Strategies for Coping With Chronic Headache Disorder

Businesswoman with headache
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Coping with a chronic headache disorder or any chronic medical condition can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Managing the disorder—the pain, the doctor's appointments, and your medication(s)—is one thing. Then there is the mental stress of a headache disorder—the fear of developing a headache or the angst at missing work or social outings.

Here are some tips to help you cope with your chronic headache disorder.

Self-Management

The concept of coping is often used interchangeably with the idea of self-management which means creating a life that suits your headache disorder or chronic illness. Designing a daily routine around your headaches is essential to maximizing your quality of life and giving you a sense of control over an often uncontrollable illness. Here are steps that can help you self-manage, inspired by a study on people with chronic arthritis in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

  • Know Your Boundaries: Closely examine your headache triggers; with understanding comes modification of your lifestyle to suit these limitations.
  • Utilize Resources: Consider finding a headache support group either online or in your community. Devise a plan when a headache develops at home or at work like having a babysitter on speed dial or a colleague who can answer your phone while you take a quick nap.
  • Adapt Your Self-Identity: Maintain your confidence and self-esteem, despite the limitations your headaches place on your life—embrace the new you. While your headaches do not define you, accept that they are part of you, part of your life.
  • Achieve Balance: Your headache disorder may cause some chaos; try to seek order. Optimize your quality of life by prioritizing and focusing on what is important and meaningful.

Consider Sharing Your Headache Story

This can be a tricky task but, for many, it can unleash a huge burden. Key steps that may be helpful when telling someone about your headache disorder include:

  • Choose your confidant and your place of disclosure wisely
  • Exude confidence and self-assurance
  • Prepare yourself for unique reactions

Find a Healthcare Team You Trust

Whether you see a primary care physician, a neurologist, or a headache specialist, your relationship with your physician(s) is an important part of your coping. A doctor who creates a healthy, supportive relationship with their patient is realistic about their healing abilities, compassionate in their care, and understands the "whole" patient—meaning the economic, social, and emotional implications a patient's illness has on their life.

Final Message

For many of us, we cannot cure our headaches. But we can heal them through acceptance and self-management. Be good to yourself by creating a life that accommodates your headaches.

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Article Sources
  • Kralik D, Koch T, Price K, Howard N. Chronic illness self-management: taking action to create order. J Clin Nurse. 2004. Feb;13(2):259-67.
  • Stewart M. Reflections on the doctor patient relationship: from evidence and experience. Br J Gen Pract. 2005. Oct 1; 55(519): 793-801.