70% people say that stress triggers migraine symptoms and pain.
Today I am going to share with you three, simple truths that unpick the threads between stress and migraine.
These insights not only help my clients, they helped me to turn around my own decades-long stress-migraine experience.
There is every reason to hope that they’ll help you, too.
Let’s get started.
1. STRESS IS A NORMAL PART OF LIFE
Snarled up in traffic going nowhere slowly, fingers beating a staccato on the wheel.
Stuck in tedious meetings, teeth grinding against each other like tectonic plates.
70% of people with migraine identify stress as a trigger. It seems inevitable.
The well-worn advice casually lobbed at you?
Avoid stressful events. Practice relaxation.
As though it were that simple.
As though wrapping yourself up in bubble wrap is a viable option.
Stress is a normal part of everyday life. And, that is okay (for reasons we’ll soon see).
Meanwhile, desperately steering clear of stress comes with its own dangers.
Not least because you run the risk of migraine becoming even more isolating as the world shrinks around you. Plus the awkward truth that avoiding stress altogether is not possible.
What typically then happens? You begin blaming yourself.
So, is there a practical way forward out of the mess?
An intriguing answer lies wrapped inside the super-sized walnut nestling gently between your ears. Let’s go take a look.
2. YOUR BRAIN’S TOP JOB?
What’s the most important things in life? Love, comfort and happiness? Perhaps.
Yet, as far as your brain goes those are simply added cherries on the top of the cake.
Your brain’s top job is plain and simple. Keeping you safe. One way it does that is by listening to the signals from your body.
Muscles tightening? Heart beat quickening? Breathe increasing?
All regular sympathetic nervous system (SNS) reactions of your body to stress. Where things get interesting is what the brain does with these signals.
That is inter-linked with one surprising tool the brain holds in its self-protection kitbag.
That tool? A warning signal. We call it pain.
Now, if you’ve just begun yelling:
A warning signal??
Are you kidding me???
I get it. Not so long ago I’d have yelled the same. After all, how in the name of all that is holy is migraine a warning sign? But, bear with me…
Let’s take a look at the recipe for pain. It has more ingredients than we may imagine…
On the face of it, pain seems pretty simple.
Stub your toe and chances are you hop around, going:
Gosh! Darn it! Or words to similar effect.
However, first your brain has to determine if a pain signal is justified. Are you in danger?
In that split-second process your brain seeks clues not only from physical sensations but from three unexpected sources:
1. Memories – have I been here before?
2. Past experiences – what did I do last time?
3. Emotional sensations – is my body telling me I’m under threat?
If the data informs your brain that you are in danger a pain signal is generated. Likewise if the assessment is that you are safe your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is activated and no pain signal is created.
And with that a window of opportunity gently swings open.
What if you could step into your brain-body conversation and create a new outcome?
3. COMFORT vs SAFETY
Imagine having a piece of kit that lets you fly in under the radar and whisper:
“Psst. Dear Brain, I am safe.”
The good news is you already do. Say Hello to your body.
Now, if you’re apprehensively thinking: “Does this mean I have to sit around going Ohm?” No, no you are not. Changing the conversation between your body and brain is a dynamic, active process.
You need to do the work for one simple reason.
Your brain doesn’t do subtlety.
It doesn’t distinguish between the stress caused by the fabled sabre tooth tiger or the family get-together. It cannot afford the luxury of conscious decision.
That is why the well-meant advice to ‘just relax’ doesn’t cut the mustard.
Relaxation is about comfort, not safety.
And, the brain doesn’t give two hoots about your comfort. How rude!
In that case, where do you begin?
A good place to start is by identifying in what everyday situations your body begins to react to stress. These mildly, stressful situations give you the opportunity to safely step into the conversation and tell your brain that you are safe.
How do you do that? By using specific mind-body techniques that activate your PNS.
Mind-body techniques offer a powerful mechanism for changing how the brain responds.
The skill lies in noticing how your body physically reacts to stressful events and marrying that moment with mind-body techniques, which are designed to let your brain (and you) know that you are safe.
The changes don’t happen overnight but, they do happen.
Until, one day you may find yourself on a flight, wondering whether to catch a cab from the airport when slowly you notice something is different.
The rhythm of your life is no longer bent out of shape by worry over stress and migraine symptoms.
Instead, the rhythm of your life is refreshingly shaped by you.
Now, it’s your turn.
In what everyday situation will you practice noticing when your body begins to react to stress? Or, perhaps you have a question on what your body’s physical clues may look like?
Either way, I’d like to hear from you.
Let me know me in the comments section below.