13 Lifestyle Changes That Help Migraines, According To People Who Get Them
If you experience migraines, you've probably heard all kinds of advice about what you should do to manage your condition. So how do you separate what actually works from total hype? You could try these 13 lifestyle changes that can help you manage your migraines, because these are recommended by people who actually get them — so you know these are vetted by people who have actually tried them out.
Around 40 million people in the United States experience migraines, and migraines overwhelmingly affect women, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. I experienced my first migraine with aura when I was in my early 20s. I couldn't hold any food down, and I was sick in bed for about four days before I finally went to see my primary care doctor. Since I'd never experienced a migraine before, I told my doctor I thought I had a brain tumor because the pain was so intense. That was when I first found out I was having migraines.
Contrary to popular knowledge, migraines aren't just headaches; they're actually a genetic neurologic disease, and about 90 percent of people who experience migraines have a family history of migraines, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. But that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do about them. These are just a few lifestyle changes you can try making that have worked for other people who experience migraines.
1. Get Plenty Of Sleep
Stephanie, 32, has been experiencing migraines with aura since she was 17. She tells Bustle she was hospitalized for the first time when she was 23 after experiencing chronic migraine for three months. Stephanie says quality sleep helps her manage her migraines. "I attempt to keep my sleeping schedule consistent, even on the weekends," she tells Bustle. "This means avoiding sleeping in and naps."
2. Practice Self-Care
Alaina, 35, tells Bustle her migraines started when she was only five years old. She says self-care is essential to managing her migraines. "I have found that my migraines come from neglecting myself," Alaina tells Bustle. "I have had to learn to say 'no' to things so I don't over extend myself."
3. Learn Mindfulness
Dr. Jennifer Robblee, a 35-year-old Headache Fellow at Mayo Clinic who has experienced migraines since she was a teenager, tells Bustle she manages her migraines by "learning mindfulness to help with the pain and associated symptoms [of migraines], as well as to optimize stress, which can contribute to migraine. I have used various apps like Headspace and Buddhify to learn it."
4. Focus On The Fun Things In Life
Dr. Kate Grimsrud, a 34-year-old Headache Fellow at Mayo Clinic who says she has experienced chronic migraine every day since 2014, tells Bustle sometimes you just have to focus on anything other than your migraine symptoms. "[I think of] fun things to engage in to get my mind off constantly thinking about [my migraine] symptoms. My six-year-old daughter helps a lot with this," Dr. Grimsrud says. "Helping other people makes me feel good."
5. Use Essential Oils
Alaina tells Bustle, "When I'm at work, I use a blend of lavender and peppermint essential oils that come in a roller ball on my head and neck that really help when I'm having a headache." Lavendar and peppermint are in my arsenal as well, along with rosemary and eucalyptus, which I blend together in my essential oil diffuser in what I like to call my migraine blend.
6. Drink Lots Of Water
A headache is usually the first sign that I haven't had enough water to drink that day, and Alaina tells Bustle, "If I don't drink water, I know I'll get a migraine." Dr. Robblee also says she tries to drink about two liters of water a day to stay hydrated.
7. Manage That Stress
Stress is one of my biggest migraine triggers, so the more I do to keep my stress under control, the more my migraines stay under control. Yoga has been one of the best stress management techniques I've found. For Alaina, getting regular massages helps. Alaina says, "I carry a lot of stress in my shoulders and neck, which causes me to get migraines, [so] I also have a monthly membership to a massage parlor."
8. Look At Potential Food Triggers
For some people, certain foods can trigger their migraines. "I was tested for food sensitivities, and I eliminated foods that were found to cause me inflammation," Stephanie tells Bustle. "For me, this meant no longer eating pork and not consuming any products with aspartame in the ingredient list." But just eating on a consistent schedule can help, too. Dr. Robblee tells Bustle she makes sure she eats throughout the day so she doesn't "go into a fasting state." "This has included making breakfast a standard part of my day," says Dr. Robblee.
9. Get Regular Physical Activity
"Exercise is another lifestyle measure that I am working on," Dr. Robblee tells Bustle. "When I am consistently exercising, my headaches are generally better despite exercise being a trigger for an individual attack when not under good control."
10. Keep A Consistent Routine
Dr. Grimsrud tells Bustle a "consistent routine, especially sleep and daily exercise, even when I’m not feeling well, [and] making sure I do something that is active [or] discovering active things I really enjoy like hiking" helps her manage her migraines.
11. Watch How Much Caffeine You Consume
Caffeine affects everyone differently, but caffeine is a major migraine trigger for me, so I limit myself to as little caffeine as possible. Stephanie says she's the same way. "Eliminating or strictly controlling the amount of caffeine I take in has made a change in both the amount and duration of my migraines. The less caffeine the better," Stephanie says.
12. Limit How Much Alcohol You Drink
"I also do not consume any amount of alcohol, as I found this was a trigger for my migraines," Stephanie tells Bustle. Alcohol is a migraine trigger for me as well, so I drink a lot of water when I drink alcohol, and I limit the amount of alcohol I drink.
13. Find A Good Doctor
Dr. Grimsrud says finding an "awesome headache specialist" helped her manage her migraines, and Stephanie tells Bustle, "I found a doctor that specialized in the treatment of migraines. My care provider is able to provide me with treatment and information that specifically pertains to my migraine condition." I also didn't get my migraines under control until I saw a headache specialist. Not everyone has the access or ability to see a headache specialist for a variety of reasons, but they can be very helpful if you are able to see one.
The migraine experience is different for everyone, so some of these lifestyle changes might work for you, and some might not. But you can always give them a try to see if anything helps ease your symptoms like they have for others.