Living With Headaches

Day-to-day coping with headache disorders

A smiling black woman standing outside, Living With and Coping With Headaches

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Living with a headache disorder can be frustrating, but you aren't alone. With the right healthcare team, healthy lifestyle habits, and support from your loved ones, you can learn to combat headaches.

You can live a full and healthy life with a headache disorder. The key is finding emotional, physical, social, and practical strategies to help you cope.

Emotional

It can be daunting to manage a headache disorder. You might feel like your days are consumed by avoiding triggers, attending doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions, and navigating insurance.

It's completely normal if these tasks leave you feeling overwhelmed and flustered, but you can take control of the stress. The first step is employing emotional support strategies in your daily life.

Stress-Reduction

Stress is a well-known headache trigger. In addition to quieting an anxious mind, stress-reduction strategies may help prevent headaches.

  • Practice positive self-talk. Reciting positive affirmations daily can help increase your confidence, especially when you're feeling challenged.
  • Prioritize daily exercise. Pick something you enjoy and can stick with. You don't have to hit the gym if it's not your style. Something gentle like yoga or tai chi might be a better fit for you.
  • Ask for help. Family members, partners, friends, a trusted therapist, and church or community groups can all provide social support. You can also find support networks online for others learning to cope with headache disorders.
  • Keep a journal. Recording your thoughts can help you sort out your fears, worries, and frustrations. You can also use this space to appreciate the little moments of joy and practice gratitude.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness can reduce stress and bolster your emotional health. Examples of mindfulness practices include:

  • Breathe. Deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety anytime, anywhere.
  • Make time to relax. Your days might feel too busy, but even if you have to schedule relaxation, try to make time for activities like soaking in a warm bath, watching an episode of your favorite television show, reading a book, or listening to a podcast.
  • Be in the moment. Focus on the experience or activity at hand, whether it be petting your dog, hugging your child, or even household tasks like folding laundry and doing dishes.

Depression

Depression and anxiety commonly coexist with headache disorders. If you or someone you love has symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor or mental health professional about treatment.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Persistent sadness, anxiety, and irritability
  • Feeling guilty, hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue, body aches, low energy
  • Appetite or weight changes (eating more or less than usual)
  • Sleep disturbances (sleeping too much or insomnia)
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, or focusing
  • Slow movements and speech or restlessness
  • Thinking about death, dying, and suicide

Medication, therapy, or a combination of the two can be helpful for people with depression and headache disorders, but it may take time to find the treatment that works best for you.

Physical

There are certain physical health factors that may contribute to headaches.

For example, a 2017 study in the journal Neurology found that being at either end of the weight spectrum, underweight or obese, increased a person's migraine risk compared to people at a normal weight.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Lifestyle practices that improve your overall health and wellbeing can be beneficial to headache management.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Aim for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you suspect specific foods, beverages, or ingredients trigger your headaches, talk to your doctor before adopting a specific diet.
  • Maintain regular mealtimes. Going too long without eating (fasting) and having low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can trigger a headache. Eating meals and snacks at around the same time each day helps you maintain your blood sugar levels.
  • Stay hydrated. Even people who don't normally get headaches can get one if they are dehydrated. Drinking eight glasses of water a day is the typical goal, but a refillable water bottle works too.
  • Moderate your caffeine and alcohol intake. Beverages that contain caffeine and alcohol can be headache triggers. Overdoing either can also lead to dehydration, which can cause headaches.
  • Engage in daily exercise. Choose a physical activity you enjoy and try to do it regularly. If you don't like going to the gym, try dancing, tennis, or bicycling outdoors. Boosting circulation and pumping out endorphins combat stress and tension, which can contribute to headaches.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule. You might be tempted to sleep in on the weekends or your days off, but keeping a normal sleep routine (with good sleep hygiene practices) helps ensure you are well-rested. Sleep disruptions or low-quality sleep can lead to headaches. According to the American Migraine Foundation, both sleep deprivation and oversleeping can be headache triggers.
  • See your primary care physician regularly. Staying current on vaccines and other preventive care measures promote your overall health. Regular check-ups also give you the chance to talk to your doctor about your headaches and discuss your options for treating them.

Complementary Therapies

Alternative medicine and complementary therapies may be able to help soothe your headaches, but they're also another way to manage stress.

Research has shown that people with headaches and migraines often combine complementary and alternative therapies with traditional management strategies (such as prescription medication) to improve their overall health.

You may want to try incorporating a complementary headache therapy into your routine, such as:

Social

Even if you have a solid support network, dealing with a headache disorder can still make you feel alone at times—especially if your loved ones don't get headaches themselves.

You may want to connect with others who have headache disorders. Not only can they offer emotional support and a true understanding of what you're going through, but they likely have headache-battling tips to share.

There's no shortage of online headache support groups but look for those that are associated with professional organizations or vetted by healthcare professionals.

Before joining an online support network to discuss headache-related resources and research, check to see if the websites are reviewed or run by health professionals.

Finding reliable health information online can be tricky, but taking these steps will help ensure you're getting accurate, evidence-based, and up-to-date information.

A few headache and migraine organizations that provide support-related resources include:

Practical

There are also basic logistics of living with a headache disorder you'll want to consider.

One task that can be tedious (but worthwhile) is finding a headache specialist or neurologist. Seek out professionals who are experienced, knowledgeable, and forward-thinking.

Your relationship with your doctor will be most helpful when it's built on trust and compassion, so you'll want to find someone with whom you can form a healing partnership.

Empower yourself to be your own advocate. Keep up with current research, learn about new treatments, and continue to build your knowledge base by talking with your healthcare team and those in your support network.

As you're developing strategies for living with headaches day-to-day, try to focus on being anticipatory rather than reactionary. In other words, devise plans to help you cope with a headache before you get one.

For example, if you need to take your headache medication at work, ask a co-worker if they can help cover your tasks until it kicks in.

If you're caring for children at home, talk to your partner, friend, loved one, a trusted neighbor, or babysitter about looking after the kids so you can lie down or sit quietly in a dark room until your headache is under control.

A Word From Verywell

Living with headaches can be challenging, but you can live well with a headache disorder. Learning strategies to cope with stress, being proactive about headache management, and reaching out for support are all steps you can take to improve your quality of life.

Continue to learn about headache disorders and build a team of healthcare professionals you trust who you can work with.

A proper diagnosis and treatment plan, healthy lifestyle practices, and regular check-ups are part of a headache maintenance routine that will also benefit your overall health and wellbeing.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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