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.

How to Identify Symptoms of Stress

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.

Physical symptoms of stress can include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Tense or achy muscles
  • Chest pain
  • Pounding heart
  • Clenched jaw or grinding teeth
  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of interest in/ability to have sex
  • Headaches

Emotional symptoms of stress can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks[ii]

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.

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.

[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


[iii] Buse Dawn C., Scher Ann I., Dodick David W., Reed Michael L., Fanning Kristina M., Adams Aubrey Manack, Lipton Richard B., Impact of Migraine on the Family: Perspectives of People With Migraine and Their Spouse/Domestic Partner in the CaMEO Study, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 91, Issue 5, 2016, Pages 596-611,

ISSN 0025-6196,