Stress triggers migraine

Yet, not all 7 billion people on planet Earth get migraine.
So, what is the deal with the stress-migraine thing?

Are We To Blame For Stress Migraine?

If you’re expecting top relaxation tips for avoiding migraine, sorry. This isn’t that post. Instead, we’re taking a look at stress and migraine with a new pair of eyes.

We’ll find out:

How stress affects the brain.
Why that is relevant to migraine.
What it means for you.

But, first we need to deal with the elephant in the room. 

Are we to blame for letting stress trigger migraine?


Migraine Is Not A Personality Flaw

Picture this. You’re in the midst of a migraine episode. Struggling with all your symptoms. Feeling lousy that your life is on hold, again. Then, without any invitation up they pop.

Arms crossed, face sucking on a lemon: “You do know” they say “If you just weren’t so stressed and anxious you wouldn’t give yourself migraine.” Really?

* As if migraine is something we deliberately give ourselves.
* Like we haven’t tried to relax.
* Plus we’re already a dab hand at beating ourselves up. No outside help is required.

“Why on earth do people think it’s perfectly OK to blame you for suffering migraine?”

Drum roll for Harold G. Wolff

Harold G. Wolff (1898–1962) was a leading headache researcher of his day. Wolff, who suffered migraine, came up with the idea of the migraine personality. People with migraine have certain characteristics; high achieving and conscientious. At least if you are a man. If you’re a woman?

Well, that’s a different ballgame.

Women with migraine are highly-strung, worriers and sexually indifferent. Apparently. Charming.

Although one of these is slightly more flattering *ahem* than the other, these two migraine personalities myths do harm to both women and men.

Related: Men and Migraine.

Sadly this obstinate belief still clings on. Yet surely, it’s time for us to lay this harmful notion to rest. Not sure? Let me share three quick reasons:

1. These so called migraine personality traits are not unique to people with migraine. Yet not everyone who has them gets migraine.

2. You do not have to the same person tomorrow as you are today. Your personality is not set in stone. Our personality, like life itself, is fluid and changeable.

3. Migraine is not a personality flaw.

Putting to rest, the migraine personality myth is a weight off the shoulders. Yet, that doesn’t quite answer the question of what’s the connection between stress and migraine.

For many of us the notion that stress triggers migraine seems obvious. We experience it.

Interview? Migraine
Long journey? Migraine
Family Get-Together? Migraine

Lord knows, I spent years, really years, stressing about getting stressed. Even when I told myself that was a daft thing to do. Then I’d beat myself up for ‘giving’ myself migraine. So, what is going on?

Related: Jan’s Migraine Story

The truth is that emotions – like stress – do affect pain. Just not in the way we get told.

The Emotion and Pain Relationship

Before we look at the link between emotions and pain let’s be crystal clear on one thing.

* You are not making it up.
* Migraine is not all in your head.
* Your pain and symptoms are real.

On the face of it, pain seems pretty simple. Stub your toe and it’ll hurt! However, the reality is more complex. First, your brain needs to decide if you are in danger. If you are, the brain generates a warning signal, aka pain. 

I know, I know. A warning signal? Migraine? But, bear with me.

But here’s the surprising part. Your brain assesses not only physical sensations, like that stubbed toe. Your brain also analyses:

Memories – have I been here before?
Past experiences – what did I do last time?
Emotional sensations – is my body telling me I’m under threat?

Yes, really. Emotions. Not in a finger-pointing way. By the way, this is true for all pain, not just migraine.

You may wonder why this is. Well, because our body is evolved to respond to our emotions. While, our brain is evolved to respond to our body. It’s a conversation and like any conversations sometimes things get mixed.

“The areas of our brain that are associated with sensory perception, they share real estate with the areas of our brain that are involved in the processing of emotions.”, Dr. Beth Darnall, a pain psychologist at Stanford University and author of Less Pain, Fewer Pills.”

There is an old saying neuroscience; 

‘What wires together; fires together’

This is where it gets interesting. Because the emotional and pain centres share brain space, it is possible for cross-wiring to occur. In short, fire up the physical pain centre and the emotional pain centre can fire up too. And vice versa. Astonishing, isn’t it?

Related: Migraine Triggers vs Early Warning Signs

If this feels a little uncomfortable, I get that. Once upon a time, I’d have hit the roof. I’d have felt you were blaming me.  But, this is not about blame.

This is shining much needed light on the neuro-biological relationship between emotional experience and physical pain. What does this all mean for you?

Re-Wiring Your Brain For Less Migraine 

We can easily find ourselves tied up in knots when talking about me, myself and my brain. Aren’t they all the same thing? So, how come the brain is stuck on migraine autopilot when we don’t want it to be?

Yet this overlooks two important facts:

1. The brain’s main job is keeping you safe.
2. When it comes to keeping you safe, the brain doesn’t do subtlety.

Basically, your brain does not care if you have migraine so long as you’re breathing in and out.

Does that mean that the nature of our migraine symptoms is inevitable and unchangeable?

Not at all. Thanks to our ability to re-wire our brains.

Softening and gradually reducing the brain’s pain response is possible, but going it alone is hard. I know because that’s what I did. It’s one reason why I created my bespoke migraine treatment.

One of the most effective interventions for turning down the pain volume are Mind-Body techniques. As you practice these techniques, you get to quietly fly in under the brain’s self-protect radar and whisper, “It’s okay. I’m safe”.

These techniques are pretty straightforward to practice. However, there is one small catch.

As with most things in life, it’s not what you do but the way that you do it that gets results. 

Sitting around just thinking happy thoughts isn’t going to cut it. However, the beauty is the more you actively practice Mind-Body techniques the better it gets.

What Does This Mean For You?

We’ve seen how emotions, including stress, play a part in pain. And, we know that we don’t get migraine because we are too weak, or too anxious. Keep that handy for if someone tries to dump blame on you.

Emotions are simply one of the many factors the brain assesses when deciding whether or not to generate pain. Thankfully, we know that the brain is not rigid and fixed.

And, thanks to neuroscience we know how to change the brain’s response. With practice and support we can re-wire your brain for less migraine.  Yet, it is hard. You don’t have to go it alone. I’ve walked that path and I am here to help you.

Where ever you are right now, if there’s just one thing from this post, I hope it’s this:

Migraine is not a personality flaw.

Together let’s change that nonsense for good. Share this post and help spread the news.

Like to know more about Bespoke Migraine Reduction Practice?

Working with me begins with one simple step. Get in touch for your free, preparation consultation .

Your preparation consultation will help you gain clarity on what you need at this time. We need to understand that what I offer matches what you need. I’ll share tips as we go through and at the end we’ll see how I can help and support you.

All consultations are via secure video call from the comfort of your own home or office.

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