7 Self-Care Practices Every Migraine Sufferer Should Know
A hangover headache is bad enough, but a full-on, out-of-nowhere migraine attack? What’s worse? If you are a migraine sufferer, no matter how long it lasted, you know what your brain and body can feel like after an episode. You’re tired AF, cranky, and probably feel like crying. Own it girl—but then get back to feeling like you again with these self-care rituals that will make anyone feel good, even if you didn’t just come out a figurative heavy metal concert in your head.
One thing to note, though: These self-care activities are meant to be done post-migraine attack. They are not recommended as a treatment for the migraines themselves. However, incorporating self-care practices and relaxation techniques into your regular schedule been shown to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, according to Elizabeth Seng, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. Bottom line: Treat yourself to a chill session more often.
1. Eat something.
Science has shown that eating several, small, healthy meals throughout the day can help keep migraines at bay, accordingly to Seng. In fact, skipping meals is known to be a common migraine precipitant, a term Seng prefers over “trigger” as this bad habit, as well as things such as stress and poor sleep, might precipitate a migraine but not necessarily cause one.
So she suggests you eat something shortly after a migraine attack (once nausea subsides, of course). While you'll want to ease back in with mainly healthy, whole foods like fruits and veggies and lean protein to regain strength—especially if you dealt with vomiting—Seng encourages you to also just eat something that makes you happy. Think: When you get over the flu and can ~finally~ eat a real meal, so you make your favorite grilled cheese and soup.
2. Breathe deeply.
You’ve just had a mentally and physically traumatizing experience. You need to distress fast, and breathwork can help. (ICYDK, migraines and head pain are just another of the many conditions that breathwork and, specifically, diaphragmatic deep breathing can help alleviate.)
It all comes down to stress management and reduction, explains Seng. You want to build in stress management techniques like deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation into your routine to keep as consistent a life as possible, which includes maintaining low-stress levels, she says. This is because “most increases and sudden decreases in stress are associated with migraine attack onset,” she says.
“It’s impossible to do deep breathing correctly and not to experience a reduction in your stress,” she says.
Bonus: Breathwork might help in the middle of the migraine crisis, as well. Some people try to use deep breathing during the headache itself and, anecdotally, they say it helps distract them from the pain, says Seng. (Related: 3 Breathwork Techniques That Can Improve Your Health)
3. Practice visualization.
You might have heard about how visualization can help you crush your goals, but this technique can also send you to a place that isn’t filled with migraine pain. Seng suggests you start with some deep breathing, get into a comfortable position, and close your eyes. Classic visualization includes going to a special place in your mind, such as the beach or the woods, but Seng likes to uses visualizations that are a little more specific to pain.
“I ask people to visualize a lit candle and think about what that warmth and heat would feel like, or visualizing a tree changes color over the course of the four seasons” she explains. “Having something that’s really striking to think about can be really immersive and really relaxing.”
Just as with deep breathing, finding time for a meditation practice regularly will help your mind and body reset directly following a migraine attack, but may also help prevent another one from happening in the future. As with all the other self-care tips suggested, consistency reigns supreme here: It’s more about the consistent meditation practice than the length of time spent meditating, says Seng. (Related: The Best Meditation Apps for Beginners)
In fact, Seng says new, yet to be published, research has found that specifically, mindfulness meditation seems to reduce migraine-related disability. People may have as many migraine days as they had before—or a couple fewer even—but they are able to back to feeling like themselves and doing what they want faster.
“Once you’ve gotten through this horrible experience, take 10 to 20 minutes for yourself, get some deep breathing and some visual imagery on, and you’ll be doing yourself a great service,” says Seng.
5. Drink water.
Staying hydrated comes with a host of health benefits not to mention the boost it can give your skin. While the evidence regarding how hydration plays a role with migraines isn’t as robust as other factors (i.e. skipping meals), Seng says that survey data has shown that many migraine sufferers report feeling dehydrated at the onset of a migraine attack.
So make sure to continuously drink water throughout the day to maintain a healthy hydration level. Post migraine attack, reach for your water bottle to feel replenished after a battle with an upset stomach and pounding head. Seng recommends that her patients chug a whole bottle of water when they take any migraine medication, as it kills two birds with one stone. (Related: What Happened When I Drank Twice As Much Water As I Usually Do for a Week)
6. Take a walk.
When you’re in the midst of a tension headache or migraine attack, there’s no way you could work out even if you wanted to. In fact, even mild physical activity such as walking up the stairs can make head pain worse, says Seng. But once you’re through the worst of it, and the head pain, nausea, and any other debilitating symptoms have subsided, go ahead and take a casual stroll around the block.
Frequent and consistent aerobic physical activity has been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines and tension headaches, says Sara Crystal, M.D., neurologist, headache specialist, and medical advisor for Cove, a service providing FDA-approved headache and migraine pain treatments. And while the jury is still out on exactly what type of exercise or intensity is best, it’s really about building regular aerobic activity into your lifestyle that matters most when it comes to migraine prevention, she says. Plus, we do know that being in nature reduces your stress hormones, so at a minimum, you’ll just feel better after getting some fresh air.
7. Use essential oils.
"Essential oils can also be a helpful way to find relief, as they can block pain transmission, desensitize pain fibers, and reduce inflammation," adds Dr. Crystal. Peppermint and lavender seem to be the best essential oils for migraine relief, and the two scents can even be blended together. Note, though, that there are some recommended guidelines for using essential oils for migraines or to treat anything else really, so be sure to consult your doctor before adding them into your routine. (More: The Benefits of Using Essential Oils, According to the Latest Research)