pay attention to the way your body shows signs of stress. You may think of stress as being all in your head, with symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, insomnia and depression. However, the body’s stress response is also physical. What does stress feel like to you? A racing heart? A heaviness on your chest? Or maybe just a vague unease? The first step for managing your stress is becoming aware of it.

Common physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Pain in the chest
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Acne
  • Frequent illness from weakening your immune system
  • Upset stomach, changes in your appetite and digestive issues like diarrhea and constipation
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Low energy levels and insomnia

Emotional symptoms of stress can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks

To monitor your stress, pay attention to these symptoms and what’s causing them. Consider keeping a migraine diary in which you record your stressors and every time stress triggers an attack.


During the first stage of a migraine, often called the pre-headache stage, you might notice symptoms a day or two before your stress migraine starts. Prodrome might not happen before every single migraine attack.

People commonly experience the following symptoms during the prodrome stage:

  • Fatigue
  • Clumsiness
  • Cravings for particular foods
  • Changes in mood
  • Neck stiffness and pain
  • Frequent yawning
  • Frequent urination

Pay close attention to your symptoms and triggers during the prodrome phase as a way to prevent stress migraines before they come on. You can avoid trigger foods and beverages like alcohol, practice relaxation therapy and meditation or take medication during this stage.


About one-third of people who experience migraines also experience aura. People who experience aura typically have visual or sensory hallucinations and disturbances that last 20 minutes to an hour.

People with aura usually experience:

  • Seeing shapes, lines, bright spots or flashes of light
  • Loss of vision
  • Pins-and-needles and numbness in the arms and legs
  • Trouble speaking or coming up with the right words
  • Hearing music or other noises

Like the other phases of a stress migraine, not everyone who suffers from migraines also experiences aura.

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Attack or Headache

You’re in the attack phase of a stress migraine while you’re actively experiencing migraine symptoms. Some people also call this stage the headache phase, as this is the time when most people have a headache. Migraines can last anywhere from a few hours to several days if not treated properly.

The pain can be on one side of the head, but sometimes it gradually shifts from one side of the head to the other. While the symptoms vary for everyone, most people experience:

  • Pain, sometimes throbbing or pulsing
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, smells or touch
  • Nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Having trouble completing everyday activities

Postdrome or Recovery

Postdrome is the recovery stage of a stress migraine. While nearly 80% of people who suffer from migraines experience postdrome, postdrome doesn’t accompany every migraine for those who do experience it. This stage can be just as bad as a headache to some people. The length of this stage also varies from person to person, but it lasts about 24 hours for most people.

Symptoms of the postdrome stage include:

    • Remaining sensitivity to light, sound, smells and other stimuli
    • Body and muscle aches
    • Fatigue and exhaustion
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Dizziness
    • A sudden movement of the head that causes pain
    • Mood swings

stress management

Experiences That Make Stress-Induced Migraines Worse

While we typically think of stress as a negative phenomenon, we often experience stress during intense moments of happiness. Stress can happen during major life events or during our everyday lives.

Experiences that worsen stress-induced migraines include major life events like graduating college, having a baby, purchasing a home or getting married can bring on a migraine.

Daily stress also can cause migraines. If you let everyday stress build to an unbearable level, your migraine will probably be worse. Daily stressors that can make migraines worse include a long or difficult commute to work, raising children, a high-pressure job, spousal conflict or a change in routine.

Drug-Free Migraine Treatment Options

Follow these tips for stress-induced migraine treatment:

  • Address stress before it builds up: Stress is only one factor that causes migraines. Once stress is released, many people experience a let-down effect. Relaxation after heightened stress is also a significant trigger for migraine attacks. The first six hours after experiencing stress are associated with a nearly five-fold increased risk of a migraine attack. Identify rising tension in your mind and body and act early to reduce your stress. You can also do this by planning your day with a calendar and ranking your priorities.
  • Use proven relaxation techniques to fight stress-induced migraines: There are scientifically proven ways to reduce stress, including breathing exercises such as rhythmic breathing and deep breathing, guided meditation and yoga. Popular apps like Calm and Headspace make it easy to meditate from wherever you are.
  • Consider seeing a mental health professional through telehealth consultations: Today, you can get professional help with stress and anxiety right from your own home. Increasingly, therapists and counselors are available through telemedicine, making it easier — and more affordable — to meet with them and manage life’s stressors.
  • Keep a headache diary: Journaling about when and how you experience your migraine symptoms can help you understand how to combat them. Also, keeping a journal can help you let out your stress rather than internalizing it. By writing down your common stressors, you can identify which stressors make your migraines worse.
  • Practice healthy habits: Practicing healthy habits can help reduce migraines. Making time every day for a physical activity you enjoy, learning to manage your stress by communicating with others, getting the proper amount of sleep and eating healthy meals can help stop migraines before they come on.

    Stress Awareness When You’re Living With Migraine

    Does stress cause migraine? Yes! An often-cited study lists stress as the most common migraine trigger, with nearly 80% of patients naming it.[i]Migraine can cause stress, too. When migraine makes you miss work, gets in the way of your parenting responsibilities, and adds resentment to your relationship, aggravation and anxiety pile up.Not only that, but the letdown effect, when you relax after a prolonged stressful period, can trigger migraine as well! It’s really not fair. But if you experience stress-related migraine, you don’t have to feel helpless. The first step toward managing stress is becoming aware of how it affects you.

    Stress Awareness in Relationships and Families

    Migraine can majorly strain relationships. In a large Internet survey (the CaMEO Study) of people with episodic and chronic migraine and their partners, more than half of the 4,000+ couples surveyed said migraine disrupted time with their spouse, reduced their enjoyment of time spent together, and/or forced the spouse to take over their partner’s share of housework.[iii]

    The same is true for family dynamics. The CaMEO study found that 53.5% of migraineurs said migraine reduced their enjoyment of family time. Nearly 13% said migraine caused stress with children, even on days without headache.

    If you become aware of family or relationship stress, don’t tiptoe around it. The first thing to do is talk about it and come up with ideas for changing routines, says happiness expert Michelle Gielan. “Talking through what that new culture would look like can involve everyone in the process and invest them more deeply in creating a more positive outcome,” Gielan says.

    Read more: Your Migraine Marriage Counselor: How to Work Out Problems With Your Partner

    Managing Your Stress

    Stress can often feel impossible to manage when it’s caused by factors you can’t control: a high-pressure job, a demanding schedule, the needs of family members, etc. But you can take action to reduce it. Try the four As, the Mayo Clinic suggests.

    Avoid: Do everything in your power to avoid known stressors. This could mean steering clear of coworkers who get on your nerves, skipping the nightly fight with your child over cleaning their room, or saying no to people who ask you for favors.

    Alter: What actions can you take to reduce stress in your life? What can you ask others to do?

    Accept: Some things just won’t change. If you live with migraine, for instance, it’s not going to vanish tomorrow. Try to make peace with your circumstances and limitations.

    Adapt: Does your stress sometimes arise from the gap between your expectations and reality? Then it’s time to change those expectations. Be kinder to yourself. Draw on your strengths to deal with stress in a more positive way.  Try these migraine stress relaxation techniques.

CEFALY Can Help You Manage Your Stress Migraines

If your migraine treatment routine is causing you stress, it may be time to try CEFALY. CEFALY is an FDA-cleared (prescription required), drug-free migraine prevention and treatment device. CEFALY is free of the serious side effects associated with many migraine medications, and many CEFALY users report that using the device makes them feel calm and relaxed. If you suffer from migraine symptoms, learn how CEFALY can help.

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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.

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


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